Gut bacteria may play a key role with regard to the anti-seizure effects of low-carb, high-fat diets, according to a new study.

It's the first research to establish an association between seizures and gut microbiota, which is the 100 trillion or so bacteria that live inside a person's intestines.

One such low-carb diet is the ketogenic diet, proven by many to be highly effective in losing weight quickly. Beyond that, this diet has also been linked to fewer seizures in epileptic children, especially those who are not particularly responsive to traditional anti-seizure medications. Until now there's never been a clear explanation as to why.

The laboratory of Elaine Hsiao, a UCLA professor, was used by a team of researchers to carry out a hypothesis that assumes the ketogenic diet alters the gut microbiota, a process that's supposedly triggers the diet's anti-seizure benefits. The team sought to know whether gut bacteria is indeed responsible for the diet's anti-seizure effects, and if so — how?

Why Ketogenic Diets Prevent Seizures

In an epilepsy study involving mice, published in the Cell journal, the researchers found that ketogenic diets changed the rodents' gut bacteria in less than four days, causing the mice to have fewer seizures.

Beyond that, the researchers also needed to test whether it was actually the altered gut bacteria that caused the diminished rate of seizures, so they tested the ketogenic diet on two variants of mice: one germ-free and one treated with antibiotics to clear the gut bacteria out.

In both cases, the ketogenic diet no longer became effective against seizures, said lead author Christine Olson, a UCLA graduate student in Hsiao's laboratory.

"This suggests that the gut microbiota is required for the diet to effectively reduce seizures."

These Two Types Of Bacteria Species Are Important

Then they went further, identifying the nucleotides from the DNA of gut bacteria to find out the kinds of bacteria that were there and at what levels after administering the ketogenic diet. They found that Akkermansia muciniphila and Parabacteroides species both play important roles in the diet's anti-seizure effects. To test, they gave the bacteria to germ-free mice.

The results? The diet's anti-seizure benefits were restored, but more importantly, both bacteria species are needed to be given at the same time — or else the ketogenic diet would be useless against preventing seizures. Ultimately, that suggests both bacteria must be present together to perform anti-seizure functions.

These findings are significant, but there's more work to be done, according to Hsiao.

"The implications for health and disease are promising, but much more research needs to be done to test whether discoveries in mice also apply to humans," she said.

Many people believe a ketogenic diet is one of the most effective weight loss methods there is, though some doctors are wary about its potential dangers given that it involves consuming high-fat foods. For people with epilepsy, it could be very helpful.

"The ketogenic diet can be considered as an option for children with intractable epilepsy who use multiple antiepileptic drugs, and is a treatment of choice for seizures associated with glucose transporter protein deficiency (ie, De Vivo disease) and pyruvate dehydrogenase complex deficiency," according to a 2010 study. However: "The diet's strictness, unpalatability, and side effects limit its use and adversely affect both patients' compliance and clinical efficacy."

What do you think about the ketogenic diet? As always, if you have anything to share, feel free to sound them off in the comments section below!

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