Epilepsy, seizures and diet


Q. Can epilepsy be related to diet?  

A. Yes - epilepsy can be related to diet especially in children who have ANY other symptoms of food intolerance such as headaches, irritable bowel symptoms, skin rashes, insomnia, behaviour or learning problems and many more.

Medical journals say…

  • children with food allergies/intolerances have a higher prevalence of epilepsy - the more symptoms, the higher the prevalence -according to a US study of 90,000 children (1)
  • seizures AND food intolerance symptoms may improve or stop completely  in children  who do an elimination diet (2,3,4,5) – and  our readers say it’s not just children
  • the ketogenic diet featured in the 1997 Meryl Streep movie First do no harm helps epileptic children and may help adults (6) but if they have food intolerance, our readers say they need to stick to failsafe foods as well

Patient groups say…

“… everyone’s epilepsy is different. Some people feel that some colourings and preservatives, monosodium glutamate (MSG) or artificial sweeteners can trigger their seizures” - Epilepsy Society UK

Our readers agree…  

“I took my 4-year-old daughter off all additives, preservatives and colours. In one week she has had a dramatic reduction of mostly myoclonic type seizures, down from her usual 2 - 40 throughout each day before" – Karen from story [565]

“… my husband's sudden bout, at age 69, of grand mal seizures and memory loss are caused by MSG …  Taking MSG out of his diet has stopped the seizures, most of the hand tremors…auras and dizziness – from story [1576] (USA)

“… my brother had severe epilepsy with many seizures every day. When my mother finally started us on an additive free diet on her own initiative, the number of seizures dropped by 75%. My brother was able to come outside and play with me for the first time. But it was too late to prevent the brain damage that had already occurred and he ended up in an institution” – [1143]

 “My 2 year old son … has been having seizures since he was 18 months old. Since changing his diet to preservative free bread … his seizures have improved remarkably…" – from story [1154] Refs about propionate preservatives and seizures (8)

Warning: propionate preservatives are currently often hidden under ingredient names such as cultured or fermented ANYTHING such as cultured dextrose, cultured sugar or fermented wheat flour.

Natural chemicals like salicylates are important too…

Most people don’t realise, but dietary salicylates can affect as many people with food intolerance as artificial colours. They have effects similar to low-dose aspirin – that has been associated with seizures in mice (9).

Our readers say…

“My son was having seizures … I decided to ditch the medications, which weren’t working … and attempt the elimination diet with challenges…. we found salicylates were the cause of his seizures.  As soon as these were reintroduced, the seizures returned. Remove the salicylates and the seizures went…” – from story [1366]

160b (natural colour annatto) causes seizures in my otherwise healthy 11 yr old" – Lisa from story [1378]

“when my daughter was 4 … seizures started out of nowhere … I put her on both the failsafe and ketogenic diet, and her seizures stopped! … Update nearly 10 years later: She is now tolerating sals but still failsafe re: additives and amines. She gets twitches and jerks at night when she has amines, to varying degrees and in direct proportion to the amount of amines ingested …" - from story [1156]

First do no harm - how it happened…

Charlie’s mother (played by Meryl Streep): There’s something wrong here … really, really wrong …I bring my kid to you people for help and all you do is make him sicker. You give him one drug and then he needs another drug to cure him of the first one …and then he needs another drug to take away the side-effects of that one …

Interviewer: So why are modern doctors ignoring this diet. Charlie’s own doctor has a surprising answer.

Doctor: There’s no big drug company behind the ketogenic diet …

Interviewer: So you’re saying the reason the ketogenic diet isn’t popular at this point is because there isn’t a big drug company behind it selling it to the doctors… https://charliefoundation.org/about-us/

More reader stories - dental braces and medications …

“My … teenage daughter started having scary episodes at school where she seemed to zone out for 15 minutes or more … diagnosed as absence seizures but a brain scan recommended by a neurologist didn't show any abnormalities Update one year later: When her dental braces were removed, we finally discovered  that our daughter's "unexplainable" neurological issues over 3.5 years had been due to a reaction to the nickel in the stainless steel - from story [1238]

“Our paediatrician … prescribed Minirin, a nasal spray medication that is designed to stop bedwetting ... after only three doses Nicholas was rushed from school to hospital in an ambulance because he was having a seizure (one of the known side effects of this drug…)” – from story [153]

Another cause of adult epilepsy to consider

Most people start having their seizures as children, but the major cause of adult onset seizures in the world - and an increasingly serious public health problem including the USA - is neurocysticercosis, an infection with pork tapeworm larvae brain parasites. The first case in Australia was reported in 2020.

Pork tapeworm: first locally acquired case http://outbreaknewstoday.com/pork-tapeworm-1st-locally-acquired-neurocysticercosis-case-reported-in-melbourne-australia-12056/
Dr Michael Greger 2 min videos Pork tapeworms on the brain and Avoiding epilepsy through diet

References and more info

1. JI Silverberg et al, Allergic disease is associated with epilepsy in childhood: a US population-based study, Allergy, 2014 Jan;69(1):95-103. A study of over 90,000 children found that the US prevalence of epilepsy is associated with allergic diseases - including asthma, atopic dermatitis (AD)/eczema, hay fever, and food allergies. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/24251558/

2. J Egger et al, Oligoantigenic diet treatment of children with epilepsy and migraine. J Pediatr,1989;114(1):51-8. An oligoantigenic diet trial of 63 children with epilepsy found that seizures were triggered by food in epileptic children who had food intolerance symptoms (headaches, irritable bowel, behaviour) but NOT in children who had no symptoms of food intolerance. This diet resulted in seizure freedom for 55% and seizure reduction for 80% https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/2909707/

3. H Gorjipour et al, Hypoallergenic diet may control refractory epilepsy in allergic children: A quasi experimental study. Sci Rep. 2019 May 3;9(1):6875. “our results with hypoallergenic diets showing seizure freedom in 50% of patients and seizure reduction in more than 85% of patients during 12 weeks of elimination diet”. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6499767/

4.T Frediani  et al, Partial idiopathic epilepsy: recovery after allergen-free diet. Pediatr Med Chir. May-Jun 2004;26(3):196-7 – about the effects of cows-milk-free diet. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/16366404/

5. Kok Wee Chong  et al, An unusual case of infant seizures with anaphylaxis to wheat. Asia Pac Allergy. 2018 Mar 3;8(2):e13. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5931920/

6. Kirsty J Martin-McGill et al, Ketogenic diets for drug-resistant epilepsy. Cochrane Database Syst Rev, 2018 Nov 7;11(11):CD001903. Seizure freedom reached as high as 55% and seizure reduction reached as high as 85% in a classical keto group after three months (similar to elimination diets in 2 and 3 above). Adverse effects included gastrointestinal disturbances and increased cholesterol https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6517043/

7. MSG and seizures

H N Bhagavan et al, Monosodium glutamate induces convulsive disorders in rats, Nature. 1971 Jul 23;232(5308):275-6. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/4937085/

18 similar references https://www.truthinlabeling.org/seizures.html 

our popular blog post 129 ways to add MSG and fool consumers

8. Propionates (bread preservatives) and epilepsy

Although food regulators regard propionate preservatives commonly used in bread and flour products as safe because propionates occur naturally in the human body, research suggests that excess levels of propionate appear to be problematic. For example, propionic academia - a metabolic disorder  that is characterised by excess propionate has been associated with epilepsy as well as motor impairments, brain atrophy, cognitive impairments and dementia. See more references in factsheet on propionates

E Haberlandt et al, Epilepsy in patients with propionic academia. Neuropediatrics. 2009 Jun;40(3):120-5. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/20020396/

Afnan AlGhamdi et al, Epilepsy in Propionic Acidemia: Case Series of 14 Saudi Patients. J Child Neurol. 2018 Oct;33(11):713-717. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/30014764/

Jessica Killingsworth et al, Propionate and Alzheimer's Disease. Front Aging Neurosci. 2021 Jan 11;12:580001. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7831739/

9. Kyoung Hoon Jeong et al, Influence of Aspirin on Pilocarpine-Induced Epilepsy in Mice. Korean J Physiol Pharmacol, 2013; 17(1): 15–21. Aspirin - including low-dose aspirin that is the same as dietary salicylates - increased the onset time of seizures and mortality in epileptic mice. Researchers concluded that the safety of aspirin may be a problem in patients with neurological disorders such as temporal lobe epilepsy. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3579100/

More info

First do no harm 1997 movie based on the true story of little Charlie Abrahams who developed difficult to control epilepsy at 11 months. As a last resort, while Charlie was experiencing multiple daily seizures and multiple daily medications, his parents tried the ketogenic diet and Charlie became seizure and drug free within a month.

First do no harm How it happened
First do no harm full movie

Introduction to food intolerance

Epilepsy factsheet

Epilepsy story collection (8 page pdf)

More reader stories

 “One of the boys was exhibiting forgetfulness, inattention and memory lapses so noticeable that he was referred for brain investigation of suspected epilepsy. However, … he stopped eating preserved bread first, and his problems stopped – from story [1155]

“My cousin has been having horrendous seizures for the past 2 years …one of her biggest seizures which was triggered by popcorn at the pictures, was probably due to tartrazine artificial colour (102) – from story [118]

“Soon after she started the elimination diet, Kerry (25 yo autistic) reported that her epileptic seizures had stopped …her seizures were related to large amounts of salicylates or the artificial yellow food colouring called tartrazine. The seizures could be triggered by flashing lights or sudden loud noises, but only when she had salicylates or tartrazine in her system” - from Fed Up by Sue Dengate, chapter 4

“While my friend is breastfeeding, there are many times when the baby seems to "clamp down" on the breast and briefly stay motionless. Doctors have only recently suggested that these episodes are actually seizures. My friend is addicted to a particular red soft drink (artificially coloured of course) and drinks several litres per day … She refuses to give up this drink and doctors are now saying there could be permanent brain damage” –  from story [1152]

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