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Food and Brain Function: Connections Between Epilepsy and Metabolism
Does the food you eat affect your brain function? The effect of diet on the brain is an emerging area of research, and evidence linking food consumption to mental health and cognition (Gomez-Pinilla 2008) is growing. While the full story is nowhere near complete, this is a fascinating area of research and offers some real hope that attention to diet could have vast effects on long-term quality of life and mental health.
A carefully prescribed diet can even be used to control certain conditions. For example, in the 1920’s, a dietary treatment was widely used in children with intractable epileptic seizure before any pharmacological treatments were available for seizures. The diet was known as the “ketogenic diet” and required a high ratio of fat intake and very low quantities of carbohydrates.
This ketogenic diet was often successful in treating seizures. It lost favor after the introduction of the first effective anticonvulsant medication diphenylhydantoin became available in the 1930’s. However, the ketogenic diet is gaining traction again as a treatment for children with epilepsy who do not respond to existing medications, as explained in a new article in Trends in Neurosciences this month (Lutas and Yellen 2012).
How does the ketogenic diet work? Researchers aren’t completely sure yet. It works in about one-third of children who try it and its success points to the existence of convulsant mechanisms not adequately addressed by available drug treatments. We do know that the decrease in carbohydrate intake reduces the utilization of glucose by the body. Ketone bodies produced in the liver then fuel neuronal metabolism in place of glucose stores. The reduction in seizure frequency due to dietary changes points to a link between neuronal excitability and metabolism.
What do you think?
Are there other conditions where diet might affect or improve neuronal function?
Gómez-Pinilla F. (2008). Brain foods: the effects of nutrients on brain function. Nature Reviews Neuroscience 9, 568-578.
Lutas A, Yellen G. (2013). The ketogenic diet: metabolic influences on brain excitability and epilepsy. Trends Neurosci. Jan;36(1):32-40.