SURREY, England, Nov. 25 (UPI) -- A specific fatty acid that results from maintaining the ketogenic diet may be more effective at controlling epilepsy than many currently used drugs, according to a new study in England.
The ketogenic diet consists of food high in fat, a moderate level of protein and almost no carbohydrates. According to researchers, the diet was identified in 1971 as a treatment for refractory epilepsy.
In addition to being difficult to maintain, researchers had not been able to identify the aspect of the diet which prevented seizures in people with epilepsy.
While the key factor was thought to be the production of ketones -- which the body produces to create energy in the absence of carbohydrates that can be turned into glucose -- researchers found decanoic acid actually acts to inhibit brain activity that causes seizures.
"By examining the fats provided in the diet, we have identified a specific fatty acid that outperforms drugs currently used for controlling seizures, and that may have fewer side effects," said Robin Williams, a professor in from the Center for Biomedical Sciences at Royal Holloway, in a press release.
Working with mice, researchers fed them the diet, investigating the effects of both decanoic acid and ketones on their brains. They found decanoic acid had significant anti-epileptic effects, while ketones had none at all.
While they acknowledge ketones may have other health benefits, the researchers suggest the potential of the ketogenic diet as treatment for some epilepsy patients future research may focus on deconoic acid.
"This discovery will enable us to develop improved formulations that are now likely to significantly improve the treatment of epilepsy. It will offer a whole new approach to the management of epilepsies in children and adults," said Matthew Walker, a professor at University College London's Institute of Neurology.
The study is published in the journal Brain.