It's always been the old wives' remedy for Epilepsy, that eating a high fat diet, low in carbs would help people reduce or prevent seizures. Now, researchers at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute and Harvard Medical School have uncovered the science behind the so called miracle cure for Epilepsy.
The research, which will be published in the May 24th issue of the journal Neuron, suggests that resistance to seizures is caused by a protein that modifies cellular metabolism in the brain. The neurological disorder basically causes a rainstorm of electronic activity in the brain that results in convulsions, loss of motor control and even unconsciousness. Cutting off sugar in the diet forces the brain to run on fat, which in turn produces a bi-product known as ketone bodies.
While this effect has been known to reduce epilepsy for more than 80 years, Nika Danial, HMS assistant professor of cell biology at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, and Gary Yellen,professor of neurobiology at Harvard Medical School believe they have uncovered the process behind it.
Yellen, who was introduced to the ketogenic diet through his wife, Elizabeth Thiele said :
"The connection between metabolism and epilepsy has been such a puzzle ... I've met a lot of kids whose lives are completely changed by this diet ... It's amazingly effective, and it works for many kids for whom drugs don't work."
According to Epilepsy Foundation, an advocacy group, there are about 3 million American's with epilepsy, so it's an important healthcare issue.
"We knew we needed to come at this link between metabolism and epilepsy
from a new angle."
Using epileptic mice, the scientists altered the protein known as BCL-2-associated agonist of cell death (BAD), and used to promote ketones and lower glucose levels. Seizures decreased, but not in those mice genetically altered not to have the protein.
Yellen likens the change to switching a car from diesel to unleaded. Running the cell on a different fuel prevents the neurons from firing wrongly. Although the full extent of the changes still need further research, Danial said they are confident the work can be used for neurodegenerative disorders.
The study was funded by Harvard Catalyst, Citizens United for Research in Epilepsy, and the NIH.
Written by Rupert Shepherd