A healthcare professional may recommend a keto diet for epilepsy as an alternative management option. Potential benefits depend on factors like the type of epilepsy, seizure frequency and severity, and age.

Epilepsy is a neurological disorder characterized by recurring seizures. These seizures occur due to abnormal activity in the brain, which can lead to various symptoms such as convulsions, loss of consciousness, and unusual sensations.

The ketogenic diet, often called the keto diet, is a high fat, low carbohydrate eating plan that may help some people with their weight and health management goals.

Research suggests that the keto diet may offer benefits for some people with epilepsy who have not responded well to traditional medications or have difficult-to-control seizures.

The exact reason the ketogenic diet helps manage epilepsy is not entirely understood.

The diet induces a state called ketosis. This is when the body primarily relies on ketone bodies produced from fat metabolism (breakdown) as an alternative energy source rather than glucose derived from carbohydrates.

Ketones seem to have neuroprotective and anti-seizure properties, which may help stabilize brain activity and reduce the occurrence of seizures.

Researchers theorize the reason is that ketones produced during ketosis may be an alternative fuel source for brain cells, providing a more efficient energy supply compared to glucose. This could help with seizures.

Additionally, the keto diet may have other effects on brain health, such as reducing inflammation and oxidative stress. This may improve mitochondrial function and balance the level of neurotransmitters (chemical messengers) in the brain.

According to researchers, the ketogenic diet may lead to a decrease in seizure frequency and intensity. The benefits of the diet may reduce the need for some medications or allow for a dose reduction, which can minimize side effects associated with antiepileptic medications.

Apart from seizure management, the keto diet may also help with weight management, improved cholesterol profile, and glycemic control in some people with overweight and type 2 diabetes.

Not every person with epilepsy may experience improvements while on a keto diet.

Everyone is different and won’t respond the same way to a change in their eating habits. If you have epilepsy or another chronic condition, and if you currently take any medications, it’s essential to discuss the keto diet with a healthcare professional before making any changes to your dietary choices.

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People of all ages with epilepsy may experience improvement on a keto diet, particularly those who have difficult-to-control seizures and have not responded well to other approaches.

Some evidence suggests that children with certain types of epilepsy, such as infantile spasms or Lennox-Gastaut syndrome, may benefit the most.

One 2023 study found that a keto diet in children with drug-resistant epilepsy led to a significant reduction in seizure frequency. They believe the increase in ketone bodies and beta-hydroxybutyrate (BHB) levels may lead to the anticonvulsant effect.

Although the keto diet has been widely studied in pediatric epilepsy, research is also emerging on its potential benefits for adults.

It’s recognized as an alternative treatment for adults with refractory epilepsy, meaning those who have seizures that are difficult to control.

According to a 2017 study on adults with highly refractory epilepsy (when seizures can’t be completely managed with medications), a keto diet effectively reduced seizure frequency by 50% or more. But following the diet remains a significant challenge, with dropout rates around 51%.

The same study suggests the keto diet may also improve mood and energy levels and reduce the chance of comorbid diseases like obesity and type 2 diabetes.

The main principle of the keto diet is to consume a high amount of healthy fats, a moderate amount of protein, and a minimal amount of carbohydrates.

The typical macronutrient ratio in a standard keto diet is approximately:

  • 70% fats
  • 20% protein
  • 10% carbohydrates

Several options for keto-friendly meals exist, although you may need to check nutritional labels and calculate nutrient percentages.

Here are some general examples of keto-friendly foods:

  • Breakfast: Consider having a veggie omelet cooked in olive oil. Add spinach, mushrooms, and cheese. You can pair it with a side of avocado or add bacon for more flavor.
  • Lunch: Try a salad with a variety of greens, topped with seeds, grilled chicken, or salmon. Add sliced avocado, cherry tomatoes, and a drizzle of olive oil as a healthy, high fat dressing.
  • Dinner: Opt for tempeh, tofu, grilled steak, or baked salmon. Serve it with a side of roasted vegetables like cauliflower or broccoli, cooked in butter or olive oil. You can also enjoy a small portion of creamy mashed cauliflower as a substitute for traditional mashed potatoes.

If you live with epilepsy or another chronic condition, it’s essential to talk with a healthcare professional or registered dietitian before starting any new diet regimen, including the keto diet.

Prolonged dietary plans like the keto diet may lead to potential side effects.

In the case of the keto diet, these may include:

These side effects are often temporary and can be managed with proper guidance and support. You can work with a dietitian or healthcare professional to discuss possible side effects of a keto diet for epilepsy before starting.

Before considering a keto diet for epilepsy management, keep in mind that caution is advised:

  • Consult with a healthcare professional: They can help you explore dietary options for epilepsy, including the keto diet. A specific plan is often needed before changing your eating patterns.
  • Continue medical treatment: While the keto diet may offer benefits for epilepsy, it doesn’t replace medical treatment unless recommended by your healthcare team. It’s important to continue taking your medications and following a healthcare professional’s recommendations.
  • Regular monitoring and exams: Routine medical exams, including blood tests, may be necessary. These may help your treatment team assess how the diet is helping, identify any potential side effects, and adjust the treatment plan accordingly. A healthcare professional will advise if any tests are needed.
  • Individualized approach: Results with the keto diet may vary. It’s important to recognize that what works for one person may not work for another. Consider working closely with a healthcare team to customize the diet plan according to your needs.

The keto diet may help manage epilepsy in people who have not responded to traditional treatments. The keto diet may help reduce seizure frequency and severity in children and adults.

It’s important to proceed cautiously and talk with a healthcare professional to ensure you follow the diet safely and effectively.