Key Learning Points
How Chinese medicine explains epilepsy seizures is very different from Western medicine, but still! The Chinese theory and approach to it has been used for millennia: probably longer than the Western model.
You can find out about the Western approach at sites devoted to epilepsy: click here for one of them. The usual treatment is medication.
Briefly, the nerves in your brain are thought to ‘fire’ too often and too strongly, swamping your normal brain’s electrical traffic and often forcing your body to spasm.
Worse, you may lose consciousness and could damage yourself.
There are many kinds of seizure.
Watch someone having epilepsy seizures and you’ll see someone who often has too much activity in the upper part of their body, including
Like just about everything in Chinese medicine, it comes down to an imbalance between yin and yang.
In health, these are in balance, or return to balance naturally. For example:
But what if your body has lost its ability, for a while, to re-balance itself? Then the imbalance would continue until you exhausted yourself: for example, with excess-yang-type epilepsy seizures, you could say that it burns itself out, discharging the excess violently in spasms and with you ‘blanking’ out.
To explain this in Chinese medical theory, there are basically four syndromes which are seen again and again. These are described in more detail further down this page, or you can read a whole lot more about them by clicking on them. Their names are:
Of course, it’s never quite that simple! Deeper questions arise such as – how did you get like this in the first place? (Well, trust me, the Chinese did think about this very carefully!)
If you get yang excess, there’s usually a trigger that starts the excess Yang ascending, or produces the form of Heat called Damp-Heat. Also there’s an underlying weakness or tendency (being the Kidney deficiency). In addition, treating one of your ‘zang-fu‘ energy organs that is mis-functioning could provide a huge improvement.
Chinese medicine has ways to treat the excess and to correct the underlying susceptibility or weakness.
Usually during the epilepsy seizure, treatment is intended to palliate and shorten the attack.
Later, between attacks, they treat the susceptibility.
You can have more than one of those syndromes mentioned above at the same time. In fact, the longer you have had the problem the more likely it is that you will have more than one syndrome.
(By the way, to be accurate, Chinese medicine doesn’t treat epilepsy seizures. Instead it treats the syndrome(s) that after careful examination it has diagnosed. In theory if it can’t diagnose a syndrome to explain the condition, it’s stuck! But Chinese medicine is such a huge subject, having been in continuous development for well over three thousand years, it’s usually got something up its sleeve!)
Headaches, noises in the ears, dizziness, irritability, restlessness: these are the kind of symptoms you get with Liver Yang Rising (click on the link for much more information.)
If you get epilepsy seizures you’ll perhaps recognise some of these symptoms as being a bit like the sensations you experience before the attack itself.
They are symptoms of what Chinese medicine describes as energy rising upwards to your head. Normally, your energy circulates down again along so-called acupuncture ‘channels or meridians‘. But if too much rushes in one direction it blocks the flow the other way, just as a huge crowd of people rushing in one direction blocks people walking in the opposite direction.
This cause of epilepsy seizures is a bit like Liver Yang rising, but with a huge increase in suddenness and intensity. It’s called Liver Wind for a good reason.
If you’ve ever been out in a high wind, a tempest, storm or hurricane, you’ll know things happen precipitously: doors slam, roofs depart, dustbin lids attack you. There is little time to react. And things are in constant motion as the wind rips through them.
So you can get, in addition, twitching, flushing, tremor and seizures.
To make more sense of this cause of epilepsy seizures you need to read about Damp and about Heat. Together they produce Damp-Heat and this is particularly a problem with Damp-Heat in the Gallbladder.
Think of it as heating your Liver which, if you are have ever had too much alcohol to drink (apologies to readers who don’t drink alcohol, but even you may have seen people suffering from an alcoholic hangover), makes you feel wretched, nauseous, irritable, with red eyes and a headache … as it tries to clear your system.
That heat is transferred (too complicated to explain) to your Gallbladder and Liver channels which reach up to your head. So the Heat rises and blocks downward movement in the channels. Result? What we call an epilepsy seizure.
The simplest answer is that you got it by putting the wrong stuff inside yourself: junk food, rich food, too spicy, too much alcohol, drugs. It’s made worse in hot, damp environments. It’s often because you ate the foods too fast or took too many drugs for your body to metabolise.
Read more about this under nutrition.
It’s made more likely if you have a history of stress, causing Qi stagnation, which itself becomes another trigger. (Why does stress do this? Think of when you rub your hands together vigorously: you feel heat developing from the friction. Add in the wrong foods, and they cook inside you, producing damp-heat.)
It becomes like a huge internal cauldron full of burning oil, fuelled by the wrong foods and whipped up by strong emotions: very hard to put out by yourself.
Fortunately, this syndrome usually takes time to develop. You have to work away at doing everything ‘wrong’ for a while, possibly for years – depending on your inherited constitution – before it begins!
By then, so much heat has built up that you may start to get other symptoms, like skin problems, red eyes, athlete’s foot, vaginal discharges and headaches, not to mention intolerance and irritability. You may easily submit to feelings of injustice. Clearing all this heat and damp takes time, even with good treatment.
However, as the heat and damp are gradually cleared, you would notice an improvement in your skin, your eyes, athlete’s foot, discharges and headaches, your temper and ultimately, assuming Damp-Heat is the cause, in your epilepsy seizures.
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Your Kidney energy supplies a kind of gravity in your body. (Without gravity, we’d all fly off into the sky!) In your body, its function is to anchor other energies, especially your Liver energy which, if you’ve read this far, you now realise is inclined to press upwards, potentially leading to epilepsy seizures.
In Chinese medicine, your Kidney energy is hugely important in keeping you balanced and in health. (For the moment, forget what your kidney organs do. Their function isn’t overlooked in Chinese medicine but there are deemed to be other Kidney ‘functions’ that are more important in many ways. Read Kidney functions.)
Unfortunately, in lots of ways, ageing being one of the main ones. But anything which overheats or overstrains you, especially if it happens too often or too strongly, can weaken your Kidney energy. You might not realise the consequences of what you did until some time, perhaps many years, later.
So a history of febrile diseases in youth, or the after-effects of sunstroke or severe sunburn, or the prevention with modern drugs of holiday diarrhoea (your body’s attempt to clear heat) may all be influential, over time, in depleting your Kidney energy.
Some people are born with weakness: a genetic problem which may not have appeared as epilepsy in your parents but which may have been caused by your parents being in poor or weakened health at the time of your conception, possibly aggravated by events during your mother’s pregnancy with you.
When that happens energy flies upwards more easily. You will be more restless and find it harder to concentrate, with poor endurance.
However, all is not lost! Steady application of effort towards better self-discipline and the right foods, enough rest and exercise, and a supportive environment, can all help.
Of course, acupuncture and Chinese medicine as a whole have a handle on this, so it’s worth seeking professional help over a period of time. Don’t leave it too late! Your Kidney energy depletes over life so it’s harder to ‘mend’ as you grow old.
Please don’t expect one session of acupuncture or a single dose of Chinese herbs to ‘cure’ the syndrome(s) causing your epileptic seizures. Chinese medicine can seem to cure some things like magic, but it isn’t magic but the careful application of a 3000+ year old theory. Success can take time.
There are various ways Chinese medicine and acupuncture has developed to deal with the syndromes that describe epilepsy seizures.
Which methods are best depends to some extent on the diagnosis. That diagnosis may show that, besides the four syndromes mentioned above there are others which have ‘accumulated’ over your life.
In which case, how to treat you and how fast you might expect to see improvement could depend on a whole range of factors.
No. There’s more, because underlying the four syndromes that I’ve described are others that may need treatment. They can seem somewhat remote from your situation, but they might actually, in Chinese medicine, be quite important.
Often they would explain other factors about your health, or tend to push your body towards the syndromes described, like a kind of wind behind you, always blowing you in one direction.
Some of them derive from what one might call ‘personality features‘: others are long-term and deep-seated, though not impossible to treat.
‘Personality features‘ might include that you are a naturally ‘Fiery’ individual, friendly and warm, perhaps a bit of an exhibitionist, but often good at inspiring others. (Or one of the other personality types that Chinese medicine has identified. I have pages on them in preparation.) There’s an introduction to one way acupuncturists approach this in 5 Element theory – not used much by those who favour modern TCM theory.
Of the latter, more deep-seated conditions, as an example you could read about ‘chong-mo‘. This has to do with Blood at an even deeper level. (NB It gets a bit technical so is not a very easy read.)
Acupuncture theory has much to offer!
Check my collection of books:
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Taste in Chinese medicine describes, like short-hand, what foods and herbs can do for your health. Discover the right balance!
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