It still amazes me when I realize that seemingly benign foods like dairy can be a seizure trigger in children and adults. There was a time during our seizure recovery protocols that we were using dairy as a method to alleviate seizure activity. Most of the seizure days that my daughter would experience were heralded by her ‘aura’ of a migraine. As I began to scour for information to help alleviate her migraines, let alone stop them from progressing into a full blown 18+ hour seizure event (petite mals coupled with possible grand mals), I came across the work of Ray Peat. Dr. Peat had some interesting thoughts on using ice cream (good quality, as natural as possible) to alleviate and rid migraines. For a time, we were able to actually watch her seizure activity diminish and many times disappear all together when we gave her a good dose of home made vanilla ice cream. It was incredible! Her migraines would ease up, and if she was having petite mal activity, those would begin to be less frequent and many times stop all together that day. It did work for a time, but then it took a turn. After several months of the ice cream ‘therapy’, if she started with a migraine and we gave her the good old trusty bowl of ice cream, we would watch to our amazement as the seizure activity would begin, rather than work to diminish the migraine pain or avoid pending seizure activity. It was at that point that we realized that the dairy protocol had run its course for her as a treatment method. We saw that dairy can be a seizure trigger in children and adults.
How Does What You Eat Affect Your Brain?
When the love between dairy and seizures was gone in our home, I got back on the research and learned that cow’s milk is actually one of the main food allergens and gut-damaging foods around. The casein in cow’s milk actually destroys the villi in the intestines, causing them to atrophy, or waste away much like gluten does. The intestinal villi are the ‘carpet fibers’ so to speak that absorb nutrients during digestion and are a very necessary part of digestion not only for their absorption capabilities, but also for their role in protecting the intestines so that there are not spaces due to dying villi. The spaces are unwanted, as they leave room for particles of not yet fully digested foods to make their way through the built in villi barrier. The villi’s destruction makes way for larger particles of undigested food to create immune responses by the body as a way of protecting an unnatural invader. These very processes are some of the triggers for many food intolerances, malabsorption of nutrients like calcium, iron, iodine, B complex, and vitamin C along with numerous trace minerals (zinc, boron, magnesium, lithium, and more). Malabsorption of key nutrients, vitamins and minerals is demonstrated in osteoporosis, iron deficiency anemia, thyroid diseases, folate deficiencies, skeletal abnormalities, immune system weakness, celiac and epilepsy along with the worsening of food allergies in susceptible people. Knowing that 70% of the calories that come from the American diet come from dairy and wheat, it seems to support the growing food allergy problem among the population.
Food Affects Seizures.
Dr. Clark states that what goes in your mouth does matter, and I wholeheartedly concur! You are not just affecting your body when you eat, you are affecting your brain, as is evidenced in studies and spoken of by retired neurosurgeon, Russell Blaylock. Your nutrition dramatically influences your health for good or bad, and is implicated even in affecting seizures. Inflammation, neuro-toxicity, and excited neurons cause seizures, and anything that causes inflammation or neuron changes can most often be tied to seizure activity. Of course other things may be compounding and confounding factors, but both doctors mentioned affirm that seizure activity in one way or another are usually caused by inflammation in the brain.
There are many mechanisms involved in the connection between consuming dairy products and seizure activity. Inflammation irritates the delicate tissues of the brain, or can set in motion a seizure by other mechanisms. Allergic foods may be primary causes of seizures, or they may act as triggers only. Any food can be a culprit, although wheat, soy, sugar, and dairy are the most common ones. Food additives such as MSG or aspartame may contribute to seizures, in some cases. These are called excitotoxins because they irritate the nervous system
The damage that diary can do to the intestinal villi is the root cause of many food allergies. Dairy is loaded with glutamate. Allergic reactions to the dairy can also alter the permeability of the blood brain barrier. The casein (protein) in cow’s milk is 20% glutamic acid. Glutamic acid (glutamate) and aspartic acid (aspartate) are two non-essential amino acids our bodies make out of other proteins. Glutamate is the main amino acid for our brain – it is one of the main neurotransmitters. If we are found to have excess glutamate, no matter from what source, it can over excite the neurons to the point of killing neurons. Having too much glutamate is known to cause brain death – neurons in the brain that become over-excited and die can lead to seizures, reduced pain threshold, sleep disorders, pain syndroms, insomnia, emotional disturbances and things like ALS and other neurodegenerative diseases. To understand the idea that some food can be is dangerous to your brain, understand the glutamate is the main protein in the synthetic flavor enhancer MSG. MSG is a known seizure trigger. it can do harm to the intestinal villi in susceptible individuals. Dr. John Symes (Dogtor J) also says:
“It has now been shown that the origin of seizures in idiopathic epilepsy is the area of the brain known as the hippocampus, which is located on the underside of the brain. Recent studies have shown that the blood brain barrier in this area is more subject to injury, allowing certain damaging substances to enter the brain. The evidence of this damage lies in the commonly reported disruption of the other major function of the hippocampus- memory.”
Why Dairy Is A Problem For The Brain.
Before experiencing the effect of dairy on seizures for myself in my daughter’s case, I never knew what casein was, and that there were different types of casein. Casein is the protein that makes up 80% of the protein content of cow’s milk. All cows milk products are high in glutamine. Goat’s milk, sheep and buffalo milk contain A2 beta-casein. Goat-based dairy is much better in this regard, which is why it is referred to as the closest thing to a mother’s milk to those who are unable to breastfeed their babies. Since learning all of this, I have switched to buffalo cheese, myself. Buffalo cheese is sweet and creamy and has become one of my favorites!!! Raw cow’s is most often produced from small herds of Jersey and Gernsey cows, both of which contain a high percentage of A2 beta-casein. In contrast, most dairies use mainly Holstein cows, and they produce a majority of A1 beta-casein. The reason that this matter is is that there is actually a difference in our ability to digest the two different kinds of casein.
Some of the partially digested gluten and casein proteins that can act like opioids in our system, don’t get completely digested and excreted like they should. Instead, they leak out of the gut if the gut has been compromised and the villi aren’t fully in tact. Then they are transported to other parts of the body before they can be completely digested. When these undigested opiod proteins travel through the bloodstream in a way they aren’t intended to, they cross the blood brain barrier (the barrier that is between the brain and the rest of the body to protect the brain), enter the brain, and cause effects similar to what morphine might do. Casein proteins (BCM7) can negatively affect the brain by causing inattentiveness, brain fog, and irregular sleeping and eating patterns. Allergy to the dairy protein in casein has been documented to be involved in the brain as it manifests in seizure activity in children. The inflammatory response created when consuming casein is responsible for disrupting the blood brain barrier which inflames the central nervous system and triggers seizures.
Because casein is more concentrated in cheese and it’s composition is 20% gultamic acid, cheese can be its own separate problem. Cheeses that appear to be the worst offenders of casein induced problems include Cheddar, Swiss, Monterey Jack, Mozzarella with the most implicated being PARMESAN.
Studies have recently found a relationship between disease risk and consuming specific parts of casein that could be linked to a health risk factor that has the potential to affect the opioid receptors in our endocrine, nervous and immune systems. Other studies indicate that A1 beta-casein may be harmful, and that A2 beta-casein is a safer choice. This is the reason for the “A1 vs A2” debate.
Casein free diets have shown a reduction in inflammation that is associated with seizures.
Pasteurized Dairy Can Be The Most Harmful To The Body And The Brain.
Dairy may be potentially more harmful in pasteurized, processed milk because of the reduction of SIgA, an immunoglobulin that binds dangerous lectins. (1) Lectin intolerance means that your body can’t stop toxic lectin from binding to your cells in the gut, and organ, and even the brain. Intolerance to lectin is very often a family thing. The casein in cow’s milk products including milk, cheese, and even some non-dairy creamers can all lead to damage of the villi along with intolerance to lectin. Dairy products have also been linked to breast cancer, prostate cancer, endometriosis, and polycystic ovaries. Dairy has been implicated in changing the age of the first period down from 15 to 12.5 years in our little girls as well. Be aware of sensitivities to dairy, casein, lectins, etc. and watch for indicators upon consumption like bowel changes, brain fog, mood or sleep changes, digestive issues and consider removing dairy and being tested to avoid future problems that could become more serious. Because of many of these dangers, Krispin Sullivan goes as far as to say that only breast milk is good for babies.
Carrageean As A Dairy Additive Can Also Be To Blame.
The main culprits are any food product containing carrageenen. carrageenan causes problems for those prone to seizures. This is a common food additive extracted from certain red sea vegetables. It is used in many processed food products as a thickener and stabilizer. However, it causes inflammation in the body, and can cause blood sugar disturbance, as well. Strictly avoid this! You must read labels to figure out which foods contain it. However, here is a list of the main ones:
Chocolate milk, soy milk, rice milk, hazelnut milk, almond milk, canned coconut milk, hemp milk, flax milk, infant formulas, sunflower milk, eggnog, aloe very gel, cottage cheeses, nutritional drinks, sour cream, fruit and cereal bars, lunch meat, dips, coffee and tea beverages, juices, candy bars, frozen pizza, dairy-free spreads, creamers, desserts, Slimfast and other similar drinks, Yyogurt, milk kefir, canned soups, ice cream, and baby food.
There are probably a lot more items that line your grocery isles that I could list here, but you get the idea. Real food matters.
Dairy Protein Is Used In Adhesives?
So if all of that information isn’t enough to convince you of the possible dangers of dairy on your nervous system and it’s potential to be a seizure trigger, how about this information?
Adhesives (aka glue) are made from the casein in dairy. Casein is so effective as a glue that it is used in making glues that can hold metal together! Because the ‘glycoproteins’ in casein are by nature very sticky, you can understand why scientists use it for tactile purposes. Elmer’s Glue was first created by Borden using casein. Yep – the stuff that is in every child’s desk in elementary school is made from dairy protein.
So What To Do Now?
I couldn’t agree more with Dr. James Symes when he says “There is always a logical explanation for what our bodies do.” Nothing is by accident, and we have choices every day that will effect how our body functions from each moment into the future. If you are experiencing an excitotoxin or neurotoxin related disorder, the removal of the amino acids that can cause the excitability (or the foods that carry those amino acids) should be a must for you. MSG and aspartame, which are known excitotoxins are over stimulating and exciting the neurons of those who consume them. Since they are the concentrated forms of the non-essential amino acids (glutamate and aspartate), and they have been proven to cross the blood brain barrier, if you are experiencing problems or dealing with a brain disorder, removal of those items seems obvious to me. If the neurons in the brain are diseased in any way, they can’t take the stress of anything that isn’t necessary and beneficial, or anything that is going to stimulate artificially in the diet. By not watching what you are eating, you are actually overloading your brain with the excitotoxins, whether it be MSG, aspartame, or dairy (plus a host of other foods).
To explain it another way, the immune system goes after proteins that it doesn’t like, or that it identifies as an ‘invader’. When it begins to attack the invader, whether the invader is seen in the joints or the neurons, you get disease and disorder. It is the very same mechanism as is found in auto-immune diseases such as lupus or fibromyalgia. Food intolerance as well as other secondary factors such as food allergies are shown to lead to this “syndrome” labeled idiopathic epilepsy, which only means they can’t figure out what’s causing the seizures.
As they have discovered in recent years, the adverse effects of gluten and casein have brought researchers to believe that autistic and schizophrenic patients should be placed on a gluten-free/casein-free diet. This has actually become a widespread standard treatment for both diseases (3). Case studies have had patients with schizophrenia and autism on a gluten-free/casein-free diet which in many instances lead to some improvement, which is very telling and promising for the connection between food and brain health. The experience of thousands of patients support the science we know so far – that a gluten-free/casein-free diet helps. (2) If removing the foods in question is helping those brain disorders, it stands to reason that the very same path could result in the reversal of autistic behaviors and seizures as well. It has been found that eliminating dairy as a trigger food, and a seeming primary allergen, it has proven incredible results with people dealing with everything from seizures to pain syndromes, autism to add, bipolar to M.S.
When you remove the trigger foods, you are giving the villi in your gut a chance to rest and grow back. You are giving your body and its immune system the rest that it needs from fighting non-essential things to focus on the bigger things. If your ‘army’ that is your immune system is so busy fighting the little things like dairy consumption, it wears down too much to be able to fight off the bigger problems, like cancer cells, for example. Reverse the affects of malabsorption and let your gut begin to recover by restoring the villi to their proper place and size so that they can gather all of the nutrients and enzymes they can when you start removing the danger foods and replacing them with the restorative foods. By relieving the severity of the symptoms, the blood brain barrier can be in tact and the inflammation and immune responses can reduce for the health of all of your tissues.
Could Reversing Seizure Activity Really Be That Simple?
Everyone is different. Different triggers, different inflammatory agents, different presentation, different recovery. That being said, I have personally witnessed reversing seizure activity being possible. My daughter is like a new person. It wasn’t just one thing that helped, it was a host of things. Dairy was one of the main puzzle pieces for her. Her migraines dimished (she is now nearly migraine free). Her seizures have diminshed (I would say 95% recovered – we are still dealing with the hormonal aspect of hers). As I painstakingly scoured the medical journals, scientific studies, personal testimonies, doctors presentations, interviews and summit talks, I remember the first time I ever came across the information that dairy may be a seizure trigger in adults and children – I just sat at my desk and cried. Finally, someone had shared something that I had never heard before, had never considered, and was doable. My immediate thought was ‘why not give it a try?’. We were so desperate to help my daughter, that just removing dairy from the diet was a battle we were willing to engage in, and one that we might actually win. Does it take commitment? Yes. Is it easy? No. You quickly realize how much dairy you actually have in your diet, and how much dairy is in everything. Substitutions have to be made. Some foods have to just be left behind as a faint memory. Is it worth the try? Absolutely. Is it possible? Most definitely. Will you see results? Almost guaranteed. Remember, the body doesn’t get into the bad state that it is in overnight. When you finally get to the point that you realize none of the conventional methods to reverse or recover for your condition are working, you’ve been down a long enough road that you are willing to go ‘off the ranch’ and try something as wacky as ‘don’t eat dairy anymore’. You can do it. Give it time – nothing got there overnight, nothing’s going to get better overnight. My recommendation from personal experience is to give your body a good 3-4 months when you try something new or eliminate something. It’s amazing what your body naturally hangs on to, trying to protect you. Also, be aware to watch for any secondary food allergies as you start your removal and recovery process. Many times after the primary triggers are eliminated, other things may begin to be noticeable such as an upset stomach from eating red meat, which never phased you before. If this happens, it just means that the dairy products may have been covering up the reaction to these other foods because dairy was more severe for you. Even when things got worse for a time, I din’t lose hope. Any change to me meant that we were on to something, and we needed to stay the course to weed things out and make better detailed decisions in the future. Keep in mind, as Dr. Wilson reminds us, that when the nervous system is fragile from over-excitation, inflammation or injury, even a minor shift in the smallest of things can increase seizure activity for a short time. Be sure in all changes to keep in close touch with your health professional. You can do it! This could very well be one piece of your puzzle as well.
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(1) Biol Neonate 1991;59(3):121-5 Davin JC et al
(2) Knivsberg AM, Reichelt KL, Nodland M. (2001) Reports on dietary intervention in autistic disorders. <em>Nutritional Neuroscience</em>, 4(1):25-37.
(3) Knivsberg AM, Reichelt KL, Hoien T, Nodland M. (2002) A randomised, controlled study of dietary intervention in autistic syndromes. <em>Nutritional Neuroscience</em>, 5(4):251-61.
(4) Sun Z, Zhang Z, Wang X, Cade R, Elmer Z, Fregly M. (2003) Relation of beta-casomorphin to apnea in sudden infant death syndrome. <em>Peptides</em>, 24:937–943.