Progesterone and epilepsy – NIH-sponsored research shows benefit

progesterone-epilepsy-seizuresIt’s been fairly well established that women who suffer from premenstrual or catamenial epilepsy improve when they use progesterone, but mainstream medicine never got on board with the treatment. Now a gold standard, NIH-sponsored multicenter randomized, double-blinded, placebo-controlled phase III clinical trial should finally make progesterone a front line treatment for catamenial seizures.

Andrew Herzog M.D., M.Sc., of Harvard University, the lead investigator of the study, published his first research showing that progesterone was effective in treating catamenial epilepsy in 1995, which means it took 16 years for conventional medicine to pay attention. For a non-drug treatment that’s not backed by Big Pharma, that’s about how long it takes.

According to Herzog, “We found that progesterone can provide a clinically important benefit for a substantial portion of women with catamenial seizures, and the level of perimenstrual seizure exacerbation is a significant predictor of women most likely to benefit from this hormonal therapy.”

Needless to say, Dr. John Lee was prescribing progesterone years ago for his patients with catamenial epilepsy and in 2003 he received the following letter from a woman he corresponded with:

“I had simple partial seizures about every 21 days. They normally occurred during the day, and around ovulation or between ovulation and my menses. I used progesterone cream a few times when one started to come, and it seemed to be stopping them. I wrote you and told you that my epileptologist [seizure doctor] thinks this is psychological and that it could not absorb so fast, and you told me that it absorbs in seconds and you had heard the same from other women. My internal medicine doctor had an EEG done at my request during one of my simple partials to see if it was a panic attack or a simple partial seizure, and it was a simple partial seizure. My progesterone level during an episode was considered too low for proper bodily functioning.

“I wanted to let you know that I have been using the progesterone cream faithfully for almost 4 months now and have only had one slight simple partial seizure while coughing and I could not breathe. I am very happy these terrible simple partials are gone and I do not have those terrible auras of fear and physiological symptoms. My epileptologist is skeptical and still feels that it may be psychological. I do not agree. Well, if it is imaginary at least they are gone!”

You can be sure there’s a pharmaceutical company waiting in the wings with a patent for using some form of progesterone for catamenial seizures, but that shouldn’t stop anyone from going to their local health food store and buying some progesterone cream.

Although this research hasn’t shown up in a journal yet, the results were announced this weekend at the American Epilepsy Society’s 65th annual meeting in Baltimore.

More Information

Progesterone Cream or Pill – What’s Best?


Herzog AG, Harden CL, Liporace J et al, “Frequency of catamenial seizure exacerbation in women with localization-related epilepsy,” Ann Neurol. 2004 Sep;56(3):431-4.

Herzog AG, “Progesterone therapy in women with complex partial and secondary generalized seizures,” Neurology. 1995 Sep;45(9):1660-2.

Herzog AG, “Progesterone therapy in women with epilepsy: a 3-year follow-up,” Neurology. 1999 Jun 10;52(9):1917-8.

Herzog AG, Klein P, Ransil BJ, “Three patterns of catamenial epilepsy,”  Epilepsia. 1997 Oct;38(10):1082-8.

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