March 1, 2021

Understand the keto diet for epilepsy

Lifestyle & Wellness

The keto diet for epilepsy can help people with drug-resistant epilepsy control seizures. Learn how it is used for children and adults with epilepsy.

If your seizures are not controlled by anti-epilepsy medication, your doctor may have talked about following the keto diet for epilepsy. This is a special diet that has been used to treat epilepsy since the 1920s. 

The keto diet is effective for reducing or even stopping seizures among people with refractory epilepsy (when drugs don't stop your seizures).

Here is everything you need to know about the keto diet and epilepsy.

Foods for the keto diet and epilepsy

What is the keto diet?

The keto diet is a diet which is high in fat and low in protein and carbohydrates. In a normal diet most of your energy comes from carbohydrates (things like bread, pasta and potatoes). These foods get turned into sugar and are used by the cells in your body. However, if your body does not receive much carbohydrates it can use fat for energy instead. This is a state called ketosis.

The aim of a keto diet is to encourage your body to reach ketosis. To do so, most of the food in your diet needs to consist of fatty foods like butter, cream, oils, avocado and cheese.

Why is the keto diet good for epilepsy?

We still do not know exactly why the keto diet helps people with epilepsy and there are a number of different theories.

One possible explanation is that the electrical activity in your brain that causes seizures requires lots of energy. It is easy for your brain to quickly get energy from sugar. On the other hand, if your body is making energy from fat, it gets transmitted slower. This then means seizures cannot start as easily. There are a number of other explanations too.

Get to know your condition: What is drug-resistant epilepsy?

The benefits of the keto diet for epilepsy

Many studies have found that the keto diet can reduce or even stop seizures in people with epilepsy:

  • The majority of people on keto diets achieve more than 50% reduction in seizures
  • Almost half of people see their seizures reduced by 90% or more
  • Around 10% of people who follow the keto diet end up seizure free

Does the keto diet help adults with epilepsy?

Yes, it can. The keto diet has traditionally been used for treating children whose seizures are not controlled by medication. Nevertheless, it can also be used by adults and there are many studies which show it is effective. Adults often stop the keto diet because it can be very difficult to follow.

Problems with the keto diet

Doctors may recommend the keto diet for seizures which can’t be controlled with medication, but it does have some drawbacks:

  • Many people find it unpleasant to eat such a fatty diet
  • It can cause other health issues such as constipation, kidney stones and high cholesterol levels in the blood
  • It could lead to bone fractures and slowed growth
  • It is inflexible. You must follow the diet very strictly. For example, you cannot occasionally eat a single cookie or some other carbohydrate because this could immediately take you out of ketosis  

How to begin a keto diet for epilepsy

The keto diet is a specialist diet and you should follow it with the help of your doctor and a nutritionist. It is not something that you can start doing at home. To begin following the keto diet you will:

  • Visit a nutritionist who will do an assessment of your health and dietary needs
  • They will then develop a personalized meal plan for you
  • The diet is very strict and so all food must be weighed

If you follow the keto diet for a couple of years and your seizures are under control, your doctor may decide to start easing you off the treatment to a more normal diet.

Keto diet and epilepsy - knowing your options

If your seizures are not controlled by medication it can be very frustrating. The good news is that there are alternative ways of bringing your seizures under control - including the keto diet for epilepsy. 

If drugs aren’t working for you, talk to your doctor or epileptologist about alternative epilepsy treatments at your next appointment.