WEDNESDAY, May 23, 2012 (HealthDay News) -- It's long been known that a high-fat, low-carbohydrate diet can reduce epileptic seizures that resist drug therapy, and now researchers studying mice say they think they know why.
The results of their research in mice suggest that resistance to seizures among people who eat what's called a ketogenic diet is linked to a protein that modifies cellular metabolism in the brain.
The findings, reported in the May 24 issue of the journal Neuron, may lead to the development of new treatments for epilepsy, according to the researchers at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute and Harvard Medical School in Boston.
"The connection between metabolism and epilepsy has been such a puzzle," study co-leader Gary Yellen, a professor of neurobiology at Harvard Medical School, said in a Harvard news release. "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."
In tests with mice, the researchers found that modifying the BCL-2-associated agonist of cell death protein led to altered brain metabolism and protected against seizures.
"Diet sounds like this wholesome way to treat seizures, but it's very hard. I mean, diets in general are hard, and this diet is really hard," Yellen said. "So finding a pharmacological substitute for this would make lots of people really happy."
While the findings hold promise, experts note that research involving animals frequently fails to lead to benefits for humans.
The Epilepsy Foundation has more about the ketogenic diet.