Living with epilepsy can be hard, but there are ways to manage your symptoms and improve your quality of life. For a lot of people, anti-seizure medication is enough to control their seizures. But others will need to try other treatments. One option that has shown promise is the ketogenic diet (also known as keto).
Keto is a high-fat, low-carb diet that has been used for years to treat epilepsy in children and adults. By mimicking the effects of fasting, the keto diet can help reduce seizures and improve mental function.
In this blog post, we’ll look at how the keto diet works, why it may be helpful for managing epilepsy, and provide tips on how to get started. So if you’re looking for a natural way to manage your epilepsy symptoms, read on.
A Brief History of The Ketogenic Diet
The keto diet has become popular because of its weight loss capabilities. Surprisingly, the original reason for the diet was not to help people shed weight, but instead to address the needs of people suffering from epilepsy.
In the 1920s, doctors figured out that fasting can help lessen and even cure seizures in people who have epilepsy. You can’t fast forever though, so the keto diet was born. Keto is a diet where you eat a lot of fat, protein, and very few carbohydrates. When we eat a lot of carbs, our bodies use sugar for energy. But when we cut back on carbs, our bodies start to burn fat instead. This process is called ‘ketosis’ and is similar to how our bodies behave while fasting. Ketosis can lead to weight loss and other health benefits, such as improved blood sugar control and a lower risk of heart disease. But what does this have to do with epilepsy?
Ketosis and Epilepsy
During ketosis, the body makes ketones, which are important for people who have seizures. Ketones act very similar to anticonvulsants (found in anti-seizure medication). They help to calm down the part of the brain that causes people to be hyperactive. They lessen the symptoms of hyperactivity, including shaking and twitching and also help to prevent the spread of a seizure in the brain. As a result, the ketogenic diet is a useful tool for controlling seizures in individuals who suffer from epilepsy.
How To Get Started
Keto is more than just a diet, it’s a medical treatment (usually reserved for people with drug-resistant epilepsy). We recommend following the keto diet under the supervision of your GP or an epilepsy specialist. Still, here are 6 ways to improve your diet without going full keto.
1) Cut back on Carbohydrates
Somebody who is following a keto diet will eat no more than 50g of carbs a day. This can be a bit intense for somebody just starting. So instead, focus on reducing some of the refined carbs in your diet. Refined carbs include items such as white bread, white rice, pasta, cakes, pastries, and fizzy drinks.
2) Eat Healthy Fats
When carbs aren’t available, the body uses fat for energy. Healthy keto-friendly fats include avocados, nuts, coconut oil, olive oil, full-fat yoghurts, eggs, butter, fish and meat.
3) Intermittent Fasting
This part of the diet isn’t so much focused on what you eat, but on when you eat. By limiting how often you eat, your body is more likely to tap into fat stores to burn energy. Many people on keto aim to fast for 16 hours a day, leaving them an 8-hour window to eat in. For example, they might have their first meal of the day at 9 am and their last meal at 5 pm.
This might not be suitable for everyone, particularly if you have medication or supplements to be taken with food. So instead, you can start by limiting your snacks in-between meals. It’s up to each person to find a routine that suits them.
4) Increase Protein
Protein is an important part of any balanced diet. It’s even more important for somebody who is on intermittent fasting because protein helps us feel full for longer and reduce cravings.
5) Drink Plenty
Carbohydrates, or carbs, help the body to store water. When you cut back on carbs, the body will retain less water which can lead to dehydration. You can replace that lost water by simply drinking more! It’s easy to forget to drink water, especially when you have a busy schedule. Carrying a water bottle with you will act as a good reminder.
Note: It’s important to note that not all diets that promote ketosis are healthy, so consult with a healthcare professional before making any big changes to your diet.
Not only does exercise help you to enter a state of ketosis, but it also helps to control stress hormones and encourages a good night’s sleep. Seeing as stress and lack of sleep can trigger seizures, it’s no surprise that exercise is helping many people to control and manage their seizures.
There’s no need to rush into a heavy workout regime. Start small. Walking is often overlooked as a form of exercise, but it’s great for building stamina, boosting muscle endurance and much more. To take your mind off the effort, walk with a friend or listen to music!
While the keto diet may not work for everyone with epilepsy, it is beneficial for some people and is worth talking about with a healthcare provider as a possible treatment option.
The ketogenic diet is just one of many options available for people with epilepsy. There’s a lot of research going into potential new treatment choices for epilepsy, and technology that can help those living with epilepsy to live better lives. Check out some of the links below for more advice on living with epilepsy.
- The Daisy Garland works solely for children with drug-resistant epilepsy and their families. They also have a range of keto-friendly recipes from Daisy’s Keto Café!
- Matthew’s Friends specialise in medical keto and support families and patients through their dietary treatment.
Epilepsy Alarms UK provide the best range of trustworthy and accurate monitoring alarms and epilepsy sensors to help detect and manage seizures.