Literature Review

Modified Atkins diet beneficial in drug-resistant epilepsy



Adding a modified Atkins diet to standard antiseizure treatments significantly reduces seizure frequency in patients with drug-resistant epilepsy compared with medication alone, new research shows.

In a randomized prospective study, the number of seizures per month dropped by more than half in one-quarter of patients following the high-fat, low-carb diet; and 5% of the group were free from all seizure activity after 6 months.

Both adults and adolescents reported benefits from the diet, which is a less strict version of a traditional ketogenic diet that many patients find difficult to follow. The modified Atkins diet includes foods such as leafy green vegetables and eggs, chicken, fish, bacon, and other animal proteins.

“The use of an exchange list and recipe booklet with local recipes and spices helped in the initiation of modified Atkins diet with the flexibility of meal choices and ease of administration,” said coinvestigator Manjari Tripathi, MD, DM, department of neurology, All India Institute of Medical Science, New Delhi.

“As items were everyday household ingredients in proportion to the requirement of the modified Atkins diet, this diet is possible in low-income countries also,” Dr. Tripathi added.

The findings were published online in the journal Neurology.

Low carbs, high benefit

The modified Atkins diet includes around 65% fat, 25% protein, and 10% carbohydrates. Unlike a traditional ketogenic diet, the modified Atkins diet includes no restrictions on protein, calories, or fluids.

Researchers have long known that ketogenic and Atkins diets are associated with reduced seizure activity in adolescents with epilepsy. But previous studies were small, and many were retrospective analyses.

The current investigators enrolled 160 patients (80 adults, 80 adolescents) aged 10-55 years whose epilepsy was not controlled despite using at least three antiseizure medications at maximum tolerated doses.

The intervention group received training in the modified Atkins diet and were given a food exchange list, sample menu, and recipe booklet. Carbohydrate intake was restricted to 20 grams per day.

Participants took supplemental multivitamins and minerals, kept a food diary, logged seizure activity, and measured urine ketone levels three times a day. They also received weekly check-up phone calls to ensure diet adherence.

The control group received a normal diet with no carbohydrate restrictions. All participants continued their prescribed antiseizure therapy throughout the trial.

Primary outcome met

The primary study outcome was a reduction in seizures of more than 50%. At 6 months, 26.2% of the intervention group had reached that goal, compared with just 2.5% of the control group (P < .001).

When the median number of seizures in the modified Atkins diet group was analyzed, the frequency dropped in the intervention group from 37.5 per month at baseline to 27.5 per month after 3 months of the modified Atkins diet and to 21.5 per month after 6 months.

Adding the modified Atkins diet had a larger effect on seizure activity in adults than in adolescents. At the end of 6 months, 36% of adolescents on the modified Atkins diet had more than a 50% reduction in seizures, while 57.1% of adults on the diet reached that level.

Quality-of-life scores were also higher in the intervention group.

By the end of the trial, 5% of patients on the modified Atkins diet had no seizure activity at all versus none of the control group. In fact, the median number of seizures increased in the control group during the study.

The mean morning and evening levels of urine ketosis in the intervention group were 58.3 ± 8.0 mg/dL and 62.2 ± 22.6 mg/dL, respectively, suggesting satisfactory diet adherence. There was no significant difference between groups in weight loss.

Dr. Tripathi noted that 33% of participants did not complete the study because of poor tolerance of the diet, lack of benefit, or the inability to follow up – in part due to COVID-19. However, she said tolerance of the modified Atkins diet was better than what has been reported with the ketogenic diet.

“Though the exact mechanism by which such a diet protects against seizures is unknown, there is evidence that it causes effects on intermediary metabolism that influences the dynamics of the major inhibitory and excitatory neurotransmitter systems in the brain,” Dr. Tripathi said.


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