Purple day – Raising Epilepsy Awareness

March 26th is known as purple day, a day dedicated to raising epilepsy awareness.

What is epilepsy?

Epilepsy is a condition of the brain that is characterized by recurrent seizures. It is a disorder, not a contagious disease. Anything that causes injury to the brain and alters its function can cause seizures.

A seizure is an abnormal excessive surge of electrical activity in the brain that can sometimes cause a noticeable change in behaviour. There are lots of different types of seizures, different types will be indicative of the area of the brain that the seizure originates from, and the pattern in which the electrical discharge spreads through the brain.

The person may experience body sensations such as “pins and needles”, smells, sounds, fear, depression, distortions of sensory stimuli, momentary jerks or head nods, staring with loss of awareness and convulsive movements. The most common symptoms experienced after a seizure is confusion, muscle ache, fatigue and a headache.

According to the epilepsy society, 300,000 people in the UK have epilepsy, 60,000 of which are children under the age of 16. Epilepsy effects 1 in every 100 children.

Treatment Types

There are various forms of treatment for epilepsy including:

  • Medication – anticonvulsants
  • The Ketogenic Diet
  • Surgery
  • Correcting Vitamin and Mineral deficiency
  • Vagus Nerve Stimulation

The Ketogenic Diet

Some of you may have heard about the ketogenic diet before, so let’s take a closer look. The Ketogenic diet is a treatment option for drug resistant epilepsy (usually once up to 2 medications fail to control seizures). It is a very high fat (~90%), low carbohydrate, and moderate protein diet. Our brain and body usually use sugar (carbs) to create energy. Restricting the carbohydrate content of the diet so vastly, forces our body to shift to use mainly our fat stores (like fasting) and dietary fat for fuel instead. When carbs are restricted and fat increased, our body will produce ketones; known as ketosis.

What is the evidence?

Since the 1920’s, the ketogenic diet has been recognised as an effective treatment and relief from childhood epilepsy. Although numerous clinical studies have been carried out, the exact mechanisms of actions remain unknown. One review study showed that children experience 30-40% reduction in seizures compared to controls, and that effects were comparable to the anti-epileptic drugs (Kessler et al, 2011). The diet is well researched and established and is commonly used as an integrative approach, by NHS hospitals for children with epilepsy. There is some research now emerging for the use of the diet for adult epilepsy, although this remains very much in infancy – and nothing is well established, as of yet.

The Ketogenic diet is a treatment therapy, and for it to be effective as a treatment for epilepsy it must be strictly controlled under the supervision of a consultant and dietitian. If you think your child may be showing signs of seizures, please be in contact with your GP. Please also note that this diet is not utilised in a professional manner as a form of weight management but as a way of altering the brain chemistry.