How Does Diet Help Epilepsy Patients?
1 out of every 100-200 people in India suffer from epilepsy. It is a neurological disorder characterized by recurrent and unpredictable seizures (commonly known as fit). Though epilepsy need not be feared more than diabetes or hypertension, yet there is a social stigma which makes healthy living and normal life i.e.- going to school, marrying and finding employment difficult for these people.
A person to be diagnosed with epilepsy should have at least two seizures that were not caused by some known and reversible medical condition like alcohol withdrawal or extremely low blood sugar. The cause of epilepsy is not clear and can be linked to heredity, brain injury, illness or infections.
The area of fault lies in the brain. Brain controls all the functions of the body through electric signals. In people with epilepsy the brain sends out wrong signals which cause seizures. These seizures are of different types – some seizures cause muscle contractions and shaking of limbs in unison while some lead to loss of consciousness or a trance-like state.
There is no cure for epilepsy, but medications to control seizures are available. Other approaches to help epilepsy patients lead a healthy living lifestyle includes implants, surgery or dietary modifications.
In cases when medicine and all other alternatives fail to work doctors often recommend a ketogenic diet. This diet is specifically introduced to children who suffer from recurrent and multiple seizures which cannot be managed by medication.
WHAT IS A KETOGENIC DIET?
The ketogenic diet is a special high-fat, low-carbohydrate diet with optimal protein. It is one of the oldest treatments for epilepsy. The aim of this diet is to create a starvation like state. When the body is in a fasting state, it breaks down fat in the absence of carbohydrates to produce energy and produce ketones as a by-product. The accumulation of these ketones in the blood provides an anti-seizure environment.
To start with this diet:
- CUT DOWN THE CARBS: A ketogenic diet plan requires tracking the carbohydrate in the foods consumed. The carbohydrate intake should be kept between 20-60 grams per day. Simple sugars, cereals, jams, jellies, fruits, vegetables etc. are all rich in carbohydrates and should be cut down.
- GO HIGH ON THE FAT: The key to the ketogenic diet is swapping carbohydrates with fat. 70-75% of calories should come from fat. The kinds of foods that provide fat for the ketogenic diet are butter, heavy whipping cream, mayonnaise and oils (e.g. canola or olive).
The type of fat in the ketogenic diet is also of utmost importance. Most of your fat intake should come from saturated and mono unsaturated fats.
- MCTs (medium chain triglycerides): are saturated fats easily digested by the body and are more ketogenic. They are less likely to be absorbed or stored as adipose tissue. Sources: coconut oil, palm oil, olive oil and butter.
- Monounsaturated fatty acids (MUFA): are heart-healthy. They lower cholesterol levels and improve the function of blood vessels. Sources: olive oil, nuts, canola oil, nut butters, peanut oil.
- PERFECT YOUR PROTEINS: Low calories from carbohydrates and high calories from fats and proteins should adequately balance to prevent muscle loss. 1-2 gm/kg body weight of proteins is advised. Go for good quality proteins like fish, eggs, chicken, paneer, cheese, tofu, soy milk, almonds, walnuts and full fat milk.
- STAY HYDRATED:As carbohydrate intake is lowered, the kidneys will start discarding excess water which was being retained due to high carbohydrate intake. Make sure to drink enough water to replace what is lost.
Ketogenic diet is economical, has minimum side effects and importantly helps in healthy living by controlling seizures. However they are a little difficult to implement and follow. Ketogenic diets require proper planning and careful execution which requires expertise of dietician and doctors.