If you're one of the almost 3.5 million people in the United States living with epilepsy, you may be searching for things to avoid if you have seizures, such as certain types of foods. However, there's no evidence linking any specific food to seizure activity.
Epilepsy Can Affect Anyone
Unlike other health conditions, epilepsy is not bound by gender, age or ethnicity and can occur in anyone at any time, and according to the Mayo Clinic, about half of all people diagnosed with epilepsy have no known underlying cause. For the other half, the neurological condition may be traced back to:
- Developmental disorder
- Prenatal injury
- Head injury
People with epilepsy experience abnormal brain activity that causes seizures or unusual behavior or sensations. Seizures can be scary for both the person with epilepsy and the people around them due to the variation in symptoms, which can range from a blank stare for a few seconds to loss of consciousness. Most of the complications related to epilepsy, including falls and car accidents, occur during seizure activity.
You may be surprised to learn that seizures are very common. However, to be diagnosed with epilepsy you must have at least two seizures.
Medical Management of Epilepsy
When it comes to managing your epilepsy, your doctor's goal is to eliminate or reduce seizure activity and improve your overall quality of life. Most people can successfully manage their epilepsy with anti-seizure medications such as:
- Valproic acid
These medications work by altering neurotransmitter or neural activity in your brain. According to a July 2010 review published in Pharmacy & Therapeutics, anti-seizure medication can help as many as 50 percent of those diagnosed with epilepsy to get complete control over their seizures, while another 25 percent experience a significant reduction in seizure activity.
If medications fail to improve your seizure activity, your doctor may suggest surgery to remove the area of the brain where the abnormal activity occurs.
Diet for Epileptic Patient
While there is no specific diet, the Epilepsy Society recommends a balanced diet for epileptic patients. Eating a variety of foods provides your body and brain with all the nutrients it needs to function at its best.
Your balanced diet should consist of a mix of healthy sources of carbohydrates, fat and protein. Carbohydrates and fats provide your body with energy, while protein supplies the amino acids needed to make new cells and repair muscles and organs.
Read more: Balanced Diet for a 50-Year-Old Female
Whole grains, fruits, vegetables and milk are some of the healthiest sources of carbohydrates. Whole grains, fruits and vegetables also supply fiber and a slew of health-promoting vitamins and minerals. In addition to carbohydrates for energy, milk is also a good source of protein, as well as the calcium and vitamin D your body needs to keep your bones healthy and strong.
Including lean red meat, poultry, fish, beans and soy foods in your daily diet, along with milk, can help you meet your daily protein needs. Vegetables and whole grains also provide protein.
However, plant sources of protein, which includes beans, don't have all the essential amino acids your body body needs and are considered incomplete, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. But even if you eat only plant sources of protein, you should have no trouble getting all the amino acids as long as you eat a variety of these plant-based foods.
Fat is a more concentrated source of calories, with 9 calories per gram versus 4 calories per gram in carbohydrates and protein. So with fats, a little goes a long way, and you should consume fats in moderation. For better overall health, most of your fat should come from plant sources, such as vegetable oils, nuts, seeds and avocados.
Animal sources of protein, including butter and marbled meat, are high in saturated fat. Too much dietary saturated fat may increase your blood cholesterol levels and your risk of heart disease.
According to clinical and metabolic specialist and registered dietitian at Sanford Medical Center in North Dakota, Cathy Breedon, anti-seizure medication increases vitamin D turnover in your body and decreases your absorption of biotin. Additionally, certain types of anti-seizure medication may increase your risk of B vitamin deficiencies, including folate and vitamin B12.
In addition to your balanced diet, the Epilepsy Society encourages you to drink plenty of fluids to maintain hydration. The Mayo Clinic recommends that women aim for 11.5 cups of fluid a day and that men get 15.5 cups. Most of your fluid intake should come from water.
Foods That Trigger Seizures
According to the Epilepsy Society, there are no known foods that trigger seizures, unless you have reflex epilepsy. This type of epilepsy is triggered by outside sources, including flashing lights, loud noises or even reading. According to a January 2018 review published in Neuropsychiatric Disease and Treatment, eating rarely leads to seizures.
However, some people have reported that food additives and colorings, such as monosodium glutamate and artificial sweeteners, have triggered their seizures, reports the Epilepsy Society. As a stimulant, caffeine has been linked to increases in seizure activity, but it may also have a protective effect in some people.
Read more: The Benefits of Ketosis
Ketogenic Diet for Seizure Control
You may be most familiar with the ketogenic diet as a very trendy method for dropping those unwanted pounds. But since the 1920s, the ketogenic diet has been used as a treatment for the management of epilepsy, according to a January 2019 review published in Frontiers in Neuroscience. It's been found to be very effective at minimizing seizure activity that's not well-controlled with medication.
The ketogenic diet is a very-low-carb, high-fat, moderate protein diet. Carbohydrates are your body's preferred source of fuel, and your brain consumes a large percentage of the glucose you eat. When you significantly decrease your carbohydrate intake, your body burns fat to create ketones to use for energy. The idea behind the ketogenic diet is to alter the source of energy for your brain to help control the seizures.
According to the authors of the review in Frontiers in Neuroscience, it's not completely understood how the ketogenic diet decreases seizure activity, but it's believed to alter the neuronal metabolism and excitability to reduce the abnormal brain activity.
Despite its effectiveness, due to the unpalatability of the diet, many people find it difficult to follow long-term. However, with the the popularity of the keto diet for weight loss, there are now many low-carb options that may improve the diet's palatability and make compliance easier.
Is This an Emergency?
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: "Epilepsy Data and Statistics"
- Mayo Clinic: "Epilepsy"
- Pharmacy & Therapeutics: "Overview of Drugs Used for Epilepsy and Seizures"
- Epilepsy Society: "Diet and Nutrition"
- Helpguide.org: "Healthy Eating"
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: "Protein"
- USDA: "How Many Calories Are in One Gram of Fat, Carbohydrate or Protein?"
- North Dakota Department of Health: "SOME Drug/Nutrition Interactions of Interest"
- Mayo Clinic: "Water: How Much Should You Drink Every Day?"
- Neuropsychiatric Disease and Treatment: "Reflex Epilepsy: Triggers and Management Strategies"
- Frontiers in Neuroscience: "Ketogenic Diet and Epilepsy: What We Know So Far"
- Harvard Medical School: "Sugar and the Brain"