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World Epilepsy Day: Keto diet offers recipe for seizure control

Peter Olivier was seven years old when he experienced his first seizure and was diagnosed with refractory epilepsy, a severe form of the condition, which does not respond to most prescribed treatments. At 19, Peter switched to a Ketogenic diet which helped him stay seizure-free for four years. His mother, Adrienne, believes all epilepsy patients deserve a chance to live a productive life when medical drugs fail them, and she says a low-carb, high-fat lifestyle is a big component towards achieving this. 

 Marking World Epilepsy Day, which takes place on the 12th of February this year, she says; “The Keto diet had a life-changing impact on both my son and me. Before the diagnosis, Peter was first in his class and an A-student – but the seizures, coupled with the side effects of his medication, impacted his quality of life and ability to read and write. Once we introduced the Keto diet, he was able to return to school within a year and catch up three grades in six months. He has since graduated from studying cybersecurity.” As a result of Peter’s success with the diet and from her own personal experience, Adrienne, has become a Ketogenic lifestyle coach, Nutrition Network Advisor, and member of the Society of Metabolic Health Practitioners.

The Ketogenic diet promotes eating foods rich in fats and proteins, while excluding carbohydrates like bread and pasta; “This puts the body in a state of ketosis, which means it burns fat for fuel instead of sugar, releasing a compound known as a ketone. The brain can use ketones as an alternative energy source, which can reduce the frequency and magnitude of epileptic attacks by interrupting seizure pathways,” says Jayne Bullen, Chief Operating Officer at The Noakes Foundation, a non-profit that aims to challenge mainstream scientific thinking around the link between nutrition and chronic diseases.

 

Following a relapse in 2019, Peter started using a Vagal Nerve Stimulator, a device that stimulates areas of the brain to reduce seizures. In 2023, he became the first South African to receive a deep brain stimulation implant, which improved his quality of life even further. Both treatments are supported by the maintenance of a Keto diet – which Peter will have to be on for the rest of his life.

 

Epilepsy is one of the world’s most common chronic neurological disorders, affecting one in 100 South Africans, according to Epilepsy South Africa; “Despite the prevalence of the condition, people living with epilepsy are highly discriminated against. As a result, they often face isolation and an inability to earn a living as members of society. All avenues and assistance should be offered to support them and their families,” says Adrienne.

 

“It’s time to move beyond the constraints of modern Western medicine and consider other approaches. The curative properties of nutrition are well-documented and researched, and they shouldn’t be discounted. Adrienne and Peter’s story is just one example of how our diets can play a major role in our health,” says Bullen.

 

­The Noakes Foundation is a non-profit organisation dedicated to exploring nutrition-based remedies for chronic conditions like type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and obesity by supporting independent scientific research. To find out more, visit https://thenoakesfoundation.org/

 

FACT BOX:

World Epilepsy Day is observed on the second Monday of February every year. Fasting and other dietary regimens have been used to treat epilepsy since at least 500 BC (it was even prescribed by Hippocrates in Ancient Greece). To mimic the metabolism of fasting, the Ketogenic diet was introduced by modern doctors to manage seizures in the 1920s. Over the past 15 years, there has been an explosion in the use and scientific interest in Keto.

 

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