Scientists Figure Out Why Miracle Diet May Prevent Epilepsy
Scientists have long known that a diet high in fat and low in carbohydrates, known as a ketogenic diet, prevents epileptic seizures, but they have not known why -- until now.
A ketogenic diet puts the body into "starvation mode" and forces it to use fat to burn energy into carbohydrates. The process also generates keytones, a kind of organic compound, which may shut down the overexcited neurons that cause seizures, researchers said.
"Because the ketogenic diet can be so broadly effective against many types of epilepsy that are not well-treated by existing medications, tapping into its mechanism may be valuable for treating many epilepsy patients," Gary Yellen, study coauthor and professor of neurobiology at Harvard Medical School, told ABC News.
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Researchers found that they could recreate the ketogenic process in mice without changing their diet by manipulating a protein, which points to a potential new treatment for epilepsy -- especially in people who do not respond to medication, according to the study.
Epilepsy affects over 3 million people, according to the Epilepsy Foundation. It is a brain disorder that causes neurons to misfire, causing seizures or convulsions.
Scientists have understood the link between diet and epilepsy for over 100 years, according to the study. Yellen told ABC News he's seen children's lives change drastically after changing their diet, either by cutting out carbohydrates or sugars.
However, staying on the diet is tough, researchers said.
"There are kids who go off this diet because they and their parents can't manage it," Yellen told Businessweek. "Having a pharmaceutical to help them would be important."
Pharmaceutical options are far off, researchers said, but they said scientists need to begin working towards it.
The journal Neuron published the study in its May edition.
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