Epilepsy Talk

Three Anti-Seizure Diets That Could Change Your Life… | October 4, 2009

Just when you feel that all is lost, and you’re about to give up on your meds, there is another option.  (In fact, there are three!)

They may not beat your epilepsy (although some people say they do!) but they can help reduce your seizures and the amounts of medication needed.

The Ketogenic Diet — one of the oldest treatments for epilepsy.

There are many children for whom epilepsy medications like Lamictal, Depakote, and Zarotin are ineffective in controlling or even reducing seizures. These drugs, especially in combination, can also cause unpredictable and serious side-effects.

That’s why many parents have turned to alternative therapies for seizure management. Because ketones seem to have an anti-convulsive effect, one of the most promising and least invasive alternative treatments for seizures has been the Ketogenic Diet.

The diet is a high fat, adequate protein, low carbohydrate diet which works by fasting which in turn, creates ketones, which are by-products of the fat-burning metabolism that happens while fasting.  And during this time, the body goes into a state known as ketosis— which has an anti-convulsant effect.  Seizures often lessen or disappear during these periods of fasting.

With careful and proper monitoring, the Ketogenic Diet has been found to reduce seizures in two-thirds, and eliminate seizures in one-third, of all children for whom anti-epileptic drugs are ineffective.  And if it is successful, it’s usually continued for two years. During this time, children are often gradually able to lessen or discontinue the amount of medication they take for seizures. And interestingly, many children seem happier and more alert on the diet, even before medication is significantly lessened.

The Atkins Diet — may reduce seizures in children with epilepsy.

Along with helping some people shed unwanted pounds, the popular low-carbohydrate, high-fat Atkins Diet may also have a role in preventing seizures in children with epilepsy.  That good news comes from the prestigious Johns Hopkins Children’s Center.

In a limited study of six patients, including three patients 12 years old and younger on the Atkins regimen for at least four months, two children and one young adult were seizure-free and were able to reduce their anti-convulsant medications. Findings of the study, also showed that seizure control could be long-lasting on the diet…for as much as 20 months.

The researchers caution that the Atkins Diet should not lead to routine use in children with epilepsy, nor should it be used to replace the Ketogenic Diet — the rigorous high-fat, low-carbohydrate diet already proven to reduce or eliminate difficult-to-control seizures in some patients.

The common elements in both diets are high fat and low carbohydrate foods that alter the body’s glucose chemistry. The Ketogenic Diet mimics some of the effects of starvation, in which the body produces ketones, a chemical byproduct of fat that can inhibit seizures. Children who remain seizure-free for two years on the Ketogenic Diet often can resume normal eating and often their seizures don’t return. The Atkins Diet, while slightly less restrictive than the Ketogenic Diet, also produces ketones.

In the short term, the Atkins Diet could be used by selected patients as a “trial run” for those considering the Ketogenic Diet in the future.  In the Johns Hopkins study, five out of six patients attained ketosis within days of starting the Atkins Diet and maintained moderate to large levels of ketosis for periods of six weeks to 24 months.

Johns Hopkins researchers will further examine the role the Atkins Diet plays in the management of epilepsy in a larger clinical study of 20 children with epilepsy, which began in September 2003 and already has enrolled several patients.

MAD — Modified Atkins Diet — more user-friendly.

Although it’s referred to as “MAD”, the Modified Atkins Diet is really the best of both possible worlds.

This modified version of the popular high-protein, low-carbohydrate Atkins Diet can significantly cut the number of seizures in adults with epilepsy. And it has shown promise for seizure control in children too, offering a new lifeline for patients when drugs and other treatments fail or cause complications.

It’s a less restrictive, higher in protein and carbohydrates, a dietary therapy for epilepsy for those who would otherwise use the Ketogenic Diet. So far, it’s been used and researched for the past five years with outcomes similar to the Ketogenic Diet. Recent data has also suggested this valuable new therapy leads to a rapid seizure improvement when effective.

It’s not exactly know, how ketones reduce and eliminate seizures, or why the diet works for some and not others. Researchers are especially interested in why some children remain seizure-free after discontinuing the diet. Further research is needed, since the Modified Atkins Diet has only been used since 2004.

But it’s promising to note that clinical research did show that about half the patients experienced a 50 percent reduction in the frequency of their seizures by the first clinic visit. About a third of the patients halved the frequency of seizures by three months. Side effects linked with the diet, such as a rise in cholesterol or triglycerides, were mild.

In general, the Modified Atkins Diet is recommended for: adolescents, adults, and younger children with difficulty staying on or starting the Ketogenic Diet…families with limited time…those lacking financial resources to cover the costs involved with the Ketogenic Diet…and patients at centers with limited dietitian support.

Good news: The Modified Atkins Diet doesn’t deprive you of rich foods like butter, peanut butter, mayonnaise, oils, cheese, bacon, eggs, hamburger, and whipped cream. The diet doesn’t cause children to become overweight, and overweight children often lose weight. But daily supplements are necessary to replace vitamins that are missing in the diet.  Suggested vitamins include: Vitamin B-1…Vitamin B-2…Vitamin B-3…Vitamin C…Folate…Vitamins D…and E.  Check your multi-vitamin to see if ALL of these are included..

Although there are considerably fewer side effects than with drugs, the Modified Atkins Diet for seizures can cause dehydration, constipation and, occasionally, kidney and gall stone complications. Side effects can also develop in children who are unable to digest large amounts of fat. As with all treatments, initial evaluation and careful monitoring by parents, a neurologist, and a nutritionist are all mandatory.

We do know that the Modified Atkins Diet for seizures is as effective, less restrictive, and far easier than the Ketogenic Diet. It’s an inexpensive alternative treatment option with few side effects that often works when all else has failed.  And that is good news for all of us who have tried previous diets and given up hope or even the strict discipline.

G.A.R.D –The Glutamate-Aspartate Restricted Diet – a life-long elimination diet.

Let me start by saying the G.A.R.D diet is highly controversial.  While some claim “dramatic improvements in the severity and frequency of their seizures,” others find it a diet difficult to maintain.  And if you cheat a smidgen, your seizures will come back. So, consider this a life-long commitment…or else just skip it.

Essentially, the G.A.R.D is an elimination diet, specifying definite foods (which includes food products and ingredients) that must be avoided.  So strict vigilance is mandatory for this diet to work.

Here is a line-up of the forbidden foods: gluten – commonly derived from wheat and grains…casein – protein found in cow milk (and most dairy products)…soycorn – including corn syrup and corn derivative products…MSG (mono-sodium glutamate) – a very common food ingredient in processed foods even though it is rarely clearly labeled as such…aspartame – commonly used as a sugar substitute…glutamate – found in high concentrations in most beans/legumes…and hydrogenated oils.

And if that’s not depressing enough, there are no clinical trials proving the effectiveness of the G.A.R.D Diet, just anecdotal evidence.  However, if it does work for you, seizure control could begin within days to weeks after starting the diet.

The only good news I can see, is the G.A.R.D Diet is a carbohydrate junkie’s dream come true.  But there’s so many other foods and ingredients you have to sacrifice, it hardly seems worth it to me.

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Another article of interest:

How Metabolism, Brain Activity Are Linked: Study Sheds Light On Why Diet May Help Control Seizures in Epilepsy Patients http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/01/140116085049.htm?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+sciencedaily%2Fhealth_medicine%2Fepilepsy+%28ScienceDaily%3A+Health+%26+Medicine+News+–+Epilepsy+Research%29














  1. Great job. I agree w/ you about the GARD. I wonder how Meetz does it? She is 1 great lady. I do hope the diet continues to work for her.

    Candi & family


    Comment by Candi — October 6, 2009 @ 3:53 PM

  2. Hello…I need your help and advice. I have a serious problem with being tired all the time, and I have gained a lot of weight in the past year. I have decided to start working out daily, and was advised to drink a protein shake after working out and one before I go to bed at night. I am wondering if this is going to affect the seizures. I have partial-complex seizures and they mainly happen around my menstrual cycle due to the “bad hormone”, estrogen. The protein drink is Optimum Nitro Core 24. If you look up the ingredience, can you tell me if this is going to be a “dangerous” thing for me. I am also taking Salba, but I see that that is a good thing. Glad you posted information on that!!!

    Thanks for your help!


    Comment by Laura G. — November 24, 2009 @ 3:48 AM

    • First of all Laura, I think your problem is more than the protein shake you’re eating. Although I would recommend “Designer Whey” (the chocolate is great) from the Vitamin Shoppe.

      It has half the calories to start with, and half the fat, plus it’s got all kinds of great nutritional vitamins. So, it will give you more bang for the buck with less calories and fat.

      However, I do think you should get a full thyroid workup. Have your T-3, T-4 and T-SH all checked…preferably by an endocrinologist. Internists tend to undermine the need and just order a T-3 test. YET 50% OF WOMEN HAVE THYROID PROBLEMS THAT ARE UNDIAGNOSED.

      I was brushed off the first 3 times I asked to be tested. But when I finally went to an endocrinologist, it was discovered that I had an underactive thyroid. UNDERACTIVE THYROID PROBLEMS CAN LEAD TO WEIGHT GAIN, LOW ENERGY LEVELS AND THE BLUES.

      I’m not a doctor, but my guess is your thyroid may be the key to your problems. It probably wouldn’t be a bad idea to have a full blood work up to check your iron levels too.

      You’re working out, which is terrific. I don’t know if the protein shake at night is necessary. It’s surely helping to pack on the pounds and do you really need to be energized before you go to bed?

      Anyway, try the Designer Whey, get your thyroid checked, plus a complete blood work up and let me know what the results are.

      I think you may be surprised.

      Best of luck…


      Comment by Phylis Feiner Johnson — November 24, 2009 @ 7:44 AM

  3. There is nothing “highly controversial” about my GARD (diet). It simply eliminates the main food culprits/allergens/damaging lectin and additives found in the standard American diet (SAD).

    Nearly 80% of the American diet is comprised of dairy products, wheat, soy and corn – the top four food allergens, the proteins of which have been linked to just about every disease known to man, especially the gluten from wheat/barley/rye and casein from cow milk. And celiac research tells us that the brain is THE most affected tissue in the body when it comes to the damage that gluten (and the others of the “big 4”) can cause.

    At the same time, the GARD eliminates the richest sources of glutamic acid in the diet, the amino acid that is the parent protein in MSG, a known trigger of seizures. A quick study of neurophysiology tells us that excess glutamate, especially when the neurons are diseased, is a very bad thing.

    The diet is also naturally low in phytoestrogens (isoflavones in particular), refined sugar, trans fats, and preservatives. Who can argue against that?

    So, the diet is logical and based on the most current medical research. How can anyone who knows anything about medicine or nutrition say that the diet is “highly controversial”. The fact is that it is THE most logical of all recently proposed diets of its type and has yielded absolute medical miracles, which should be of no surprise to those who truly understand what food does for…and to…us.

    John B. Symes, DVM


    Comment by John B. Symes — September 5, 2010 @ 3:10 AM

    • Doctor Symes,

      Have you published a list of foods that are “on the eat list”?

      Thank you,

      Rachel H.


      Comment by Rachel — June 30, 2013 @ 10:57 PM

      • Dr. Symes is a vet.

        The GARD is an elimination diet. It specifies foods (and food products/ingredients) that should be avoided:

        gluten – commonly derived from wheat and grains
        casein – protein found in cow milk (and most dairy products)
        corn – including corn syrup and corn derivative products
        MSG (mono-sodium glutamate) – this a very common food ingredient in processed foods even though it is rarely clearly labeled as such
        aspartame – commonly used as a sugar substitute
        glutamate – found in high concentrations in most beans/legumes
        hydrogenated oils


        Here’s a website that explains the diet more fully and included RECIPES!


        If the GARD diet doesn’t work for you, don’t feel bad. You’re not alone.

        In that case, you might want to consider changing to the Modified Atkins Diet (MAD).


        Comment by Phylis Feiner Johnson — July 1, 2013 @ 8:56 AM

  4. im going to try this GARD diet. It sounds like something I did years ago. Its easier than all the other diets.


    Comment by Jennifer Schnegg — September 10, 2010 @ 1:35 AM

  5. what do you do to get enouph fiber in your diet?


    Comment by Jennifer Schnegg — September 17, 2010 @ 10:35 PM

  6. I eat a lot of fruits and vegetables, plus there’s this stuff called Salba. To find out more about Salba, go to: https://epilepsytalk.com/2009/09/26/salba-the-superfood/

    You can get it at iHerbs.com http://www.iherb.com/Salba-Core-Naturals-Nature-s-Perfect-Whole-Food-Ground-Seed-9-5-oz-269-g/8588?at=0

    Arthur swears by it!


    Comment by Phylis Feiner Johnson — September 18, 2010 @ 4:00 AM

  7. It’s nice to see that the New York Times has picked up on the news in this article:


    Of course, epilepsytalk.com scooped them by more than a month!


    Comment by Arthur — November 30, 2010 @ 3:38 AM

  8. 🙂 Phylis You did it again! My Internist always replies Modified Atkins diet, watch your Magnism! Have your sodium and potasium checked. Get plenty of exercise! Don’t break any more bones 🙂 Thanks Arthur, Too!
    Get plenty of rest! 🙂


    Comment by Toni Robison — June 19, 2012 @ 6:07 PM

  9. Hi Phyllis.

    It’s John Symes, DVM (Dogtor J), creator of the GARD. I certainly appreciate you mentioning The GARD in your article on the dietary control of epilepsy. I did want to mention a few things, tho:

    1) The GARD is only “controversial” because it is not well-known. The science behind its efficacy is sound and I have intensively studied the mechanism of its action from every angle, from the epileptogenic effects of glutamate (glutamic acid) to the neurotoxic effects of gluten and the other “big 4” foods being restricted to the malabsorption/malnutrition caused by the same foods. These are proven facts that all contribute to the development of epilepsy. Anyone can Google “gluten, epilepsy” and see the wealth of information available on this aspect alone.

    2) It has been INCREDIBLY effective in the dog, especially those that are not on medication, which sadly changes EVERYTHING. A quick look at the mode of action of today’s AEDs – and their side effects – tells the tale. I spend much of my Internet time getting dogs off these drugs so that the diet can work the way it does so well in un-medicated dogs. The rest of the time is spent identifying secondary factors that are preventing their full recovery, including hypothyroidism, pituitary and adrenal issues, and cheating on the diet.

    3) The GARD explains the successes and failure of the other two, which (admittedly) have sketchy explanations for their efficacy. They don’t seem to understand that the key to the success of all of these diets is the limitation of triggers (food lectins, glutamate, aspartate, xenoestrogens), NOT the restriction of calories. I have NEVER had to restrict the calories of a pet (or person who has asked me about the diet) to halt their seizures. The main carbs they are restricting are the most damaging glycoproteins that we can consume (wheat, corn). According to Larry King interviews I have seen, even Dr. Adkins himself did not understand how his diet helped medical conditions other than obesity.

    4) The diet is not nearly as hard to maintain as people think or are saying, unless they simply can’t live with out pizza, donuts or junk food. I have eaten this way for 12 years and no one could argue that it wasn’t the most natural and healthiest way to eat, with the diet consisting of lean meats, fish, eggs, fruits, veggies, gluten-free breads/products, some goat milk products, nuts and seeds (with the latter two being restricted at first due to their high glutamate content) .The GARD is basically a Paleo Diet, which has gotten infinitely more attention than the other two in the treatment of a myriad of health issues.

    This is not rocket science. It is an elimination diet based on the restriction of the most well-known challenges to our health….gluten, dairy products, corn, soy, MSG (free glutamate), aspartame, trans fats, fluoride, and excessive sugar. Again, the damaging effects of these things are not controversial but, in fact, well-established. Hey, some of the new AEDs work by blocking glutamate. Why is that? On the other hand, to volunteer for KETOSIS is very controversial in my thinking, a serious physiological state that is normally restricted for those who are starving or suffering from uncontrolled diabetes.

    Yes, there have been no controlled studies in humans nor in pets…yet. Why? Because it is not well known enough…yet. But, just as I knew that gluten would be a HUGE issue when I discovered my own problem over 12 years ago, I know that The GARD/Paleo Diet WILL be the diet of choice for epileptics. Why? It is logical, natural, based on science and WORKS…when applied properly and when not interfered with by an excessive of medications (many of which have as their side effect “increased seizures”).

    All that being said, THANK YOU again for including The GARD. Baby steps…baby steps. :):):)

    As always, I hope this helps,


    John B. Symes, DVM

    (PS. It makes even more sense when you approach epilepsy from a viral standpoint. I’ll be speaking on this topic at the upcoming North American Veterinary Conference in Orlando.)


    Comment by John B. Symes, DVM (Dogtor J) — June 21, 2012 @ 1:02 PM

    • Candace, Why don’t you try to contact Dogtor J directly at http://dogtorj.com/


      Comment by Phylis Feiner Johnson — August 21, 2013 @ 7:26 PM

    • Hi, I’d like to comment on this, too. I’m the author of the GARD diet recipes (www.kyrahs.blogspot.com). I spoke with my neurologist, Dr. Jared Johns, and he said the GARD diet is on his approved list for recommending to patients. There is nothing controversial about it, in his opinion. In fact, when I told him about the success I’ve had he made a point of noting it in my chart and said he’d mention it to other patients as well.

      As for the GARD being “lifelong”… probably. But I followed it to the letter for several months, in addition to daily magnesium oil foot soaks, and have been able to occasionally eat grains, soy and corn products with NO adverse effects for the last 6-7 months. I think my gut has healed enough that it can handle small amounts.


      Comment by Kyrah — September 22, 2013 @ 12:10 PM

  10. is anyone on here doing the atkins diet to help comtrol your epilepsy? im looking for some support, to keep motivated.


    Comment by jennifer — June 24, 2012 @ 3:56 PM

  11. or the GARD diet, im hoping to do either, but if I were to have support in one of them


    Comment by jennifer — June 24, 2012 @ 3:57 PM

    • I was dedicated to the GARD diet for about 6 months. During that time I ate no junk food or processed sugars. I also minimized my fruit intake. During that time my seizures were controlled fairly well. I had about 4 2-3 day relapse periods where my seizures came back. I made some adjustments with my herbs and the problem quickly seemed to go away. About 3 weeks ago I decided that there was no reason to keep restricting my carbohydrate intake on the GARD diet so I started eating a more “normal diet” with plenty of rice, quinoa, carrots, bannanas, etc. My seizures started to come back and after a couple days I started having about 4/day. I dedided that it was time to go to the ketogenic diet. I ate only coconut oil for a day and then went on a faily strict ketogenic/modified atkins diet. I have now been seizure free for a couple weeks and I am fairly confident it will stay that way. I still consider pieces of the GARD diet; I am still gluten free and also avoid things like cheese, soy, lentils, beans, and peanuts. I would be happy to share more, but hopefully that is enough motivation to start the atkins/ketogenic diet to become seizure free!


      Comment by Daniel Miller — February 10, 2013 @ 10:40 PM

      • Daniel, celiac disease is closely related to various neurological disorders, with a higher incidence of epilepsy. And in one study, epilepsy was observed in 5.5% of all cases of celiac disease.

        Seizures seen in association with celiac disease are frequently difficult to control and, at least in some cases, this is due to poor AEDs absorption. Epilepsy occurs twenty times more often in people with celiac disease than those in the general population. Calcium deposits form in the brain because of a deficiency of folic acid.

        People affected by celiac disease are short of folic acid, vitamin B-6, which causes most of the symptoms of the condition so it has to be supplemented with the active form (bio available) of vitamin B-6. Multivitamins will cover the body’s demands for A, D and E vitamins. Be sure to read the bottle’s label to insure all of these necessary supplements are included.

        As you probably know, these food are the worst offenders: gluten – commonly derived from wheat and grains…casein – protein found in cow milk (and most dairy products)… soy…corn – including corn syrup and corn derivative products…MSG (mono-sodium glutamate) – a very common food ingredient in processed foods even though it is rarely clearly labeled as such…aspartame – commonly used as a sugar substitute…glutamate – found in high concentrations in most beans/legumes…and hydrogenated oils.


        Personally, I find the M.A.D. (Modified Atkins Diet) the most user friendly. And that’s what I follow, with success.

        I hope, in your trials, you find the same success!


        Comment by Phylis Feiner Johnson — February 11, 2013 @ 10:27 AM

  12. I’m on the Atkins diet — but not by choice. My (skinny) husband gained 20 pounds on Lyrica which he’s trying to take off.

    So I get to join in the fun. The down side is, I’ve lost 20 pounds and now all my clothes fall off of me.

    Happily, Arthur gave me a bunch of clothes for my birthday and I wear leggings a lot. (I’m not keen on showing off my legs because of all the scars from falling.)


    Comment by Phylis Feiner Johnson — June 24, 2012 @ 5:24 PM

    • Going on a really low-fat diet (like you, for someone else’s benefit) is what finally got rid of the 20 some lbs I gained when starting valproate)…


      Comment by dee — November 25, 2015 @ 5:02 PM

  13. aren’t there good fats to increase like olive oil and nuts, and bad fats to sray away from like many oil and saturated fats??


    Comment by MaryBeth Alban — January 12, 2014 @ 11:42 AM

    • If you are interested in going the ketogenic route the best fat to include is MCT oil and Coconut oil. It is debatable if the saturated fat in coconut oil is all that unhealthy, but I do certainly avoid all processed/unnatural saturated fats.


      Comment by dkmiller2 — January 12, 2014 @ 7:59 PM

      • Thank you dk! I didn’t know about MCT oil, but I know we live on coconut oil and macademia oil for cooking.


        Comment by Phylis Feiner Johnson — January 13, 2014 @ 10:52 AM

  14. Right you are, Beth!

    And to add to your nutrition list, here’s more food for thought:

    Foods That Fight Stress…



    Comment by Phylis Feiner Johnson — January 12, 2014 @ 1:10 PM

  15. This is good to know ! I will talk to my daughters daughters Nuerolologist about these diet !


    Comment by Mona — January 25, 2015 @ 8:14 PM

  16. I hope one of these can help, Mona.


    Comment by Phylis Feiner Johnson — January 26, 2015 @ 8:53 AM

  17. some times I eat atkins food,s and shake,s I would like to get to 120 from 160. mine is being over med. by 14 different pills at age 27. I gajned 20 pounds after they cleaned me out. then I gained another 20 pounds from different meds, putting me on,taking me off, upper, lowering them. another thing you can look up,is suicide risk from 11 drugs, epilepsy drugs. I take 1 lamotrigine, and 2 carbatrol


    Comment by michele metzger — April 3, 2016 @ 12:10 AM

  18. Michele, I think the best thing for you would be the Modified Atkins Diet (MAD).

    My husband gained 40 pounds from his meds and lost it on the MAD diet.

    Try it and I think you’ll be pleased with results. You just have to stick with it. But it’s not punishing and easy to follow.


    Comment by Phylis Feiner Johnson — April 3, 2016 @ 9:43 AM



    Comment by stewartbarr — May 14, 2016 @ 4:47 PM

  20. Hi Stewart, There are many other options, such as Complementary Medicine


    But I would suggest you give the Modified Atkins Diet (MAD) a try. It’s pretty user friendly and I’ve been on it –except for a few splurges — for years.

    However, that’s in ADDITION to my AEDs.


    Comment by Phylis Feiner Johnson — May 14, 2016 @ 4:56 PM

  21. Reblogged this on TBI Rehabilitation.


    Comment by Kostas Pantremenos — August 29, 2017 @ 6:29 PM

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    About the author

    Phylis Feiner Johnson

    Phylis Feiner Johnson

    I've been a professional copywriter for over 35 years. I also had epilepsy for decades. My mission is advocacy; to increase education, awareness and funding for epilepsy research. Together, we can make a huge difference. If not changing the world, at least helping each other, with wisdom, compassion and sharing.

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