The Ketogenic Diet and Epilepsy: Does it Help Adults with Seizures?

Ketogenic Diet & Kids With Epilepsy

Diet plays an important role in treating and controlling a variety of conditions – and seizures are no exception. Some kids who have seizures get seizure relief by following a ketogenic diet – a diet that’s low in carbohydrates and very high in fat. Up to a third of kids who try one of these diets has a decrease in their seizure frequency. But what about adults? Does a ketogenic diet reduce seizure activity in adults too?

Ketogenic diets look promising for adults with epilepsy too.

Researchers at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine placed 30 adults with epilepsy who had not responded to prescription anti-seizure medications on a ketogenic diet for 6 months and closely monitored their course. At the end of only one month on the diet, a full 50% of the participants had reduced their seizure frequency by half. This is good news since not all patients with epilepsy are helped with medications.

There is a problem with ketogenic diets for treating epilepsy. It’s a very hard diet to stick with – and half the adults in this study dropped out before the study was completed. Most Americans get 60% or more of their calories from carbohydrates – and a ketogenic diet contains almost no carbohydrates. In this study, participants were restricted to 15 grams of carbohydrates a day – even lower than the amount allowed during the induction phase of the Atkin’s diet.

How does it help adults with seizures?

No one knows exactly how a ketogenic diet benefits children and adults with epilepsy. When carbohydrates are restricted, the body forms ketone bodies as a fuel source to compensate for the lack of dietary carbs. Exactly how ketone bodies prevent seizures isn’t understood.

How safe is a ketogenic diet for treating epilepsy in adults?

At least shorter term, ketogenic diets for epilepsy appear to be safe. Some people who start one have a transient elevation in their cholesterol level, but it usually returns to normal over time. Despite this, no one knows whether such a high-fat diet will increase the risk of heart disease years down the line.

Because ketogenic diets are challenging to follow, it’s best to enlist the help of a dietitian who can provide a list of foods to eat and foods to avoid. Most carbohydrate foods will be off-limits or acceptable only in small amounts with the exception of low-carbohydrate vegetables – and it’s important to eat a very high-fat diet to encourage the body to make ketone bodies. Another problem with eating a ketogenic diet is the potential for vitamin and nutritional deficiencies. Most doctors advise taking vitamin supplements while on one.

The bottom line?

A ketogenic diet can be effective for both children and adults who have epilepsy, and it appears to be safe short-term. It may be a good option for adults with seizures who don’t get good results from seizure medications.

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