GRAND RAPIDS, MICH. - For millions of Americans living with a diagnosis of epilepsy, it means daily medication to help control their seizures.
But it might be possible to do that by adjusting a patient’s diet.
It's a theory that's actually been around since the 1920s when researchers stumbled upon the link between high-fat diets and the ability to control epileptic seizures.
For 15 years, Laura Hall has lived with seizures associated with her epilepsy.
"I've been on many medications," she said.
It wasn't until four months ago that she decided to try a new diet that is showing promise in reducing and in some cases even stopping epileptic seizures.
The ketosis diet for epilepsy is also known as the modified Atkins diet. Focusing on high fat and low carbohydrates, "When we shift our fuel utilization towards fats, that's what brings us into ketosis and that mechanism is what's stopping these seizures ... The exact mechanism is unknown, but it's modifying the chemistry in the brain, Jennifer Fillenworth said.
She's a registered dietician with Mercy Health Saint Mary's Hospital.
Fillenworth's been working with patients like Hall to help them learn this new way of eating. Starting the day off with a high fat omelet: “A cheese omelet that's made with heavy cream and sharp cheddar cheese and some asparagus on the side.
"And I actually cooked the omelet in butter, too. So I based this on 9 fat servings a day and when I calculate that it's around 1,600 calories a day."
It's also only between 10-30 grams of carbohydrates a day, which Hall admits isn't easy.
“That's the biggest difficulty is no fruit," she said. "There's not much fruit I can have and half the vegetables I can't have any more. So, that's the hardest part."
But it's worth it if it means the possibility of not having any more seizures.
"With the modified Atkins diet, we've actually seen about 50 percent of our patients have a reduction in their seizures and out of that 50 percent about 15 percent go completely seizure free within a couple years," Fillenworth said.
It’s something Hall hopes might soon happen for her. She's gone from having at least one seizure a month to only one in the last four months.
“It's uplifting and hopeful that maybe I can get off at least one medication and decrease the doses," Hall said. And maybe someday live a life that's completely seizure-free.
Mercy Health Saint Mary's is the only West Michigan hospital certified to use this diet with adult epilepsy patients.
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