Epilepsy is a chronic neurological disorder associated with the interruption of normal electrical activity in the brain. The main symptom of this abnormal brain activity results in repeated seizures, which can range from short to severe and prolonged seizures.
Epilepsy is a variable condition that can differ from person to person. There are over 40 different types of seizures that people can experience. The classification of seizures is based on which part of the brain is affected:
- Partial (or focal) seizures = affect a small part of the brain.
- Generalized seizures = where most or all of the brain is affected.
Epilepsy is classified as one of the most common neurological diseases, affecting 50 million people worldwide, at any age.
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What are the causes of epilepsy?
There are several causes of epilepsy, including genetic, environmental, and physiological factors. All of them alter the function of neurons or cause functional changes in the brain.
The most common form of epilepsy, affecting 6 out of 10 people, is known as idiopathic epilepsy. The exact cause of this type of epilepsy remains unknown and genetic factors are key. Having relatives with this form of the disease is known to increase a person’s risk of developing epilepsy.
For all other existing types of epilepsy, the cause is considered secondary to an environmental or physiological factor. These reasons include:
- Severe head injury.
- An infection in the brain, i.e. meningitis.
- Brain tumors.
- Some genetic syndromes.
Is there a cure for epilepsy?
There is currently no known cure for epilepsy. However, there are very effective drugs known as antiepileptic drugs. It is estimated that around 70% of people with epilepsy can control their condition with their help.
There is a group of people with epilepsy who do not respond well to drugs and are believed to have drug-resistant epilepsy. Otherwise, it’s called intractable or refractory epilepsy. In this case, other forms of treatment must be sought.
History of the ketogenic diet for epilepsy
The use of the ketogenic diet for the treatment of epilepsy dates back to the era of Hippocrates. At the time, the primary way to induce ketosis was through fasting. Since the 1920s, modern reports on the keto diet for the treatment of childhood epilepsy.
It was during this time that discoveries were made that showed that the same level of ketosis could be caused by carbohydrate restriction and increased fat intake.
How the ketogenic diet helps patients with epilepsy
Although the keto diet is an established therapeutic option in major epileptic centers around the world, the exact mechanism of action is still not fully understood.
Over the past two decades, understanding of this mechanism has started to grow. The putative mechanisms of action of the ketogenic diet for anticonvulsant effects are believed to be due to:
- The state of ketosis.
- The decrease in glucose levels.
- Increased content of fatty acids.
- Improved bioenergy reserves.
The ketone bodies produced by the ketogenic diet are believed to have anticonvulsant effects and reduce the excitability of neurons in the brain. However, the exact link between ketone bodies and the anticonvulsant efficacy of a ketogenic diet is still not fully understood.
Another hypothesis on the role of ketone bodies in anticonvulsant activity is related to their effect on some neurotransmitters. Ketone bodies are believed to affect the major excitatory and inhibitory neurotransmitters, gamma-aminobutyric acid, and glutamate.
Ketone levels aren’t always related to seizure control. For example, people who show only moderate levels of ketosis (0.5-1 mmol / L) may have the same good seizure control as patients with higher ketone levels (4-6 mmol / L).
Although optimal ketone levels have not been classified, the infusion of glucose is known to cause seizures to return after just one hour.
If conventional treatments do not help you or your child reduce the frequency of attacks, a ketogenic diet is highly recommended. Be sure to discuss a suitable plan with your doctor and registered dietician and monitor the effectiveness of the keto diet.