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This article was published in December 2012. The information may be out of date. Please check our epilepsy information or our site A-Z.

Ketogenic diet: can fatty acids offer an alternative?

20 Dec 2012

Woman eating a doughnutFatty acids from a specific diet have been identified as having anti-epileptic effects. The research was conducted by scientists from Royal Holloway, University of London. There, scientists tested the effects of a range of fatty acids found in foods on the ketogenic diet, compared with an established epilepsy treatment.

The ketogenic diet is largely prescribed for children with drug-resistant epilepsy. It is often effective, however can have significant side-effects. It is hoped that scientists can identify which fatty acids have an anti-seizure effect. Researchers may then develop a pill containing that chemical that could provide similar epilepsy control without the existing side-effects of the diet. These include constipation, low blood sugar (hypoglycaemia), retarded growth and bone fractures.

Professor Robin Williams from the School of Biological Sciences at Royal Holloway said: “This is an important breakthrough. The family of medium chain fatty acids that we have identified provide an exciting new field of research with the potential of identifying stronger and safer epilepsy treatments.”

Simon Wigglesworth, deputy chief executive at Epilepsy Action, says: “The balance of the diet needs to be carefully worked out for each child. Although some children manage the diet very well, others find the diet unpleasant and difficult to follow.

The food triangle“The identification of these fatty acids is an exciting breakthrough. The research means that children and adults with epilepsy could potentially benefit from the science behind the ketogenic diet without dramatically altering their eating habits or experiencing unpleasant side-effects.”

The new research is also informed by policy from the National Centre for Replacement, Refinement and Reductions of Animals in Research, which works to replace animal testing in medical research. Professor Williams added: “Animals are often used in the search for new epilepsy treatments. Our work provides a new approach, helping us to reduce reliance on animals and provide potential major improvements in human health.”

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