fish oil epilepsy seizures

Fish Oil May Help Curb Seizure Frequency in Epilepsy

According to the CDC, approximately 3 million adults and around 470,000 children in the US have epilepsy, a lifelong neurological condition characterized by recurrent seizures. At Advanced Neurosurgery Associates (ANA), a leading neurosurgery practice located in New Jersey, we encounter many cases of epilepsy, particularly of pediatric patients.

That’s why we took an interest in a new study that claims epilepsy patients could reduce seizure frequency by consuming daily low doses of omega-3 fish oil.

For their study, the researchers enrolled 24 participants with epilepsy who had stopped responding to antiepileptic medication. They divided them into the following groups:

  • Low-dose fish oil supplementation: three fish oil supplements daily – the equivalent of 1,080 mg of omega-3 – plus three placebo supplements (corn oil)
  • High-dose fish oil supplementation: six fish oil supplements daily – the equivalent of 2,160 mg of omega-3
  • Three placebo supplements twice a day

The researchers found that the fewest number of seizures, 12 a month, occurred when participants were following the low-dose fish oil regime, compared with 17 a month on the high-dose regime and around 18 a month for the placebo regime.

This means the low-dose regime represented a 33.6% reduction in seizures.

The study was published online September 8, 2014 in the Journal of Neurology, Neurosurgery & Psychiatry. The research was led by Dr. Christopher DeGiorgio of the University of California, Los Angeles, and included 24 people with epilepsy that could no longer be controlled using medications.

The omega-3 fatty acids found in fish oil are able to cross over from the bloodstream into heart cells where they work to stabilize heart rhythm and protect against heart attacks. This is particularly important for people with epilepsy because they have a significantly higher risk of having a heart attack than those without the condition.

Past studies have indicated omega-3 can stabilize heart rhythms and prevent heart attacks. Furthermore, the team notes that omega-3 has been linked to reduced brain cell excitability among epileptics, which may curb seizures.

Omega-3 fatty acids can be obtained through consumption of fish oil supplements or oily fish, such as:

  • trout
  • mackerel
  • tuna
  • herring
  • sardines
  • salmon.

The researchers caution that a much larger study is needed to confirm or refute these findings before any firm conclusions can be drawn, and recommendations made. At ANA, we concur. But the researchers write: “Low dose fish oil is a safe and low-cost intervention that may reduce seizures and improve cardiovascular health in people with epilepsy.”

But another expert said the study was far from definitive. “The inexplicable reverse-dose effect found, however, with the low dose associating with better seizure control than the high dose, is counterintuitive,” said Dr. Cynthia Harden, director of the North Shore-LIJ’s Comprehensive Epilepsy Care Center, in Great Neck, N.Y. “This finding, along with the small sample size, suggests the need for further clarification of the effect of fish oil on seizures.”

The surgeons at ANA participate, and in some cases direct, programs that have been designated as Level 4 Epilepsy Centers, the highest possible designation made by the National Association of Epilepsy Centers (NAEC), which is comprised of a select number of epilepsy centers in the U.S.

Read about epilepsy treatments at ANA: