Idiopathic Epilepsy- The Dietary Solution

By J. S. Baker, D.V.M.

Introduction

I have been practicing veterinary medicine for twenty-three years. I graduated with honors from Auburn University in 1979, received the Upjohn Award as outstanding senior student in small animal medicine, and followed that with an internship at the prestigious Angell Memorial Animal Hospital in Boston . I mention these things not to boast but as a matter of fact to illustrate the point that I was more than conventionally schooled in basic medicine and clearly had an ample mind for that medical training. And yet, I fell into the same pattern that most doctors do, that of taking a history and examining that patient just long enough to determine which drug was appropriate to facilitate their recovery. In many cases, this is an appropriate approach...or at least it used to be.

Three years ago, I was personally handed a diagnosis that would change my life forever. At the age of forty-five, I found out that I had celiac disease, also known as gluten intolerance. Once I began researching this condition, a medical revelation of astounding proportion struck me right between the eyes. The list of conditions that celiacs like myself suffered from was a who's who of what is wrong with humans, dogs, and cats. This list included every symptom and condition that I had experienced over the years, including the allergies, heartburn, irritable bowel, headaches, insomnia, chronic fatigue/depression, joint and spinal problems, memory and balance loss, and even my fibromyalgia. However, the list went on to include strong tendencies toward so many of the "diseases" that are taking our friends, acquaintances, and loved ones from us. These were the more devastating conditions such as immune- mediated diseases and cancer. Celiacs truly were the glaring example of what was wrong with human beings.

The Epilepsy Connection

One of the most interesting findings involved epilepsy in the celiac child. In one short article that I came across, it was stated that children with celiac disease who also had epilepsy had their seizure frequency improve, dramatically in some cases, once a gluten-free diet was instituted. As I was already in the mode of comparing what I had read about humans to what I experienced in my veterinary practice, I took this idea on as a project. I was already seeing the potentially universal nature of the damage caused by gluten and the correlation of celiac disease and epilepsy was something that I somehow knew was going to be totally explainable. The first clues came in the analysis of the components of wheat. Gluten was clearly a major culprit and understanding the pathophysiology of its role in celiac disease was of paramount importance. The first hint was that gluten was used in industry as an adhesive. This just made sense when I read about celiac disease for the first time as the text explained how gluten adhered to the villi of the duodenum. Suddenly, the role of the "glue-ten" in industry and the development of celiac disease became clearly related.

Gluten leaves the stomach as an adhesive and subsequently sticks to those delicate villi of the duodenum, those structures vital to the absorption of essential nutrients such as calcium, iron, iodine, all water-soluble vitamins such as B and C vitamins, and most trace minerals such as boron, zinc and magnesium. The implications of this became immense. Without certain vitamins, proper bodily development and function would be slowed or halted and most enzyme systems would be affected. The immune system would certainly suffer from the relative lack of vitamin C and other essential nutrients. It seemed as though the Pandora's box of medicine had been opened and the celiac was the innocent recipient of the plagues it unleashed.
But this was only the beginning. This did not explain epilepsy...yet. However, the second clue put me on the right track. I quickly found that the foods that caused problems did so in a myriad of ways. Gluten had its damaging effects, causing malabsorption, maldigestion, and what we refer to as the "leaky gut". (This is beyond the scope of this paper but is covered in depth in The Answer found on my Website www.dogtorj. com .) But, there were other components of wheat that had serious ties to the subject at hand. The second clue was the fact that monosodium glutamate was often made from wheat (and soy).

A quick review of the uses of and the side effects of MSG spoke volumes about the true nature of idiopathic epilepsy. As most people know, MSG is used as a flavor enhancer. Its mode of action is as a neurostimulant, stimulating the open-ended nerves in the taste buds of the tongue. By sensitizing these nerves, monosodium glutamate has the effect of making food that passes over them more flavorful. However, there is a significant portion of the population that suffers from serious side effects from the use of MSG, the symptoms of which are directly related to the effect MSG has on the brain once it enters the general circulation. These include migraine headaches, pain syndromes, the "MSG rush", and even seizures. Once it is understood that glutamate is a neurostimulant, these symptoms should not be a surprise.

The fact is that glutamate and its "fraternal twin" amino acid, aspartate, are normal neurotransmitters in the mammalian brain. However, the dietary sources of these amino acids cannot be tolerated well by a certain segment of the population, including many of our pets, especially in their concentrated form. MSG is the source of such concentration for glutamate while artificial sweeteners containing aspartame are the corresponding source of aspartate. It was easy to find the evidence that aspartame was causing the same variety of symptoms in susceptible individuals, including seizures in humans. I knew I was on the right track now.

The third clue came in the study of the devastating condition of Lou Gehrig's Disease, otherwise known as amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS). In brief, the condition is caused by the build-up of glutamate at the neuronal synapse. The concentration of glutamate ultimately reaches a neurotoxic level resulting in the death of the adjacent neuron. In summary, glutamate is neurotoxic at high levels, actually being lethal to the nerve if high enough. This is obviously true of its relative, aspartate, which accounts for the reports of memory loss, pain syndromes, and seizures tied to its use. I was getting closer to the truth.

The next findings started pulling everything together and I felt that I was well on my way to explaining why the celiac children were recovering from epilepsy. I began studying why the primary food allergens in pets and people were identical and fell into a limited grouping. According to the FDA, the primary childhood allergens were cow milk, wheat, eggs, and soy, in that order. Veterinarians have known for over twenty-five years that cow milk and wheat were the principle food allergens in dogs and cats. Why was that so and why were they the same in those species? The answer came in the form of "glue".

It didn't take long to find that one of the main proteins in cow milk was casein, which is also used in industry as an adhesive. The evidence was everywhere I looked. It was also evident that medical researchers had one of its components, alpha s-1 casein, as being pegged for its involvement in autoimmune disorders, just like the principle protein, gliadin, in gluten. The revelation then came that allergies were just the warning sign of what was to come if we continued to consume these foods, especially in the quantity that Americans do. Dairy products and wheat now make up more than 60% of the American diet. There had to be a link between this fact and the high rate of allergies, asthma, immune-mediated diseases, and cancer among the American population.

The "glue" connection had been made. The foods that were the "stickiest" were the primary food allergens. But what about those eggs sitting in the number three position? As it turns out, they were simply an example of a "secondary" food allergen, one that forms when the gut has been significantly damaged by the primary foods wheat and cow milk (and another food yet to come).

The "leaky gut" from the villous damage allows food protein to come into contact with the bloodstream and immune system in a form that it doesn't recognize. This leads to an immune response to that food and the development of "secondary" food allergies. As eggs are one of the first proteins fed to children after they are raised on cow milk formulas, this just made perfect sense. Otherwise, it makes no sense that eggs, as one of the most bioavailable, high-quality proteins on the planet, would be a primary allergen. But, as a secondary allergen, especially in light of the timing of the introduction of this natural protein after the two unnatural ones, it all makes sense.

But, we must still deal with the number four allergen, soy. Remembering that allergies are just a warning sign, I approached my investigation of the newest "health food" with a renewed vigor. I had learned a long time ago that our body doesn't make mistakes and that there were no contradictions like the one that faced me. Is soy a health food or not? If so, why is it number four already and we aren't even eating much of it yet...or are we?
Once again, it did not take long to find the truth about soy. As I mentioned, soy is used as the other "natural" source of MSG. In fact, it has nearly six times the concentration of glutamate and aspartate of any of the other sources already mentioned. I then put the words "soy adhesive" in the search engine of my computer and was not surprised at all that it, too, was used as an industrial adhesive. Then, I read about the processing of soy to rid it of anti-nutrients in order to make it edible and I could clearly see that we weren't dealing with a health food here.

The "glue" and the concentration of neurostimulants had been well established in the top food allergens. I turned my attention to the other allergens, the grains, and found the same. Yes, the next most troublesome food was corn. The analysis of corn showed high levels of glutamate and aspartate, as did all of the remaining grains rice, barley, and oats. It was a universal trait among the grains and it became clear why we eat them for energy and become carbohydrate addicted. Our brains love all of these dietary stimulants, including caffeine, sugar, chocolate, diet drinks, almost as much as it likes the illegal ones like cocaine. It is likely to be the level of glutamate and aspartate in these complex carbohydrates that give us the energy, not the calories themselves.

But why do some individuals have intolerance to these "normal" components of food? I put normal is quote because I now question the wisdom behind the consumption of these complex carbohydrates, especially at the aforementioned rates. Conventional wisdom has been turned on its ear a bit by the concept purported by Dr. Adkins. He is right about one thing. We don't become obese from simply eating fat. It occurs mostly from eating the complex carbohydrates, which are, in turn, converted to fat when the less active person does not use the calories from these foods. These foods are also many of the major food allergens, as previously mentioned, partly because they are all used as glues, sticking to the duodenum as they exit the stomach. The heartburn we experience is likely to be due to the stomach's dire attempt to break down the glue. My heartburn of three years duration disappeared the week I went off all wheat. These trouble foods are also all glycoproteins (part carbohydrate, part protein) that appear to severely disturb the immune system of susceptible individuals, playing a vital role in the triggering of autoimmune disease. This, too, is covered in The Answer.

The Key

But, I believe the key to idiopathic epilepsy lies in a combination of these factors. Those foods that are rich in glutamate and aspartate are also the foods that adhere to the duodenal villi. Once again, the principle offenders are the gluten-containing grains, the casein-containing dairy products, the soy protein, and to a lesser extent the corn products. By coating the villi, they must reduce the ability of those structures to do their job in the absorption of the essential nutrients required to form the reductase systems that are necessary to clear the neurostimulants from the tissue or the bloodstream. This would have to be true of anyone who consumes these "glue" containing foods. However, in what I call the "worst of the worst", the celiacs, casein intolerants, and soy intolerants. ..the immune system mounts an assault on the "glue" inducing severe villous atrophy. The villi literally shrink away as a result of the immune attack. This is the lesion of celiac disease..

I have been able to find only three food components that induce this serious change in the villi. They are gluten, casein, and soy protein. I believe that corn and even rice may do this to some extent but the well-known causes are the previous three. Once again, these are the top three primary childhood allergens according to the FDA. This is no longer a surprise. The allergies were just the warning sign of what was to come. And, as I tell my clients, "If you don't like these warning signs, you're not going to like the next set of warning signs either. And, if you don't like them, you're really not going to like what they are warning you of."

The conclusion was simple. The foods to which we are allergic are so for a reason. The primary offenders contain a glue component that sticks to our duodenal villi. These substances block the absorption of essential nutrients as well as provide high levels of the amino acids glutamate and aspartate. In the "worst of the worst", the individual cannot form the reductase enzymes necessary to eliminate these neurostimulants from the synapse or the blood and seizures occur.
Therefore, it just made sense that limiting these allergenic foods would potentially have a positive effect on the person or pet suffering from epilepsy as well as have a beneficial effect on a number of other chronic illnesses, especially those in the idiopathic category. This is exactly what has happened in my practice as well as my personal life.

The Results

I immediately began applying what I had learned to myself and the patients in my practice. All of my chronic symptoms listed earlier disappeared over a short period of time. Gone were the intestinal and neurological symptoms in short order. The pets were also making miraculous recoveries from chronic allergies, intestinal disorders, and pain syndromes as well as the subject of this dissertation, epilepsy.

Yes, the idiopathic epileptics were improving one after the other, mostly over night. It did not matter whether they were having five seizures a day or one every three months. They all stopped having as many seizures and most were able to be taken off of their medication or never required anticonvulsants to control their seizures. I now have close to twenty epileptic patients under control by applying this principle. They are on a variety of diets, each with a different degree of glutamate restriction. Some have required only the big three (wheat, dairy, and soy) to be restricted. Others required corn restriction as well and were placed on rice-based diets. The worst of the worst required the potato- based diets. Some began on one diet but required "upgrading" to a more restricted diet months to years down the road.
I have so many great stories to tell that I could fill volumes with clinical vignettes. Suffice it to say that the food connection was proven over and over again, both on purpose and by accident, through planning and trial and error, and by owners making regular mistakes in food selection. In some cases, one bowl of the wrong food generated seizures within hours of consumption with those seizures becoming immediately under control with the restoration of the restricted diet.

I came very close to publishing my data many times while waiting to amass more substantial numbers of affected patients. "How many did I need to 'go public'?" I would ask myself. Did I require five, ten, or fifty to be credible in the eyes of my peers? I began writing to my alma mater very early on but was unable to generate much interest. I was surprised and disappointed at first but I decided to be patient. I knew the time would come.
Then, in walked the "glaring example". He was number eighteen on the roster of epileptics and would soon be the poster child for this concept. He was a handsome four-year-old German shepherd that was being treated for epilepsy by a colleague of mine. He was brought to me, however, to be put to sleep because his condition had deteriorated over the last year despite the use of two different anticonvulsants. The owner told me that he came to me because the other doctor would not put him to sleep due to the fact that there was more medication to be given. But, the owner was tired of seeing his dog convulse and "Shadow" had experienced nearly thirty seizures the night before he was presented to me.

Little did my new client know, the information he was about to receive would change his pet's life forever. I explained the concept of limiting the diet of the "usual suspects" (wheat, barley, dairy, soy, corn, and even rice) and how that could stop the seizures almost immediately. He seemed to understand. I told him that we were going to feed his pet a commercially available potato-based dog food. I explained that potatoes had much less of the offending neurostimulants due to the fact they were not in the grain family. (I have a chart of all of the foods we consume with their respective levels of glutamate and aspartate.) I asked him if he would like to know the odds of his dog recovering and he said, "I guess." I boldly told him that if "Shadow" didn't get well, he would be the first out of my last seventeen dogs. He liked those odds.

Then came the interesting part. The medical history was so classical that it propelled this pet to the head of his class. His seizures began three years ago and within two months of a diet change, when the owner switched from one of my "safe" foods to one of the most "forbidden" on the market. This was "coincidence" number one. The second point was that his seizures only occurred at night around ten or eleven o'clock. He was always fed early in the evening at approximately five o'clock. There was that four to six hour interval that I had determined to be so typical of these pets. Just like the insomniac who is awakened in the middle of the night and the ADHD child who becomes intolerably hyper hours after eating, the epileptic has seizures when that critical amount of glutamate finally reaches the brain, hours after digestion has begun. So, the required amount of time between the offending food being ingested and free glutamate reaching the brain appears to be about five hours.

But, I had to know what happened the day before he brought him in. This would be the third point. Why did this serious cluster of seizures occur? At first, the owner said that there was nothing different about that day. It was not until he returned to pick "Shadow" up that evening that he told me about the chicken feed. Yes, the day before, the owner had put out chicken feed and "Shadow" had eaten a large amount of it. (I told the owner, and he later confirmed the fact, that chicken feed was absolutely loaded with wheat.) He then proceeded to eat an extra large bowl of his regular dog food at his usual feeding time.

The violent seizures began about four hours later. I had found my "poster child". It was time to go public with the findings.

Conclusions

"Idiopathic epilepsy" is not so idiopathic anymore, is it? I now view my epileptic patients as little Lou Gehrig's sufferers, unable to clear glutamate and aspartate from their brain. Whether this is an accurate description or not is yet to be proven but the overall concept just described explains nearly all aspects of idiopathic epilepsy.
The cause of the seizures is bound to be the accumulation of the neurostimulants glutamate and aspartate in the brain. Limiting the dietary sources of these amino acids halts the seizures, over night in most cases. This has benefited 100% of my epileptic patients. But the benefits are more than first meet the eye.

The beauty of our body is that it always does the right thing. We may not like what it is doing at the time...the fever, the chills, the gastrointestinal symptoms, the MS attack, the seizure...but it is doing what is proper in all of these cases. The reason we don't like these symptoms or why someone would think that what I just wrote is totally absurd is because they don't understand what the body is trying to do during these episodes. Once again, The Answer goes into greater detail here. But the wonder of it all is that the seizure is actually therapeutic. . It took me a while to see it, but this is clearly the case. The seizure occurs in order to clear the brain of the offending agent, the glutamate. If it didn't do so, the level would reach neurotoxic levels and actually kill large numbers of brain cells, just like it does to neurons in Lou Gehrig's Disease. Yes, the seizure has a purpose.
But that brings up a vital issue. Are we doing the right thing by medicating these patients with anticonvulsants? The answer is clearly "No" if we understand the true nature of epilepsy, isn't it? By sedating the brain, we make it less responsive to the glutamate and aspartate. Therefore, these neurostimulants are allowed to reach much higher levels than would normally occur. But fortunately, most individuals will ultimately have a seizure while on medication, relieving the brain of the neurotoxic levels. This is exactly what we see clinically and those seizures are often the most violent, coming in clusters. Now that we understand this concept, we can explain this phenomenon.

We can now also explain the aura. Epileptics often experience a distinct sensation before having the seizure. Even pet owners that have had epileptic pets for years have picked up on the strange behaviors that precede some seizures. Migraine sufferers, especially those that experience the cluster "suicide" headaches, often report seeing bright lights and having fleeting thoughts just before the attack. This is the beauty of nature again, issuing a warning sign that the episode is about to begin. These warning signs are bound to be generated by the rising levels of glutamate stimulating the brain just before they reach "critical mass". Once that level is reached, the seizure occurs, clearing the brain of the culprit.

In addition to successfully managing the epileptic, the dietary solution provides insight into the wide variety of presentations of this elusive condition. For instance, the typical age of onset in the dog ranges from six months to six years. If this is simply a genetic defect of some sort, why does that first seizure occur over such a wide range of ages? Also, why is it often a progressive condition in the afflicted individual, beginning with milder seizures and longer intervals but changing into more violent attacks that are closer together? This suggests that the cause of the seizures is getting worse over time, doesn't it? The idea that there is a lessening of the epileptic's ability to handle the glutamate by a progressive deficiency in the reductase enzymes just makes sense. As the glue-induced malabsorption in the gut worsens, the individual's ability to process the rising glutamate in the brain becomes impaired by the dropping reductase levels. This explains both the variance in age of onset and the shrinking intervals between seizures. In addition, the attacks get more violent, especially once we institute anticonvulsant therapy thereby allowing the levels of glutamate to reach more toxic levels.

One final issue is the matter of the "side effects" of those anticonvulsants. In the veterinary profession, it has been presumed that the behavioral changes that can be seen with patients on long-term medications are actually caused by the anticonvulsants themselves. I suggest that we rethink this idea and consider the possibility that it is in fact the long-term suppression of the needed seizures that does the harm.. Could it be that the allowed build up of glutamate in the brain resulting in neuronal death is the actual mechanism for the attitude changes such as aggression or lethargy? Why one pet turns hyperactive and aggressive while another seemingly loses his will to live becomes a little more understandable when viewed through the eyes of the actual death of brain cells.

Summary

In conclusion, the critical matter of why one dog has epilepsy while another does not on the same food can be best resolved in the concept of the individual's ability to manufacture the necessary reductase enzyme (e.g. glutamine synthetase at the synapse or glutamate dehydrogenase and the transaminases in the liver) to clear these neurostimulatory amino acids from the brain or from the bloodstream. Seizures will occur in those individuals who have inadequate production of those enzymes and who are consuming foods that are rich in glutamate and aspartate. The lack of the reductase enzymes in either the brain or the liver is likely to be caused at least in part by the malabsorption of those vitamins that are responsible for the formation of that enzyme system. This is due to the "glue" that is inherent in that food which ultimately damages the duodenal villi or at least causes a temporary blockade by coating their absorptive surface. (We must keep in mind that in the pet, every bite of food is uniform and with each meal, the foods that contain the "glue" will affect the ability of the duodenum to do its job.) This "glue" blockade also helps to explain the epidemiologic fact that the countries that drink the most cow milk have the highest rate of osteoporosis. The casein in the milk is blocking the absorption of the calcium in that milk. It is that simple, I'm afraid. Osteoporosis is also epidemic among celiacs. Now that the reader understands the role of gluten, this is no longer a surprise.

As in the human celiac patient, the true damage to the gut will be even more recognizable by the formation of food allergies. "Unfortunately" , not all celiacs have food allergies but most will if the history is taken thoroughly. Both the human and veterinary professions have horribly overlooked the role of foods in allergies in my opinion. But, any veterinarian will vouch for the fact that the most allergic breeds (the Golden retriever, Cocker spaniel, Labrador retriever, German shepherd, Poodle, and Beagle to name a few) are the most common epileptics. This is no longer a "coincidence" . The allergic symptoms, such as skin and ear disorders, are simply the warning signs that the deeper damage is taking place. This, of course, is true in humans as well.

But, the interesting thing is that the foods that are bad for our pets and us literally scream at us that they are just that. My next paper will be entitled Warning Signs (or How you should have known what you have now was coming based on what you had before). The allergies are just the tip of the iceberg. The excess glutamate and aspartate also stimulate the pain center in our brain, making it as sensitive as the taste buds they were intended to affect. This contributes significantly to an abnormally low tolerance to pain as seen in fibromyalgia, rheumatoid disease, and other conditions accompanied by painful stimuli. Once again, my fibromylagia of two years duration disappeared the month I eliminated wheat. This result is now totally explainable.

These trouble foods do harm in a myriad of ways, it is clear. The idiopathic epilepsy is simply a severe warning sign. I believe a pet left to its own instinct would avoid such harmful foods by trial and error. But, the startling reality is that our pets would never even be exposed to these problem foods in the wild. They would never eat wheat, barley, corn, rice, or oats in nature, as they are all man-made, man-raised crops. In fact, the history of these grains is absolutely fascinating and can be found in The Answer.
So, we can add one more element to this argument, one that rarely fails to illustrate the truth. That is whether something is "natural" or not. In this case, the foods that create the most problems are totally unnatural for the pet. Cow milk, soy, and all of the aforementioned crops are in that category. Should we be that surprised at the results of their consumption when viewed in that light? But, shouldn't we also be concerned about the human being? Are we that different? Is it natural for the human to continue to drink milk after weaning? We would be the only mammalian species to do so if that were the case. It is a universal mammalian trait to stop nursing once the birth weight is tripled.
Many would ask "But what about orphans?" The answer I give to them is simple. That is where the sheep and goat milk comes in, neither of which contain appreciable amounts of casein, the problem ingredient in cow milk. Goat milk has been known as the universal foster milk for millennia. The ancients knew this. That source of milk was the reason the Greeks elevated the goat to the heavens in the form of a constellation. It was much later that man chose the wrong source of dairy supplementation, the cow.

We have made a number of similar bad choices in the past, many quite recently. Most of our grains are either corrupted versions of their ancestors or simply poor selections from the start. Man created common wheat from what I lovingly call "God's wheat" in about 400 A.D. This is well described in The Answer. Man also improperly selected corn over the more natural grains like quinoa and millet. But our latest decision to consume soy, which I term the "third plague" behind man's wheat and cow milk, is the "worst of the worst". The rise in pain syndromes and epilepsy in both humans and animals will testify to that fact.

There have been more than ample provisions of nutrients for all creatures on earth. In nature, the animals eat what is proper and that which harms them triggers their warning systems into action to let them know that they have made a mistake. These warning signs range from sore throats to severe allergic reactions. I now doubt whether epilepsy occurs very often in nature due to the likelihood that the symptoms preceding it...the allergies, gastrointestinal symptoms, and lethargy following meals...would warn them off of those offending foods. It is just man who seems to have a difficult time grasping or holding onto this concept.

Why is that? Why has man forgotten that our body does everything for a reason? Why have doctors and veterinarians like myself in the past become so convinced that we are smarter than our body, taking it upon themselves to counteract everything our body does to get through its daily challenges? When did we leave our first love, the wonderment we shared of how perfectly this creation was put together?
We will not succeed until we return to our origins, reexamining plaguing conditions like epilepsy more through the eyes of a child. "Why does my body do that?" you can almost hear them ask. Why, indeed? We're not asking the right questions about heartburn, irritable bowel syndrome, asthma, immune-mediated diseases, or epilepsy. However, once we do, answers seem to pop up everywhere.
So, are we really a genetically flawed organism, doomed to extinction, which cannot exist without medication? The idiopathic epileptic is now an example of how wrong we can be in thinking so.

J. S. Baker, D.V.M.

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