Ketogenic diet and its variants, modified Atkins diet and medium-chain triglyceride ketogenic diet and control of seizures

Virginia Thornley, M.D, Neurologist, Epileptologist

March 6, 2018


In the past decade, different modifications of the ketogenic diet have evolved given the high intolerance to the side effects of the classic ketogenic diet and poor adherence to the strict regimen. Other variants have had similar effects in achieving control of seizures. The ketogenic diet remains a viable treatment option in patients medically refractory to conventional agents and should not be discounted as part of the armamentarium of the epileptologist or neurologist who treats patients with seizures.



Studies and classic ketogenic diet

In one small trial of febrile related seizures, 7 children with medically refractory febrile infection-related epilepsy syndrome (FIRES)were followed, 6 had less frequent and less severe seizures. On average, 4 antiepileptic agents were weaned (1). FIRES is a febrile related convulsion syndrome that starts during childhood where febrile seizures are thought to induce a cytokine reaction that occurs post-infectiously(2). In one remarkable study of 77 patients with refractory status epilepticus, only one patient had a shortened acute phase in response to ketogenic diet, 2 to anesthesia and 1 in response to IVIG, all other treatment modalities including conventional IV medications failed to shorten the acute phase (6).


In several case reports of pediatric patients in status epilepticus, the ketogenic diet was used to stop the continuous seizures. In 10 patients in one case series, all 10 pediatric patients were in continuous status epilepticus. 4 patients had focal partial status epilepticus while 6 had generalized status epilepticus. The patients had a mean duration of seizures of 18 days. The mean time for achievement of ketosis was 7 days of which 9/10 patients stopped having continuous seizures during that timeframe(4).

Modified Atkins diet and seizure control

In one study of 14 patients, the modified Atkins diet seemed to be better tolerated than the ketogenic diet. The diet was well-tolerated by 86%. 7 (50%)remained on the diet after 6 months and 36% had a 50% reduction in seizures 21% were seizure free. Strong ketosis appeared to be key in controlling the seizures (5).

Medium chain triglyceride ketogenic diet 

In another variation, the medium-chain triglyceride ketogenic diet, ketones have been challenged as the substrate for control of seizures. It has been shown that medium-chain fatty acids can work through the AMPA receptors where the excitatory neurotransmitter glutamate binds, as the mechanism for controlling seizures and by changing the bioenergetics of the mitochondria (3).





  1. Gofshteyn, et al, “Cannabidiol as a potential treatment for febrile infection-related epilepsy syndrome in acute and chronic phases,” Journal of Child Neurology, 2017, Jan.,32(1):35-40.
  2. Gaspard, et al “New onset refractory epilepticus (NORSE) and febrile infection-related epilepsy syndromes (FIRES): state of the art and perspective,” Epilepsia, 2018, Feb., doi:10:1111/epi. 14022 (Epub ahead of print)
  3. Augustin, et al, “mechanism of action for the medium-chain triglyceride ketogenic diet in neurological and metabolic disorder,” Lancet Neurology, 2018, Jan., 17(1):84-93.
  4. Appavu, et al, “Ketogenic diet treatment for pediatric super-refractory status epilepticus,” Seizure, 2016, Oct., 41:62-65.
  5. Kang, et al, “Use of modified Atkins diet in intractable childhood epilepsy,” Epilepsia, 2007, Jan. 48(1):182-186.
  6. Kramer, et al, “Febrile infection-related epilepsy syndrome(FIRES): pathogenesis, treatment, and outcome: a multicenter study on 77 children,” Epilepsia, 2011, Nov., 52 (11):1956-1967.





4 thoughts on “Ketogenic diet and its variants, modified Atkins diet and medium-chain triglyceride ketogenic diet and control of seizures

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.