Children with epilepsy who don't respond well to anti-seizure medications are
sometimes treated with a strict "ketogenic diet" that's high in fats and low in
carbohydrates, including foods like bacon, hot dogs, butter and eggs.
According to the
Epilepsy Foundation, the diet is so effective for some kids that they can go
off "keto" for a few years and remain seizure-free. In 2010, the New York Times
profiled the diet as "Epilepsy's
Big Fat Miracle" and despite being prescribed at more than 100 hospitals
around the country, researchers weren't exactly sure how it worked - until
In a new study of mice, researchers at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute and
Harvard Medical School in Boston have found that a child's ability to stave off
seizures is tied to a protein that affects metabolism in the brain. The protein,
so-called BCL-2-associated Agonist of Cell Death, or BAD, also regulates
metabolism of glucose.
The researchers discovered that by modifying this this, they switched
metabolism in brain cells from glucose to ketone bodies, which are fat
"It was then that we realized we had come upon a metabolic switch to do what
the ketogenic diet does to the brain without any actual dietary therapy," study
author Dr. Alfredo Gimenez-Cassinam a research fellow at Dana-Farber, said in a
The researchers used genetically modified mice to alter the BAD protein to
increase ketone metabolism in the brain, and seizures in mice decreased. The
findings suggest the BAD Protein could be a promising target for future epilepsy
drugs. The study is published in the May 24th issue of the journal Neuron.
Epilepsy is a neurological disorder characterized by repeated seizures,
likened to electrical storms in the brain, that can appear as convulsions, loss
of motor control, or loss of consciousness.
"I've met a lot of kids whose lives are completely changed by this diet,"
study co-author Dr. Gary Yellen, professor of neurobiology at Harvard Medical
School, said in a university news release. Yellen was introduced to the
ketogenic diet through his wife, Dr. Elizabeth Thiele, who directs the Pediatric
Epilepsy Program at MassGeneral Hospital for Children. "Diets in general are
hard, and this diet is really hard," said Yellen, "So finding a pharmacological
substitute for this would make lots of people really happy."
About two in 100 people will experience a seizure at some point in their
lives, according to the Mayo Clinic, and at least two unprovoked seizures often
are required to diagnose epilepsy. Anti-seizure medications such are often
prescribed and brain surgery is a possibility for some people whose seizures
originate in a small, well-defined area of the brain not involved with vital
processes. Some children may even outgrow the condition with age.