The ketogenic diet for epilepsy (KDE) is a special diet that has helped many children and some adults achieve better (or even full) control of their seizures. It’s the first-line treatment for a few specific epilepsy syndromes, such as epilepsy due to mutations in GLUT-1 or pyruvate dehydrogenase deficiency.
The ketogenic diet for epilepsy is a very high-fat diet with just enough protein for body maintenance and growth and very low amounts of carbohydrates.
When fats are broken down for energy, the body goes into what’s called a ketogenic state, in which the body generates molecules called ketones. The goal of the KDE is for the brain to use ketones for energy rather than glucose (sugar) as much as possible.
How It Works
According to a 2017 review of studies, it appears that several mechanisms may be at work, including the following.
The diet makes the brain efficient in producing the neurotransmitter GABA which has a calming effect on the body.
The diet has significant anti-inflammatory and anti-oxidative impacts
Certain fatty acids in the diet may prevent brain cells from becoming overexcited.
Effects on a key sensor of cellular energy appear to help prevent excessive firing of brain cells.
The diet may impact circadian activities and the expression of a growth factor in the brain in a beneficial way.
Studies generally show that about a third of children with epilepsy who follow the ketogenic diet will have at least a 90% reduction in seizures, and another third will experience a reduction of between 50% and 90%. This is remarkable, considering that these patients are generally those whose seizures are not well-controlled with medications.