Two diets with the potential to reduce seizures
It’s been said “you are what you eat” and it’s true that your diet and nutrition plan has a significant impact on your health. But not many people realize that food can be just as powerful as medicine for treating certain diseases and conditions. When it comes to epilepsy, changing your diet under the close supervision of a doctor may help to reduce seizures, and sometimes even eliminate them. This is promising news for people whose epilepsy is not well controlled with medications alone.
“We often think of dieting for weight loss, but it can also be an important part of treating conditions such as epilepsy,” said Paul H. McCabe, M.D., neurologist at Geisinger Wyoming Valley Medical Center in Wilkes-Barre. “The ketogenic diet and modified Atkins diet are two that have been used successfully to reduce or prevent seizures.”
The ketogenic diet: high fat, low carbohydrate
The ketogenic diet is a high-fat, low-carbohydrate diet prescribed by doctors to treat epilepsy in some people. The diet produces ketones in the body, which are created when you use fat instead of carbohydrates for energy. These ketones can be detected in the blood, urine and breath.
“There are many theories about why this diet works to treat epilepsy, but it’s likely due to the action of ketones,” said Dr. McCabe. “Typically, higher ketone levels lead to better control of seizures.”
The ketogenic diet is very strict and everything must be measured before it’s consumed. For this reason, patients must work closely with a dietician to make sure they’re following the diet correctly. The dietician will make sure the patient gets three to four grams of fat for every one gram of protein and carbohydrate. The daily diet will include 75 to 100 calories for every kilogram of body weight.
“The ketogenic diet can get complicated quickly,” said Dr. McCabe. “The dietician will train patients, and parents of patients, about what to eat and when to maximize its effectiveness.”
The ketogenic diet is usually recommended for children whose epilepsy has not responded to several different medications. It’s usually not recommended for adults since the food restrictions make it so hard to follow.
The modified Atkins diet: effective and less restrictive
The modified Atkins diet is similar to the ketogenic diet, but much less restrictive. The diet is also high fat and low carbohydrate, but there are no fluid or calorie restrictions and foods are not weighed and measured.
Additionally, there is no restriction on protein in a modified Atkins diet like there is in a ketogenic diet. Typically, patients on modified Atkins diet will consume 35 percent of their calories from protein and fewer calories from carbohydrates than is recommended on a traditional Atkins diet.
“Many adults find the modified Atkins diet easier to follow than the ketogenic diet,” said Dr. McCabe. “It allows for greater freedom when eating meals in restaurants and other times when you may not be able to measure everything you eat precisely.”
The results: both diets reduce seizures
In a recent study, the effect on seizures was similar both for the ketogenic diet and modified Atkins diet. Roughly half of people with epilepsy who followed either diet experienced a 50 percent reduction in the number of seizures. Close to 15 percent of people became seizure-free.
“These diets have the potential to change the lives of people living with epilepsy,” said Dr. McCabe. “While it doesn’t work for everyone, it provides hope for people who haven’t had success using medications to control their condition.”
Paul H. McCabe, M.D., specializes in Clinical Neurophysiology, neurology and epilepsy. He sees patients at Geisinger Wyoming Valley Medical Center in Wilkes-Barre. To schedule an appointment, please call 800-275-6401 or visit Geisinger.org.