Can Diet Help Treat Epilepsy in Adults?

Can Diet Help Treat Epilepsy in Adults?

High-fat, low-carb diets for people with seizure disorders

It can feel like you've tried everything when it comes to epilepsy treatment. Prescription after prescription and you're still having seizures -- but you're not alone. For some people living with epilepsy, drugs don't completely keep seizures at bay. Plus, other treatment options, such as surgery or stimulation therapy, may not be right for you. So what can you do to feel better and live your best life?

Maybe you've read about controlling your seizures by controlling your diet. In general, these diets are high in fat and low in carbohydrates. Scientists aren't quite sure why this type of diet helps cut down on seizures, but it is known that healthy fats are serious brain boosters for the average adult.

One common option is a very strict therapy called the ketogenic diet. It's mostly prescribed for young children, but there's some interest in seeing how adults do on this plan. A 2014 review of the few studies that have been done showed that it seems to help about one in three adults. Some people in another small study said they had fewer and less severe seizures and that they felt more alert.

Even if it may work, your doctor probably wouldn't recommend the ketogenic diet because it's just not practical for most adults. Half of the people on this diet dropped out of the studies because it was too strict or complicated. But there's another diet that could help cut down on seizures and allow you to still eat at your favorite restaurant: the modified Atkins diet. 

Why might this be a better option? It doesn't limit your fluids or calories the way the ketogenic diet does. It can be started at home, instead of during a hospital stay. And family members can do it with you for support (with the approval of a doctor, of course). In the 2014 review paper, the modified Atkins diet seemed just as effective as the ketogenic diet -- helping to reduce seizures in a few weeks for about 30% of the people who tried it, with a few even becoming seizure-free. 

But the modified Atkins diet is still restrictive. Many people in the studies ended up dropping out of this diet, too. 

Instead of thinking about what you can't eat, these are some of the foods you can expect to eat if you and your doctor choose a high-fat, low-carb diet treatment:

  • Avocados
  • Butter
  • Olive oil
  • Mayonnaise
  • Heavy whipping cream
  • Bacon
  • Eggs

While changing what you eat may change your epilepsy, there isn't a lone miracle food that prevents seizures. You'll have regular doctor visits and health tests while working closely with a nutritionist on your diet overhaul -- even with the modified Atkins diet. Chat with your doctor to see if this treatment could work to get you closer to living seizure-free.

Medically reviewed in February 2019.

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