Why the Modified Atkins Diet Works (Theories)
It is not fully understood why a low carb diet is effective in managing seizures. However, some conclusions can be drawn. Understanding these things may make it easier to fully reap the benefits of the diet in your case.
It is not all about Ketones: Measuring ketones is an effective way to monitor the level of compliance to the Ketogenic or Atkins diet. Some dieter’s do best with “large” ketones, others with “moderate” or “small”. It has been theorized that ketones somehow suppress seizures – and that theory has not been disproven to my knowledge. However, if they do suppress seizures, that is not the whole story. Many who achieve seizure control through the Modified Atkins Diet maintain control even after losing ketosis.
Low carb diets eliminate many seizure triggers from a person’s diet: If you take a look at the list of seizure triggers here, you will note that many of the most common (closer to the top) are the foods one avoids when on the diets. For most people, the diet will help them learn what food sensitivities they have – thus allowing them greater seizure control. Is it possible this is the reason the diet works? Perhaps in some. Consider this: Many who do gain seizure control through the MAD later come off the diet (after a couple years) and retain seizure control by avoiding the foods they had identified as seizure triggers. This was the experience we had with our daughter.
Low carb diets add large amounts of fats and oils: The brain uses fats and oils (fatty acids) as “reducers” to regulate the electrical activity. There are at least 330 different fatty acids utilized by the brain. Normally, your body manufactures these fatty acids from the foods you consume. Is it possible that (some) epileptics do not manufacture enough fatty acids to regulate the electrical activity in the brain – and that adding more fats and oils compensates for this? Why not? Consider this: Much has been published about the benefits of Omega 3 fish oils, and some have found relief by just adding this their diet.
Of course, there are many causes of epilepsy. If a person suffers an injury and then begins to have seizures, it would be hard to argue their body suddenly forgot how to make the fatty acids it needs. And yet the diets have been successful in these situations. However, it could be argued the injury increased the person’s susceptibility to seizures – and thus the need to avoid food irritants and increase fats to compensate? Obviously there is much we do not yet understand.
Why Do Some Seem to “Heal” On These Diets?
Some people seem to completely heal after a period of time on these diets. Why is that? Here are three ideas I would like to propose as possibilities (mainly because I am the type of person who just has to know why):
The brain “learns” better ways of dealing with stress: While avoiding seizure triggers and supplying needed fats for a period of time, isn’t it possible the brain learns a healthier response to stress? Consider the analogy of learning to type without looking at the keyboard. Mix in enough serious distractions and you may never learn. However, if you eliminate the distractions for a long enough period of time to learn – you can eventually type – even when the distractions are reintroduced! Similarly, it is possible the brain is able to learn an appropriate way to deal with stress (sleep deprivation, flashing lights, blood sugar spikes) if we just remove the distractions (seizure triggers) for a while.
The body learns to recognize and manufacture needed fatty acids: I’ve borrowed this idea from homeopathy. Some forms of homeopathy work by “showing” the body what it “needs”. This is usually in the form of a remedy. The idea (and it is hard to argue with some of the results) is the body “learns”, “recognizes”, or “remembers” this missing element, and begins to manufacture (or absorb) it again to balance out the body. Isn’t it possible the body isn’t making/acquiring all the fatty acids it needs for proper brain function – and that when we supply them in the low carb diet – it learns to recognize and utilize them?
The diet and period of time seizure free (and possibly medicine free) gives time for the body’s natural processes to continue. Would more people “grow out” of seizures as they go through puberty if we did not interfere with some sort of permanent treatment? Would our body heal itself if we relaxed, helped it along for a while by removing seizure triggers (stress) and let it do its job? Possibly.
Of course, every situation is truly different and unique. Some have seizures due to injury, damage, disease, toxins, etc. The low carb diets don’t work for everyone, and they should be followed under the supervision of your doctor. I also am NOT anti-medicine. There is no question medication saves lives and improves the quality of life for millions.