Perspectives on the metabolic management of epilepsy through dietary reduction of glucose and elevation of ketone bodies

J Neurochem. 2003 Aug;86(3):529-37. doi: 10.1046/j.1471-4159.2003.01862.x.


Brain cells are metabolically flexible because they can derive energy from both glucose and ketone bodies (acetoacetate and beta-hydroxybutyrate). Metabolic control theory applies principles of bioenergetics and genome flexibility to the management of complex phenotypic traits. Epilepsy is a complex brain disorder involving excessive, synchronous, abnormal electrical firing patterns of neurons. We propose that many epilepsies with varied etiologies may ultimately involve disruptions of brain energy homeostasis and are potentially manageable through principles of metabolic control theory. This control involves moderate shifts in the availability of brain energy metabolites (glucose and ketone bodies) that alter energy metabolism through glycolysis and the tricarboxylic acid cycle, respectively. These shifts produce adjustments in gene-linked metabolic networks that manage or control the seizure disorder despite the continued presence of the inherited or acquired factors responsible for the epilepsy. This hypothesis is supported by information on the management of seizures with diets including fasting, the ketogenic diet and caloric restriction. A better understanding of the compensatory genetic and neurochemical networks of brain energy metabolism may produce novel antiepileptic therapies that are more effective and biologically friendly than those currently available.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Brain / metabolism
  • Brain / physiopathology
  • Diet*
  • Energy Metabolism
  • Epilepsy / diet therapy*
  • Epilepsy / etiology
  • Epilepsy / physiopathology*
  • Glucose / metabolism*
  • Humans
  • Ketone Bodies / metabolism*


  • Ketone Bodies
  • Glucose