Low-Carb, High-Fat Diet May Trim Epileptic Seizures

Epilepsy related attacks in adults may decrease with ketogenic diet used to treat epilepsy in children

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD Beth Bolt, RPh

(RxWiki News) Medication can keep many adults with epilepsy from having seizures. For some, though, medication doesn't work. But new research suggests that diets low in carbs and high in fat may help.

Past research has found a low-carb, high-fat diet to be effective in treating certain children with epilepsy, according to the Epilepsy Foundation. Typically, these children have not responded to epilepsy medications.

A new study found that this dietary approach for stopping seizures may also work in some adults with epilepsy.

The study was written by Pavel Klein, MD, director of the Mid-Atlantic Epilepsy and Sleep Center in Bethesda, MD, and colleagues.

The study authors reviewed 10 studies of adults with hard-to-treat epilepsy who were following either a ketogenic diet or a modified Atkins diet. Both diets may be high in fatty foods (such as butter, heavy whipping cream, mayonnaise, beef and bacon). Both are low in carbohydrates (such as sugar, bread and pasta). These diets may include leafy green vegetables and fish as well.

Dr. Klein told dailyRx News that seizure frequencies varied, but, generally speaking, patients were having several a month before beginning the new diets.

The authors observed that about 30 percent of the people who started to follow either diet reduced their number of seizures by half or more. For example, Dr. Klein said that patients may have gone from two to four seizures a month to one or two a month.

Of the 47 patients following a ketogenic diet, 9 percent had a reduction in seizures of more than 90 percent. Of the 85 people on the Atkins diet, 5 percent had the same reduction.

Epilepsy is a brain disorder that can cause episodes of sudden, rapid shaking — known as seizures.

The ketogenic diet burns fat for energy (instead of blood sugar). This process — called ketosis — produces organic compounds in the body called ketones. Higher ketone levels often lead to improved seizure control, the Epilepsy Foundation reports.

"The mechanism by which a ketogenic diet prevents seizures remains poorly understood," the authors wrote.

A modified Atkins diet is similar to the ketogenic diet. It is “modified” because it allows for fewer carbs than the traditional Atkins diet. It also may encourage the production of ketones.

The researchers noted that both diets produced positive results within days or weeks. The 10 studies revealed that benefits could be long-term but did not continue if patients stopped following the diet.

“Unfortunately, long-term use of these diets is low because they are so limited and complicated,” Dr. Klein said in a press release. “Most people eventually stop the diet because of the culinary and social restrictions. However, these studies show the diets are moderately to very effective as another option for people with epilepsy.”

Weight loss was the most common side effect of either diet. The authors noted that this could prove to be an advantage for those who are obese.

The study was published in the Oct. 29 online issue of Neurology, the medical journal of the American Academy of Neurology.

The authors disclosed no funding sources. Some of the study authors had ties to UCB Pharma, GlaxoSmithKline, Eisai, Acorda, Lundbeck and SK Life Sciences.

Review Date: 
October 28, 2014
Last Updated:
October 30, 2014