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article imageOntario Brain Institute Leads the Way in Epilepsy Research Special

By Chris Riddell     Mar 26, 2012 in Health
Toronto - The Ontario Brain Institute (OBI) recently began a study regarding a strict diet that has been proven to prevent seizures and convulsions in sufferers of epilepsy.
On March 5, OBI made an announcement that they are initiating three new studies into several neurological disorders with the intention of developing new treatments and technologies in the neuroscience arena. With regards to epilepsy, the institute is experimenting with a radical diet that has proven to be effective in children and adults as long as they stay on it.
The “ketogenic diet” is designed to provide 90% of its calories through fat instead of sugars and carbohydrates. This means a lot of foods that are found in almost anyone’s cupboard are off the menu. Things like pasta, bread, fruits, candy, and pizza are some examples of what isn’t allowed in the ketogenic diet.
The specialized diet is intended to mimic the physiological effects of fasting. According to Dr. Kirk Nylen, Manager of Knowledge Translation and Operations at OBI, maintaining the state of ketosis that comes with fasting is essential for the diet to work its magic. Ketosis occurs in the body when the liver’s glycogen stores are used up and it begins burning stored fat for energy. This process releases ketone molecules into the bloodstream which are burned off in the brain to aid in using fat stores for energy.
“When you fast your body starts burning its fat (instead of sugar) because you’re not eating any food. When you burn your fat, for some reason, the brain is less likely to have seizures,” Dr. Nylen said.
“So if you feed someone a diet where more than 90% of the calories on this diet are from fat, the body thinks it’s fasting so it’s kind of in fasting mode, and will maintain the anti-convulsing and anti-seizure effects that you see when people are fasting alone.”
It’s a radical, life-altering diet where you have to monitor everything you eat and be strict about not going over your prescribed caloric intake. It takes a great deal of discipline to stick to over the long haul.
Breakfast may consist of nothing more than scrambled eggs, some cream, and a piece of lettuce. This is hardly enough to satisfy anyone’s morning hunger. Researchers are finding it’s hard for the subjects to stay on the diet for an extended period of time, and once they get off it’s hard to get them back on.
“When it comes to getting adults on the diet, at the end of the day they can cheat if they want to. In the diet there is no tolerance for cheating,” Dr. Nylen said.
With children however, it’s a little simpler since there are parental figures to restrict the child’s access to the prohibited foods by locking the fridge or cupboards, or simply not buying those foods. With adults, these restrictions are not in place.
Results so far have been positive. They found that 1/3 of patients have a large reduction in seizures, 1/3 have a 50% reduction, and 1/3 have less than 50% reduction is seizures.
The idea of using a ketogenic diet to control seizures is not a new idea. Even as far back as biblical times it was known that fasting could be used as a method to prevent seizures. Scientists have known about the diet’s effectiveness for years.
The main goal of the research is to find the essence of the anti-convulsant properties of the diet and formulate it as a pill. Having a capsule or tablet to swallow every day would be much easier for patients to manage than the ketogenic diet.
The Ontario Brain Institute is also researching new treatments for cerebral palsy, autism, and ADHD among a litany of other conditions they are looking into. OBI specializes in bringing together researchers from multiple disciplines, and from many different organizations to facilitate research efforts. It’s this combination of minds that is making OBI a leader in neuroscience.
For the epilepsy study, OBI has researchers from University of Toronto, University of Ottawa, and University of Western Ontario on board. Combining so many different minds is proving to be advantageous in the lab and providing a lot more bang for the research buck.
OBI is a non profit company that mainly receives funding from the government, but also gains some contributions from donors and industries involved in neuroscience, according to Keith Pinder, OBI Director of Governance and Finance.
More about ontarion brain institue, obi, Epilepsy, ketogenic diet, Neuroscience
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