How Your Diet Can Help Improve Epilepsy Symptoms

How Your Diet Can Help Improve Epilepsy Symptoms

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that about three million adults in the United States have epilepsy

However, despite advances in our understanding of epilepsy and the medications available to treat it, the Epilepsy Foundation reports that at least 33% of adults do not have an optimal response to medication therapy.

Dr. Andrew Lerman is a board-certified neurologist and seizure specialist with a busy practice, Gables Neurology, in Miami, Florida. 

When developing a personalized care strategy for his patients, Dr. Lerman includes the newest evidence-based therapies available as well as the tried-and-true treatments that work for dementia, Parkinson’s, migraines, and other neurological disorders like epilepsy.

Read what experts have understood about diet and epilepsy since the early 1900s.

Understanding seizures and epilepsy

The human brain has about 86 billion neurons with about 10,000 connections each that spend their day carrying messages via electrical impulses from one neuron to the next.

This is the communication system (circuitry) your brain uses to control movement, regulate speech, process thoughts, and manage essentially every action necessary to keep you alive and functioning.

A seizure, driven by electrical disturbances or disruptions in your brain’s communication grid, is a type of glitch that can cause changes in your behavior, feelings, movement, and levels of consciousness.

Most seizures last from 30 seconds to two minutes. When you have two or more seizures in a 24-hour period, doctors generally diagnose epilepsy. 

Most patients respond well to anti-seizure medications. About one-third of individuals with epilepsy, however, have a limited response to these drugs. In that case, epilepsy becomes a life-altering condition that greatly impacts your health and overall quality of life. 

The history of diet and epilepsy

Hippocrates first mentioned diet, namely fasting, as a way to help control seizures about 2000 years ago.

In 1920, physicians discovered that the extremely high fat, low protein, low carbohydrate, low calorie ketogenic diet offered essentially the same benefits as fasting for individuals noted to have drug-resistant epilepsy.

Although clinical evidence clearly showed significant improvement in seizure control with these dietary chances, most individuals found it essentially impossible to stick with such a restrictive diet long term.

In the 1970s, Robert C. Atkins developed a high protein, low carbohydrate weight-loss diet that researchers found offered the same benefits as the ketogenic diet without the severe dietary and fluid restrictions noted with the ketogenic diet. 

A modified version of the Atkins plan was soon recommended for improved seizure control in patients with drug-resistant epilepsy.

Studies are limited but researchers have also noted that the low glycemic index diet (LGIT) can help control seizure activity. The LGIT plan is often much easier to implement and maintain than other versions. 

How your diet helps control seizures 

Although it’s a complex metabolic process, the simple version is that specialty diets recommended for drug-resistant epilepsy help:

These actions, when combined with the right medication, can effectively improve seizure control.

Dr. Lerman may recommend a strict diet as part of your treatment strategy if you’re struggling with drug-resistant epilepsy. He notes, however, that anyone can benefit from a healthy nutrition plan, which he often includes as part of his treatment recommendations for seizure control.

Start by eliminating simple sugars and overly processed foods from your diet, such as sweetened beverages, sugary snacks, deli meats, and prepackaged meals. Choose instead whole natural foods such as fresh fruits, vegetables, grains, and lean protein. 

For more help with epilepsy or any of the neurological conditions we treat, schedule a visit with Dr. Lerman at Gables Neurology today by calling our office or requesting an appointment online.

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