Seizures and epilepsy are relatively common among the U.S. population. It is estimated that as many as one in 20 U.S. residents will experience at least one seizure at some point in life. The incidence of epilepsy — a medical condition diagnosed when an individual experiences recurring seizures — is estimated at one in every 100 people in the U.S. Certain foods, drinks and diet plans may variously help control epileptic seizures or conversely may trigger seizures. Diet pops and sodas may be beneficial overall for some patients with epilepsy and dangerous for others. Consult your doctor before making any significant dietary changes.
A variety of carbonated beverages are marketed as “diet” drinks due to their low calorie content. These beverages are typically made up mostly of carbonated water, with flavorings and artificial sweeteners such as aspartame or sodium saccharin. The USDA standard nutrient database indicates that a 12-oz. can of low-calorie cola or pepper-type soda — sweetened with aspartame — typically contains virtually zero calories, 43 mg of caffeine and virtually no vitamins or fat. Diet beverages sweetened with sodium saccharin — not of the cola or pepper varieties — have a similar nutritional profile except they do not typically contain any caffeine.
Every person experiences epilepsy differently, and there are many types of epilepsy with a vast range of symptoms, profiles and appropriate treatments. For many people with epilepsy, there is no significant danger in drinking diet pop in moderation. However, if your seizures are triggered by caffeine, it is possible that caffeinated diet pop may increase the likelihood of you experiencing a seizure. A study that aimed to provoke and prolong seizures in patients receiving electro-convulsive therapy, or ECT, found that caffeine could make a person’s seizure last longer.
According to a November 2004 report in the journal “Neurology,” certain anti-epileptic medications are associated with metabolic changes and weight gain. As anti-epileptic medications tend to be prescribed over the long term, many patients with epilepsy experience weight gain as a side effect of these necessary medications. In this instance, drinking diet sodas may be an effective part of a calorie-controlled diet to minimize, or reverse, weight gain associated with long-term anti-epileptic medication use. Additionally, diet sodas have fewer adverse dental effects than sugared beverages.
Artificial Sweetener Controversy
Since the introduction of artificial sweeteners — aspartame, sodium saccharin and other chemical compounds — into the U.S. market in the late 20th century, there has been some controversy regarding the safety of these substances. No conclusive proof has been delivered regarding the safety or danger of consuming artificial sweeteners such as those found in diet pop. Studies in mice have indicated that seizure incidence may be increased by continued, long-term consumption of beverages containing the artificial sweetener aspartame. It is believed that aspartame, which contains phenylalanine, can elevate the levels of phenylalanine in the brain, which reduces the creation and circulation of neurotransmitters that protect against seizures. In susceptible individuals, therefore, it is possible that long-term phenylalanine consumption via diet soda may reduce the body’s protection against seizures. Further research is necessary before any conclusions can be drawn.