HealthONE - October 15, 2018

According to the Epilepsy Foundation, epilepsy affects people of all ages and is the fourth most-common neurological disorder. Characterized by uncontrollable seizures, epilepsy can also cause other health problems.

For people with epilepsy, finding treatment methods that work can be challenging. Some people living with epilepsy might have tried multiple prescription medications, yet are still having seizures. In others with this condition, medication doesn’t completely keep seizures at bay.

Why some people with epilepsy change their diet
You might have read about people with epilepsy who have been able to better control or manage their seizures through dietary changes. In general, the diets people with epilepsy adopt are high in fat and low in carbohydrates.

Scientists aren’t exactly sure why a high-fat, low-carb diet helps reduce seizures in people living with epilepsy. However, there is some research suggesting that healthy fats can have a positive effect on the brain, which could indicate a possible correlation between a high-fat diet and fewer seizures in people with epilepsy.

Studies that looked at epilepsy and high-fat, low-carb diets
There are a few common diets that some people living with epilepsy might have heard of or tried. Some studies have shown that the ketogenic diet does seem to help about one in three adults with epilepsy. Another small study that looked at the ketogenic diet — also called the keto diet — reported that some people who participated in the study had fewer and less severe seizures and felt more alert.

While the keto diet might be trendy, most doctors probably won’t recommend it. Half of the people with epilepsy who participated in the aforementioned studies dropped out because the keto diet was too strict or too complicated to follow.

Another diet that might help with seizures is the Atkins diet, which focuses on eating more fat and protein while staying away from carbohydrates. A 2014 study found that a modified Atkins diet helped reduce seizures in about 30 percent of participants, with a few of these people reporting that their seizures had stopped.

Compared to the ketogenic diet, the modified Atkins diet doesn’t limit your fluids or calories in the same way. However, the modified Atkins diet is still pretty restrictive. A significant number of people with epilepsy who participated in these studies also ended up dropping out.

Talk to your doctor about treatment options for epilepsy
Rather than adopting a strict eating plan like the keto diet or the modified Atkins diet, people living with epilepsy could try a less restrictive approach. Instead of making major diet changes or thinking about what you can’t eat, it might be easier to first try eating more high-fat foods and cutting back on carbohydrates. High-fat foods include avocados, butter, olive oil and eggs. However, it’s important not to overdo it on these high-fat foods and make sure you’re getting the proper nutrients in your diet every day.

For someone living with epilepsy, it can be beneficial to talk to a nutritionist about modifying your diet, which may in turn help reduce the frequency and severity of one’s seizures. Before you make any diet changes, talk to your doctor. While the keto diet and Atkins might be trendy, this doesn’t mean that a high-fat, low-carb eating plan is right for you. Every person with epilepsy is unique and may respond differently to certain treatment methods for this health condition.

Swedish Medical Center uses a combination of medication and surgical procedures to provide targeted, comprehensive treatment options for epilepsy patients. Swedish integrates leading-edge technology and equipment into every phase of care for patients.