Can The Ketogenic Diet Help Seizures?

Medically Reviewed By Adam Bernstein, MD, ScD
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The high fat, low carb diet may be an alternative treatment for people with drug-resistant epilepsy. The diet is a medical treatment that consists of high fat, low carbohydrate, and controlled protein foods. It’s a strict diet that includes butter and oils. This eating method changes how your body processes food and induces “ketogenesis.” Despite the possible challenges in sticking with it, there is scientific proof of its success.

This article explains what the ketogenic diet is and if it can help those experiencing epileptic seizures.

What is the ketogenic diet?

Fruit, vegetables, and meat on a plate
Nadine Greeff/Stocksy United

The first recorded use of a fasting diet to treat epilepsy was in 1911, when a study found the diet improved the seizures of 20 children and adults. Ketogenic diets work to replicate the processes your body undergoes during fasting without you having to go without food. This replicated process is called “ketogenesis.”

Learn more about the ketogenic diet.

What is ketogenesis?

During ketogenesis, the liver generates “ketone bodies,” an alternative energy source to glucose. Your food turns into glucose under typical dietary conditions. Fasting or eating a high fat diet will produce ketone bodies.

The ketogenic diet limits how much carbohydrates, such as bread and pasta, you consume. It focuses on increasing the amount of fats and managing how much protein you eat.

This allows ketogenesis to occur because you have a low availability of carbohydrates and a high availability of fats.

The keto diet is reportedly effective in treating epilepsy in adults and children, especially those with drug-resistant epilepsy and adult intractable epilepsy.

The diet may impact several processes relating to seizures, including:

What foods do you eat on the keto diet?

Your diet will consist of about 90% fats. Portions of carbohydrates and proteins remain small. Foods high in carbohydrates are avoided or limited.

Foods you can eat while on the ketogenic diet include:

  • Animal proteins: These include seafood, meat and poultry, and eggs. Note that eggs are high in cholesterol. Your doctor may request regular cholesterol checks.
  • Dairy and dairy alternatives: Cheeses low in carbohydrates, such as blue cheese, halloumi, mozzarella, and parmesan.
  • Vegetables: Green leafy vegetables, peppers, squash, and high fat vegetables such as avocado and olives provide good sources of vitamins and antioxidants while remaining low in carbohydrates. However, sweet potatoes, larger amounts of onions, and corn should be avoided due to their high carbohydrate volume.
  • Oils: Oils high in antioxidants, such as olive oil.

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How can the ketogenic diet help epilepsy?

Consider discussing with your doctor whether the ketogenic diet may be right for you and the seizures you experience. The diet may have broad effects on the way your body processes food.

The ketogenic diet reduces neurological excitatory ability. This is thought to be one of the causes of seizures. The diet reduces or eliminates seizures by at least 50% in half of the people who try it and can prevent them from reoccurring.

A doctor or healthcare professional can provide more information and help you consider whether the ketogenic diet is an option.

How can the ketogenic diet help children with epilepsy?

Healthcare professionals recommend the ketogenic diet for children who are medication resistant. If your child has not seen effects from previously prescribed medications, then the ketogenic diet may work for them.

The diet will look different for every child. Here are factors to consider:

  • weight and age
  • the child’s typical diet
  • diet prescription, such as quantities of carbohydrates, protein, and fat advised

What can you expect when you start the ketogenic diet?

You may stay in the hospital before beginning the diet. The diet will not contain all the vitamins your body needs, so consider multivitamins and mineral supplements.

The ketogenic diet requires at least 3 months to reach ketosis. Consider regular visits with your doctor.

What are the benefits of the ketogenic diet?

The diet can help improve the frequency of seizures. One study found that as many as 20% of children on the diet for 6 months stop experiencing seizures.

Also, the increased consumption of oils such as olive oil is beneficial for maintaining heart health.

What are the risks of the ketogenic diet?

Though the diet is strict, it becomes less challenging over time. Still, people who try it may want to consider how it may impact their lives.

You may initially feel sluggish as your body becomes used to the diet.

Long-term side effects may include:

Sample menu

The following is a sample ketogenic diet menu. You may have to reduce the carbohydrates more over time to reach ketosis.

Breakfast

  • fried eggs with butter served with leafy greens such as spinach
  • mushroom omelet with cheese
  • baked avocado, eggs, and yogurt

Lunch

  • salmon, leafy greens, and pesto
  • cauliflower rice, avocado, herbs, and salsa
  • chicken salad with olive oil dressing

Dinner

  • coconut curry with spiced cauliflower
  • meatballs with zucchini noodles and mozzarella
  • salmon, broccoli with toasted almonds and olive oil

Summary

The ketogenic diet often helps reduce seizures but is recommended by healthcare professionals only after medications have not worked.

The diet is strict and requires adherence for results. Contact your healthcare professional if you think you or your child would benefit from the ketogenic diet for seizure treatment.

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Medical Reviewer: Adam Bernstein, MD, ScD
Last Review Date: 2022 Nov 12
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THIS TOOL DOES NOT PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. It is intended for informational purposes only. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Never ignore professional medical advice in seeking treatment because of something you have read on the site. If you think you may have a medical emergency, immediately call your doctor or dial 911.
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