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The ketogenic diet has shown great promise when introduced to patients who have uncontrollable epileptic seizures and medication fails to work. The diet while strict and restrictive has shown positive results.

Epilepsy and ketogenic diet

A ketogenic diet requires a person to consume a high amount of fat and low carbohydrates, coupled with adequate amounts of protein.  The diet is used by certain healthcare practitioners as a way to control and treat a medical condition called epilepsy (a neurological condition which is marked by abnormal activity in the human brain) in young children and adults.

A person on a ketogenic diet will burn fats more quickly than carbohydrates, the carbohydrates turn into glucose which is transported and used for fuel by the brain.  With little carbohydrates in the body, the liver convert’s fat into fatty acids and ketosis (elevation of ketone levels in the blood) begins and has an anti-convulsive effect on the body.

Epilepsy is a term used to describe an entire group of disorders that cause a disruption in the electrical conduction system of the human brain.  Pulses in the brain work back and forth between neurons to produce feelings, thoughts and memories.  A person will experience an epileptic seizure when the disruption of energy pulses becomes too fast, which results from a brain abnormality. 

Changes in a person’s level of consciousness or uncontrollable movements in certain body parts or in the whole body are both changes that signal an epileptic seizure.  Epilepsy can also cause a person to experience recurrent seizures which can vary in frequency and severity.  Some people may only experience a few seizures in a lifetime, while others can have numerous seizures on any given day.

Signs and Symptoms of Epilepsy, and forms of epileptic seizures

Signs and Symptoms of Epilepsy

The signs of epilepsy will differ from person to person and symptoms will depend upon the type of seizure experienced.  It is common for a person to experience seizures of the same type each time one occurs and what can begin as a partial seizure can become worse over time. 

Different Forms of Epileptic Seizures

Seizures involving the whole human brain are classified as generalized seizures, though there are four distinct types of seizures:

  • Tonic-clonic seizures (also known as gran mal):  most extreme of all seizures and characterized by body stiffening, loss of consciousness and bladder control.
  • Myoclonic seizures:  appear as a sudden twitches and jerks in the body.
  • Atonic seizures:  known as drop attacks and cause a person to lose control over muscle function and collapse and fall down.
  • Absence seizures (also called petit mal):  seizures characterized by a person staring, along with subtle body motions and can result in brief loss of consciousness.

How is Epilepsy Diagnosed and epilepsy triggers

To properly diagnose epilepsy a person must first consult with a healthcare professional and submit to a number of medical tests.  Such medical tests include a neurological and behavioral examination, blood testing, neuropsychological tests, electroencephalogram (EEG), computerized tomography (CT), magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), functional MRI, positron emission tomography and single-photon emission computerized tomography (SPECT).  Only after extensive and comprehensive testing can a definitive diagnosis of epilepsy be made.

What Types of Things Trigger Epileptic Seizures?

There are many different reasons a person could have an epileptic seizure, including the following:

  • Inadequate sleep
  • Skipping meals
  • Recreational use of illicit drugs
  • Alcohol
  • Stress
  • Photosensitive epilepsy happens in those who are exposed to flashing or flicking light sources
  • Hormonal changes (women who experience seizures during the menstrual cycle have catamenial epilepsy)
  • Cigarette smoking
  • Other illnesses

Foods Allowed on a Ketogenic Diet

The ketogenic diet was first designed in the early 1900’s, and had been used to treat epilepsy successfully in children in the 1920’s and 1930’s.  The diet was gradually replaced with other treatment methods and anti-seizure medications, but for practitioners of natural and alternative medicine, ketogenics is still an important natural option when treating epilepsy. 

There are three categories of food allowable on the ketogenic diet; fatty, unrestricted and restricted.  Unrestricted foods for example could be carrots, lettuce, broccoli, spinach, berries, citrus fruits and any other fruits or vegetables in a fresh, natural state.  Restricted foods include candy, sugars and any food containing high levels of sugar whether natural or artificial.  Fatty foods allowed on the diet can include bacon, red meat, pork, nuts, cream, mayonnaise and butter.

How Does the Ketogenic Diet Work?

Those who wish to practice the diet are recommended to undergo a fasting period of 24 to 48 hours while under medical supervision.  Once the fasting period has ended a person may begin to observe and practice the ketogenic diet.  During the diet, the human body goes into survival mode and burns fat stores as an energy source to manufacture ketones.  For every six calories the body uses, four calories come from fat and the other two are obtained from carbohydrates and protein sources.

The ketogenic diet can be highly beneficial in those who have epilepsy which cannot be controlled by seizure medications.  The ketogenic diet is designed to allow the human body to make large amounts of ketones, a fatty product made by the liver.  The diet has been instrumental in reducing the numbers of seizures in many people, though the precise mechanism of action is unknown.


The ketogenic diet has shown great promise when introduced to patients who have uncontrollable epileptic seizures and medication fails to work.  The diet while strict and restrictive has shown positive results which can be beneficial to people of all ages who suffer from epilepsy.  The diet is an alternative for those who wish to try and control epilepsy naturally and has none of the side effects associated with antiepileptic drugs.  The ketogenic diet is currently the focus of ongoing medical research studies to try and determine the way certain foods can affect the severity of epileptic seizures and to improve the overall quality of health and life from those who suffer from the debilitating disease.