More proof prescriptions and pregnancy don’t mix: Epilepsy drug found to affect fetal development, causing cleft palate

In the last 10 years, topiramate, an anti-epileptic drug, has been increasingly prescribed to prevent seizures. It is also used to treat bipolar disorder and migraine headaches. Topiramate is also an ingredient for a weight-loss drug that was recently approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

Earlier studies have determined that women who took topiramate during the early stages of their pregnancy for its anti-epileptic properties “had a two- to five-fold greater chance of giving birth to a baby with an oral cleft.” However, these studies didn’t observe women who took the drug at lower doses for non-seizure related purposes.

The latest study by researchers from Brigham and Women’s Hospital and the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health was based on nationwide Medicaid data concerning an estimated one million live births from 2000 to 2010. Corresponding author Sonia Hernandez-Diaz, M.D., DrPH, of the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, et al. studied the risk of oral clefts along with cleft palate or cleft lip in three groups: infants with mothers who took topiramate in their first trimester; infants born with mothers who took the drug lamotrigine (an unrelated drug used by patients with bipolar disorder and epilepsy); and infants who were never exposed to anti-epileptic medications in utero.

Results revealed that compared to either the lamotrigine or the unexposed group, the risk of oral clefts was at least three times higher for the topiramate group. At least one out of every 1,000 infants are born with an oral cleft. Meanwhile, among infants exposed to low doses of topiramate (median 100 milligrams [mg] daily dose) in the first trimester, the risk was increased to 2.1 out of every 1,000 live births. For women taking higher doses of topiramate (median 200mg daily dose), the risk was an alarming: 12.3 for every 1,000 live births (Related: Smoking During Pregnancy Increases Risk of Cleft Lip in Infants.)

Hernandez-Diaz comments, “Our results suggest that women with epilepsy on topiramate have the highest relative risk of giving birth to a baby with cleft lip or cleft palate, likely due to the higher doses of topiramate when used for controlling seizures.” She concludes, “The best course may be to avoid prescribing high doses of topiramate to women of childbearing age unless the benefits clearly outweigh the risks.”

Herbal remedies for epilepsy

If you have epilepsy and are looking for natural remedies, you can incorporate some of the herbs listed below into your diet:

  • Ash gourd — This type of gourd can help relieve the symptoms of epilepsy and prevent seizures.
  • Bacopa leaf — A popular component in Ayurvedic medicine, the Bacopa leaf (or Brahmi) is an effective nerve health promoter. It can also enhance nerve health and protect the neurons against damage, which can keep seizures at bay.
  • Chamomile tea — Full of antioxidants, chamomile tea can also ease the symptoms of epilepsy. It is also a natural soothing agent that calms the nerves.
  • Garlic — Garlic is full of medicinal benefits, and it has many properties that can improve neurological health.
  • Frankincense — An essential oil often used for any kind of brain disorder, frankincense has a molecular makeup that includes sesquiterpenes. Sesquiterpenes are derived from plants and they can cross the blood/brain barrier. These sesquiterpenes stimulate the limbic system of the brain and other glands within the brain. They also promote memory and release emotions.
  • Indian gooseberry — Also known as amla, Indian gooseberry is the richest source of vitamin C. It also has lots of antioxidants and minerals. A glass of amla juice, taken on an empty stomach, will help relieve the symptoms of epilepsy and prevent seizures.

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