There are many ways in which epilepsy occurs. Examples of pathological physiology include: unusual excitatory connections within the neuronal network of the brain; abnormal neuron structure leading to altered current flow; decreased inhibitory neurotransmitter synthesis; ineffective receptors for inhibitory neurotransmitters; insufficient breakdown of excitatory neurotransmitters leading to excess; immature synapse development; and impaired function of ionic channels.[7]
People use a ketogenic diet most often to lose weight, but it can help manage certain medical conditions, like epilepsy, too. It also may help people with heart disease, certain brain diseases, and even acne, but there needs to be more research in those areas. Talk with your doctor first to find out if it’s safe for you to try a ketogenic diet, especially if you have type 1 diabetes.

The classic ketogenic diet is not a balanced diet and only contains tiny portions of fresh fruit and vegetables, fortified cereals, and calcium-rich foods. In particular, the B vitamins, calcium, and vitamin D must be artificially supplemented. This is achieved by taking two sugar-free supplements designed for the patient's age: a multivitamin with minerals and calcium with vitamin D.[18] A typical day of food for a child on a 4:1 ratio, 1,500 kcal (6,300 kJ) ketogenic diet comprises three small meals and three small snacks:[28]

Very low levels of thyroid hormone usually indicate an autoimmune reaction to the thyroid gland itself. This means you’ll have to take thyroid hormone supplements orally, usually the stable form T4 (Levaxin), which your doctor can prescribe for you. Your body will transform this into the active T3 hormone when necessary. The supplement dose should be adjusted so that you reach normal hormone levels (TSH, T3, T4) and sufficiently alleviate symptoms – though a few people may feel best when keeping TSH slightly below normal.


Carbohydrates have been linked to this skin condition, so cutting down on them may help. And the drop in insulin that a ketogenic diet can trigger may also help stop acne breakouts. (Insulin can cause your body to make other hormones that bring on outbreaks.) Still, more research is needed to determine exactly how much effect, if any, the diet actually has on acne. 

Physicians of ancient Greece treated diseases, including epilepsy, by altering their patients' diet. An early treatise in the Hippocratic Corpus, On the Sacred Disease, covers the disease; it dates from c. 400 BC. Its author argued against the prevailing view that epilepsy was supernatural in origin and cure, and proposed that dietary therapy had a rational and physical basis.[Note 3] In the same collection, the author of Epidemics describes the case of a man whose epilepsy is cured as quickly as it had appeared, through complete abstinence of food and drink.[Note 4] The royal physician Erasistratus declared, "One inclining to epilepsy should be made to fast without mercy and be put on short rations."[Note 5] Galen believed an "attenuating diet"[Note 6] might afford a cure in mild cases and be helpful in others.[11]


After initiation, the child regularly visits the hospital outpatient clinic where they are seen by the dietitian and neurologist, and various tests and examinations are performed. These are held every three months for the first year and then every six months thereafter. Infants under one year old are seen more frequently, with the initial visit held after just two to four weeks.[9] A period of minor adjustments is necessary to ensure consistent ketosis is maintained and to better adapt the meal plans to the patient. This fine-tuning is typically done over the telephone with the hospital dietitian[19] and includes changing the number of calories, altering the ketogenic ratio, or adding some MCT or coconut oils to a classic diet.[18] Urinary ketone levels are checked daily to detect whether ketosis has been achieved and to confirm that the patient is following the diet, though the level of ketones does not correlate with an anticonvulsant effect.[19] This is performed using ketone test strips containing nitroprusside, which change colour from buff-pink to maroon in the presence of acetoacetate (one of the three ketone bodies).[45]

Typically you want to stay away from any brands that use filler ingredients like maltodextrin and dextrose, or high glycemic sweeteners like maltitol. Many low-carb products that claim low net carbs usually use these sugar alcohols. Many candies that are “sugar-free” also use these sweeteners. Avoid them where possible. These specific sweeteners respond in our body in a similar way sugar does.
Be choosy about carbs. You can decide which ones you eat, and how much. Look for those that are low on the glycemic index (for instance, asparagus is lower on the glycemic index than a potato) or lower in carbs per serving than others. Whole grains are better choices than processed items, because processing removes key nutrients such as fiber, iron, and B vitamins. They may be added back, such as in “enriched” bread.

It usually takes three to four days for your body to go into ketosis because you have to use up your body's stores of glucose, i.e., sugar first, Keatley says. Any major diet change can give you some, uh, issues, and Keatley says he often sees patients who complain of IBS-like symptoms and feeling wiped out at the beginning of the diet. (The tiredness happens because you have less access to carbs, which give you quick energy, he explains.)


It is possible to combine the results of several small studies to produce evidence that is stronger than that available from each study alone—a statistical method known as meta-analysis. One of four such analyses, conducted in 2006, looked at 19 studies on a total of 1,084 patients.[23] It concluded that a third achieved an excellent reduction in seizure frequency and half the patients achieved a good reduction.[18]
About 20% of children on the ketogenic diet achieve freedom from seizures, and many are able to reduce the use of anticonvulsant drugs or eliminate them altogether.[18] Commonly, at around two years on the diet, or after six months of being seizure-free, the diet may be gradually discontinued over two or three months. This is done by lowering the ketogenic ratio until urinary ketosis is no longer detected, and then lifting all calorie restrictions.[46] This timing and method of discontinuation mimics that of anticonvulsant drug therapy in children, where the child has become seizure-free. When the diet is required to treat certain metabolic diseases, the duration will be longer. The total diet duration is up to the treating ketogenic diet team and parents; durations up to 12 years have been studied and found beneficial.[9]

Epilepsy is one of the most common neurological disorders after stroke,[7] and affects around 50 million people worldwide.[8] It is diagnosed in a person having recurrent, unprovoked seizures. These occur when cortical neurons fire excessively, hypersynchronously, or both, leading to temporary disruption of normal brain function. This might affect, for example, the muscles, the senses, consciousness, or a combination. A seizure can be focal (confined to one part of the brain) or generalised (spread widely throughout the brain and leading to a loss of consciousness). Epilepsy can occur for a variety of reasons; some forms have been classified into epileptic syndromes, most of which begin in childhood. Epilepsy is considered refractory (not yielding to treatment) when two or three anticonvulsant drugs have failed to control it. About 60% of patients achieve control of their epilepsy with the first drug they use, whereas around 30% do not achieve control with drugs. When drugs fail, other options include epilepsy surgery, vagus nerve stimulation, and the ketogenic diet.[7]
Wilder's colleague, paediatrician Mynie Gustav Peterman, later formulated the classic diet, with a ratio of one gram of protein per kilogram of body weight in children, 10–15 g of carbohydrate per day, and the remainder of calories from fat. Peterman's work in the 1920s established the techniques for induction and maintenance of the diet. Peterman documented positive effects (improved alertness, behaviour, and sleep) and adverse effects (nausea and vomiting due to excess ketosis). The diet proved to be very successful in children: Peterman reported in 1925 that 95% of 37 young patients had improved seizure control on the diet and 60% became seizure-free. By 1930, the diet had also been studied in 100 teenagers and adults. Clifford Joseph Barborka, Sr., also from the Mayo Clinic, reported that 56% of those older patients improved on the diet and 12% became seizure-free. Although the adult results are similar to modern studies of children, they did not compare as well to contemporary studies. Barborka concluded that adults were least likely to benefit from the diet, and the use of the ketogenic diet in adults was not studied again until 1999.[10][14]
Nutrient-dense, good food is certainly the foundation of weight loss. But an adequate amount of vitamin D can be difficult to ingest via food, especially for those who are vegetarian or don’t eat fatty fish (the main dietary source of vitamin D) on a regular basis. In the case of a lack of sun (such as during the darker months of fall and winter), it’s wise to supplement for multiple health reasons – and perhaps even for your weight.

About 20% of children on the ketogenic diet achieve freedom from seizures, and many are able to reduce the use of anticonvulsant drugs or eliminate them altogether.[18] Commonly, at around two years on the diet, or after six months of being seizure-free, the diet may be gradually discontinued over two or three months. This is done by lowering the ketogenic ratio until urinary ketosis is no longer detected, and then lifting all calorie restrictions.[46] This timing and method of discontinuation mimics that of anticonvulsant drug therapy in children, where the child has become seizure-free. When the diet is required to treat certain metabolic diseases, the duration will be longer. The total diet duration is up to the treating ketogenic diet team and parents; durations up to 12 years have been studied and found beneficial.[9]
It has totally regulated my appetite and normalised my relationship with food. My obsessive thoughts have completely subsided, my black and white thinking around food has gone, and I no longer binge! This is amazing. For the first time in my adult life I feel like I know what it is like to have a normal relatinoship with food. I eat when I eat, a range of healthy whole foods and occasional less healthy foods. In normal amounts. In manageable amounts. And when my meal is over, I stop! Normal for others, a seeming impossibility for me (and, I’m guessing, others with eating disorders).
"When going out for fast food, I used to get the large-size value meal. Now, I satisfy a craving by ordering just one item: a small order of fries or a six-piece box of chicken nuggets. So far, I've shaved off 16 pounds in seven weeks, and I'm on track to being thinner than my high school self for my 10-year reunion later this year." —Miranda Jarrell, Birmingham, AL
Some people feel better supplementing the already active T3 (sometimes prepared from pig thyroid glands), as it can give a stronger effect than the T4 hormone, but its effect is often harder to control. Most health professionals rarely prescribe or offer such T3 treatment, as it appears to lack significant advantages and may pose a risk when doses are high for an extended period of time. However, T3 replacement is popular among some functional medicine practitioners and naturopathic doctors. Regardless, the key is making sure you follow your levels and symptoms to make sure you aren’t over- or under-replacing thyroid hormones.

The day before admission to hospital, the proportion of carbohydrate in the diet may be decreased and the patient begins fasting after his or her evening meal.[19] On admission, only calorie- and caffeine-free fluids[37] are allowed until dinner, which consists of "eggnog"[Note 8] restricted to one-third of the typical calories for a meal. The following breakfast and lunch are similar, and on the second day, the "eggnog" dinner is increased to two-thirds of a typical meal's caloric content. By the third day, dinner contains the full calorie quota and is a standard ketogenic meal (not "eggnog"). After a ketogenic breakfast on the fourth day, the patient is discharged. Where possible, the patient's current medicines are changed to carbohydrate-free formulations.[19]
In many developing countries, the ketogenic diet is expensive because dairy fats and meat are more expensive than grain, fruit and vegetables. The modified Atkins diet has been proposed as a lower-cost alternative for those countries; the slightly more expensive food bill can be offset by a reduction in pharmaceutical costs if the diet is successful. The modified Atkins diet is less complex to explain and prepare and requires less support from a dietitian.[55]

The classic ketogenic diet is not a balanced diet and only contains tiny portions of fresh fruit and vegetables, fortified cereals, and calcium-rich foods. In particular, the B vitamins, calcium, and vitamin D must be artificially supplemented. This is achieved by taking two sugar-free supplements designed for the patient's age: a multivitamin with minerals and calcium with vitamin D.[18] A typical day of food for a child on a 4:1 ratio, 1,500 kcal (6,300 kJ) ketogenic diet comprises three small meals and three small snacks:[28]
These affect your brain and spine, as well as the nerves that link them together. Epilepsy is one, but others may be helped by a ketogenic diet as well, including Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, and sleep disorders. Scientists aren’t sure why, but it may be that the ketones your body makes when it breaks down fat for energy help protect your brain cells from damage.
During the 1920s and 1930s, when the only anticonvulsant drugs were the sedative bromides (discovered 1857) and phenobarbital (1912), the ketogenic diet was widely used and studied. This changed in 1938 when H. Houston Merritt, Jr. and Tracy Putnam discovered phenytoin (Dilantin), and the focus of research shifted to discovering new drugs. With the introduction of sodium valproate in the 1970s, drugs were available to neurologists that were effective across a broad range of epileptic syndromes and seizure types. The use of the ketogenic diet, by this time restricted to difficult cases such as Lennox–Gastaut syndrome, declined further.[10]

A computer program such as KetoCalculator may be used to help generate recipes.[47] The meals often have four components: heavy whipping cream, a protein-rich food (typically meat), a fruit or vegetable and a fat such as butter, vegetable oil, or mayonnaise. Only low-carbohydrate fruits and vegetables are allowed, which excludes bananas, potatoes, peas, and corn. Suitable fruits are divided into two groups based on the amount of carbohydrate they contain, and vegetables are similarly divided into two groups. Foods within each of these four groups may be freely substituted to allow for variation without needing to recalculate portion sizes. For example, cooked broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cauliflower, and green beans are all equivalent. Fresh, canned, or frozen foods are equivalent, but raw and cooked vegetables differ, and processed foods are an additional complication. Parents are required to be precise when measuring food quantities on an electronic scale accurate to 1 g. The child must eat the whole meal and cannot have extra portions; any snacks must be incorporated into the meal plan. A small amount of MCT oil may be used to help with constipation or to increase ketosis.[37]
The modified Atkins diet reduces seizure frequency by more than 50% in 43% of patients who try it and by more than 90% in 27% of patients.[18] Few adverse effects have been reported, though cholesterol is increased and the diet has not been studied long term.[48] Although based on a smaller data set (126 adults and children from 11 studies over five centres), these results from 2009 compare favourably with the traditional ketogenic diet.[18]
After initiation, the child regularly visits the hospital outpatient clinic where they are seen by the dietitian and neurologist, and various tests and examinations are performed. These are held every three months for the first year and then every six months thereafter. Infants under one year old are seen more frequently, with the initial visit held after just two to four weeks.[9] A period of minor adjustments is necessary to ensure consistent ketosis is maintained and to better adapt the meal plans to the patient. This fine-tuning is typically done over the telephone with the hospital dietitian[19] and includes changing the number of calories, altering the ketogenic ratio, or adding some MCT or coconut oils to a classic diet.[18] Urinary ketone levels are checked daily to detect whether ketosis has been achieved and to confirm that the patient is following the diet, though the level of ketones does not correlate with an anticonvulsant effect.[19] This is performed using ketone test strips containing nitroprusside, which change colour from buff-pink to maroon in the presence of acetoacetate (one of the three ketone bodies).[45]
The low glycaemic index treatment (LGIT)[49] is an attempt to achieve the stable blood glucose levels seen in children on the classic ketogenic diet while using a much less restrictive regimen. The hypothesis is that stable blood glucose may be one of the mechanisms of action involved in the ketogenic diet,[9] which occurs because the absorption of the limited carbohydrates is slowed by the high fat content.[5] Although it is also a high-fat diet (with approximately 60% calories from fat),[5] the LGIT allows more carbohydrate than either the classic ketogenic diet or the modified Atkins diet, approximately 40–60 g per day.[18] However, the types of carbohydrates consumed are restricted to those that have a glycaemic index lower than 50. Like the modified Atkins diet, the LGIT is initiated and maintained at outpatient clinics and does not require precise weighing of food or intensive dietitian support. Both are offered at most centres that run ketogenic diet programmes, and in some centres they are often the primary dietary therapy for adolescents.[9]

Disclaimer: In this weight-loss guide, we recommend a low-carb diet, as it appears to be more effective than other diets. While a low-carb diet has many proven benefits, it’s still controversial. The main potential danger regards medications, especially for diabetes, where doses may need to be adapted. Discuss any changes in medication and relevant lifestyle changes with your doctor. Full disclaimer
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