A Father’s Early Observations of Treating Seizures with Centipedes

By John G. McGarvey /

A Father’s Early Observations of Treating Seizures with Centipedes

Since we started DAO Labs, a core value of our company has been that of authenticity to the herbs and practice of Traditional Chinese Medicine.  As I’ve talked about before, my colleague Dr. Eric Karchmer’s current sabbatical in Taiwan as a Fulbright Scholar underscores this promise, with conclusions from his research helping drive enthusiasm and passion for what’s possible.  We also hear time and again that Chinese Medicine holds solutions when other western options fall short.  Here’s an example that drives this notion home in an incredible and highly personal way.  

For the years leading up to the launch of DAO Labs, Eric and his wife were tirelessly looking after their very young son who had a rare and devastating form of epilepsy called infantile spasms since he was six months old, with frequent appointments with specialists at hospitals from Boston to Raleigh. In addition to the doctors appointments, Eric and his wife painstakingly prepared a highly restrictive ketogenic diet and tried other alternative options like CBD, all with the goal of helping reduce if not eliminate their young child’s seizures. This, while juggling careers and caring for their other two boys.   

Eric would provide occasional updates that involved new therapies or options.  But as we heard, nothing seemed to totally eliminate his son’s seizures, with each event creating mental and physical setbacks for his young child.

But then over coffee one day, Eric had some news: his son hadn’t experienced a seizure in nearly three months and with delight, Eric told me that I’d never guess what the key ingredient had been: it was centipedes. 

Centipedes and Chinese Herbal Medicine: Some Background

As Eric observes in his preliminary Fulbright Research, the use of dried centipedes in Chinese medicine for treating epilepsy has a long history. It is almost always used in combination with other supporting medicinals, in part to moderate its toxicity. It was only through the guidance of a senior Chinese medicine doctor that he realized how important it is to an epilepsy formula.  He also later learned that a famous early 20th century Chinese medicine physician, Zhang Xichun, was especially enthusiastic about the role of centipedes in controlling seizures. Eric writes in his conference paper:  

According to classic principles in Chinese medicine, seizures are caused in part by an “internal wind,” and centipedes can be used to “extinguish wind.”  Zhang Xichun’s research can help us further understand the role of centipedes in treating seizures. He argued that seizures were caused by “original ‘yang seizing Qi’ and blood and rushing upwards to disturb the brain.” He further explained: “To treat the branch of this condition, nothing is better than centipedes. Branch-treating medicinals should be used to relieve the emergency… and root-treating medicinals to clear the source (Zhang Xichun 2015 (1918), II: 352-353).”

Eric’s Preliminary Research & Early Observations

Eric’s research provides further context not only about his son’s experience and but about another young child with the infantile spasms diagnosis. Writing about his own son’s journey, he observes:

“Due to behavioral issues in school, the parents decided to taper the child off [a prescription regimen] when the child was roughly six years old. Seizure frequency did not worsen without [the regimen], but head and arm jerks intensified considerably, and clusters increased in length from 10 minutes to 30 minutes. 

 

At 6 ½ years, four months after stopping [the regimen], the parents began giving the child a Chinese herbal therapy that contained centipedes (Scolopendra subspinipes mutilans L. Koch.). The parents had administered Chinese herbal therapies previously but without much clear success. Adding centipedes to the previous formula seemed to result in immediate improvements. The child was soon seizure free and has remained so for over 3 ½ three years. The parents gradually stopped all other therapies (CBD and the ketogenic diet).

 

For the past year and a half, the child has only received Chinese herbal therapies, including centipedes.”

Should We Be Surprised?

Surprised?  Perhaps not. Intrigued and curious? Absolutely.  At this juncture, nothing surprises me about Chinese medicine, with Eric’s experience and research just one more reason why.  Here is an example of a father leveraging his experience as an academic and Doctor of Chinese Medicine to help his son, much like the thousands who turn to Acupuncture and herbs for reasons ranging from fertility support to pain management, with nearly everything in between.  

And while the prospects of ingesting centipedes might not immediately register with our western preferences, it’s worth remembering that penicillin was born from mold and cricket flour is used in everything from protein bars to cake mixes (some claim it to be the protein of the future given its environmentally friendly characteristics).  

Chinese medicine provides no shortage of unique possibilities that Eric will be outlining further as his Fulbright Scholarship concludes and with a new book on the horizon that details the recent history of Chinese medicine.  But in an era of vaccines and boosters, it’s incredible to think that something so obscure as centipedes could offer such life-changing support for these two young kids.  

If there’s a moral for me on a personal level, it simply reinforces that while advances in modern medicine are incredible and should never be ignored, there’s an analogue to the medical advancements that were made with nature and needles thousands of years ago that are just as relevant today.           

Care Consideration: Just a reminder that the above information is not a substitute for medical care and is not a substitute for medical advice or recommendations  from a healthcare provider.  This information is not intended to treat, mitigate or cure any disease.  That said, we encourage you to connect with an Acupuncturist in your community to learn more about this and other Traditional Chinese Medicine options.  If you’ve got questions about Chinese herbal medicine or getting started with an Acupuncturist, feel free to connect with us on hello@mydaolabs.com

John G. McGarvey is a co-founder of DAO Labs and a regular contributor to The Way. A frequent visitor to China and Asia for both business and pleasure, he is an avid consumer of Chinese medicine. He can be reached at john@mydaolabs.com.

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