Epilepsy Treatment Diet

There are several diet options to help treat symptoms of epilepsy, including the ketogenic diet, the modified Atkins diet and the low glycemic index diet. The ketogenic diet has proven to be the most effective of the three, but is also the most restrictive option.

The ketogenic diet was developed in the early 1900s to help control epilepsy seizures in children. With the introduction of anti-epileptic medications, the diet was once forgotten, but is once again being used to treat individuals who don’t respond to medication.

What is the Ketogenic Diet?

Your body derives energy from the glucose in food, but you can only store about 24 hours worth of glucose at any given time. Once this is used up, your body needs to get its energy from stored fat. The high fat, low calorie, low carbohydrate ketogenic diet works by forcing the body to get its energy from fat rather than glucose. When following the ketogenic diet, 80 to 90 percent of calories are derived from fat, and every portion is measured carefully—right to the gram.

The Ketogenic Diet for Epilepsy Treatment

According to The Epilepsy Foundation of America®, approximately two-thirds of individuals experience greater seizure control on the ketogenic diet, with epilepsy seizures stopping completely in about half of these cases. Seizure medication is often still required while following the diet, but may be reduced or eliminated if the diet is effective. Follow-up with a doctor is essential. Epilepsy seizures may take a few days or a few months to respond to the diet.

Research to determine why the ketogenic diet works is currently underway. In 2005, the Emory University School of Medicine in Atlanta, Georgia began a study with the hypothesis that the ketogenic diet modifies the genes responsible for energy metabolism in the brain. They believe that this helps to stabilize neural activity and prevent seizures.

The ketogenic diet has proven to be effective in controlling different types of seizures, particularly in children. Because the ketogenic diet is usually prescribed for just two years, side effects tend to be minimal. During treatment, possible side effects include:

  • Bone density loss
  • Constipation
  • Dehydration
  • Diarrhea
  • Gall stones
  • Kidney stones
  • Stomach cramps
  • Vomiting
  • Weight gain or loss.

Alternatives to the Ketogenic Diet

The ketogenic diet is very restrictive. And as a result, other, less-restrictive diets such as the low glycemic index diet and the modified Atkins diet are becoming more popular. Both of these low-carbohydrate diets are similar to the ketogenic diet, but neither requires food to be weighed out in specific amounts.

The low glycemic index diet is high in fat. It controls total carbohydrate intake, as well as the types of carbohydrates consumed. Only carbs that don’t raise blood glucose levels too high are permitted. Epilepsy.com reports that the majority of individuals on this diet experience a reduction in seizure frequency.

In the modified Atkins diet, fats are encouraged and carbohydrates are minimized, but there are no restrictions on proteins, fluids and calories. According to Epilepsy.com, approximately 60 percent of individuals on this diet experience a 50 percent reduction in seizure frequency within 6 months.

Is a Diet for Epilepsy Treatment Right for You?

You should consult your physician before you undertake any diet for epilepsy treatment. All of these diets have potential side effects that should be monitored throughout the treatment.


Donner, E. J. (2006). Ketogenic diet for epilepsy. Retrieved March 29, 2010, from http://www.aboutkidshealth.ca/Epilepsy/Ketogenic-Diet-for-Epilepsy.aspx?articleID=7012