Did you know that a diet high in fat and low in carbs can help reduce the incidence of seizures in patients with epilepsy? I did not, but then again, I never went to medical school. Doctors have apparently known this trick for years, but they didn't know why — until now. And this new breakthrough may change the way health professionals treat this dangerous condition.
According to the Epilepsy Foundation, epilepsy affects roughly 3 million Americans and 50 million people worldwide. The brain disorder causes repeated seizures, or convulsions, over time due to disturbed brain activity.
For several years now, doctors have understood that a diet high in fatty foods like butter, eggs, and burgers, and low in carbs could reduce the incidence of seizures, particularly in patients who did not respond well to other forms of treatment. The high-fat/low-carb diet, also known as the ketogenic diet, forces the body to burn fats instead of carbohydrates. When the body burns fat, it produces ketones, rather than the glucose it would produce if it were burning carbs. And high levels of ketones in the blood reduce the frequency of epileptic seizures.
A new study by researchers at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute and Harvard Medical School may finally explain why. According to researchers, epileptic seizures might be linked to a protein that changes the metabolism in the brain. But with the ketogenic diet, this change does not occur.
The new study used mice as test subjects and found that the effects of the ketogenic diet could be mimicked by altering a specific protein, known as BAD. This led to a decrease in the number of seizures seen in the mice.
This study has given researchers a better understanding of the mechanisms behind epileptic seizures and how medications and treatment options can be improved to better help patients with the condition.