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Vitamin D and Epilepsy: Benefits and Uses

Posted on June 28, 2021
Medically reviewed by
Evelyn O. Berman, M.D.
Article written by
Anika Brahmbhatt

If you have epilepsy, you may be curious about the role vitamin D plays in terms of seizure activity. As one MyEpilepsyTeam member asked, “Does anyone use vitamins like vitamin D to control seizures?” Another said, “Is anyone taking vitamins? What kind do you think is best?”

It’s important to understand whether there are any connections between vitamin D intake and epilepsy symptoms and if you should do anything to evaluate whether you have enough vitamin D in your diet.

What Is Vitamin D?

Vitamin D is a nutrient that your body needs to make your muscles move, help your nerves send signals, and allow your immune system to fight off bacteria and viruses that can make you sick. Vitamin D is also important so bones can absorb the calcium they need to be strong and healthy.

There are two kinds of vitamin D: vitamin D2 and vitamin D3. Vitamin D2 is mostly found in plants, mushrooms, and yeast. Vitamin D3 can be found in oily fish and is also made in the body during sun exposure. Additionally, vitamin D3 is later converted to 25-hydroxy-cholecalciferol, which helps turn on and off the genes that allow vitamin D to carry out its function in the body.

According to the Cleveland Clinic, foods that are good sources of vitamin D include:

  • Beef liver
  • Fortified cereal
  • Fish (such as salmon, sardines, swordfish, and cod liver oil)
  • Egg yolks
  • Fortified milk and orange juice

Your body breaks vitamin D down into its active form, called 1,25-dihydroxyvitamin D — which is also known as calcitriol and can be found as a supplement. This active form of vitamin D can affect the cells involved in the immune system.

Vitamin D Levels in People With Epilepsy

People with epilepsy are often curious about the effects of vitamin D on seizure disorders and other neurological conditions.

According to a 2016 study, vitamin D is important for many aspects of brain development, including cell growth, cell differentiation, and neuroprotection. Vitamin D3, for example, corresponds to specific vitamin D receptors and enzymes in the central and peripheral nervous systems. People with epilepsy often do not have enough vitamin D3, the study authors wrote.

Researchers have also found that vitamin D levels can drop as a result of drug therapy for epilepsy, despite the medications’ positive anticonvulsant effects. Many people who take antiepileptic drugs (AEDs) are vitamin D-deficient, potentially because some anti-seizure medications disrupt how the body processes vitamin D.

Additionally, there is a high prevalence of osteoporosis in people with epilepsy, potentially because of vitamin D3 deficiency. Some AEDs reduce levels of this vitamin as a side effect. Research of people with epilepsy found these individuals face a sixfold risk for bone fracture compared with the normal population. This finding is likely due to frequent falls, reduced bone density, and low levels of vitamin D3.

Other potential dangers can come with vitamin D insufficiency. For example, sudden unexpected death in epilepsy (SUDEP) may be linked to cardiovascular health. A 2010 study found that sudden cardiac death was twice as high for those with vitamin D levels below 20 ng/dL compared to individuals with levels above 20 ng/dL.

Does Vitamin D Supplementation Help Reduce Seizures?

Research has shown that vitamin D supplementation may help reduce seizures in people with epilepsy. One 2012 study found that increasing vitamin D intake helped reduce seizures in people with epilepsy by a median of 40 percent.

Vitamin D may help protect against seizures because it upregulates anticonvulsant growth factors, such as neurotrophic factors. These are molecules that enhance the growth and survival potential of neurons. In other words, vitamin D helps strengthen the anticonvulsive effects of molecules within your body.

Although many previous studies have shown promising results, neurology researchers emphasize the importance of further clinical trials to investigate the effectiveness of vitamin D on people with epilepsy.

Talk to your health care team if you’re considering adding vitamin D supplements to your diet. Data suggests that taking vitamin D supplements can be helpful for people with epilepsy, but you can also run the risk of taking too much.

The Office of Dietary Supplements warns that too much vitamin D can cause nausea and vomiting, muscle weakness, confusion, pain, dehydration, and kidney stones, among other side effects. Vitamin D can also interact with some medications, so don’t start any supplementation plan before speaking with your physician.

Talk With People Who Understand

On MyEpilepsyTeam, the social network and online support group for people with epilepsy and their loved ones, members discuss the chronic nature of the disease. Here, more than 108,000 members from across the world come together to ask questions, offer advice and support, and share stories with others who understand life with epilepsy.

Are you using vitamin D to help with epilepsy symptoms? Share your experience in the comments below, or start a conversation on MyEpilepsyTeam.

All updates must be accompanied by text or a picture.
Evelyn O. Berman, M.D. is a neurology and pediatric specialist and treats disorders of the brain in children. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network. Learn more about her here.
Anika Brahmbhatt is an undergraduate student at Boston University, where she is pursuing a dual degree in media science and psychology. Learn more about her here.

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