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The Role of Gut Bacteria in Strokes and Seizures

The microbiome has been implicated in many different diseases and disorders. Most recently, both epilepsy and strokes have been tied to gut bacteria. Epilepsy is one of the most common neurological disorders, and it can seriously affect the quality of life for people who have it. Meanwhile, strokes occur more suddenly, claiming the lives of 140,000 Americans every year 1. So, what is the possible connection between epilepsy, strokes, and gut health? Let’s take a look!

What Is Epilepsy?

An official epilepsy diagnosis occurs when a person has two or more seizures in their lifetime. About 9% of humans will experience a seizure in their lifetime due to a genetic condition of brain trauma.

Types of Seizures

strokes and people

Frequency and severity all differ between cases of seizure activity.

Therefore, each seizure has a different classification.

For one, there are focal seizures. These happen in one area of the brain.

More regularly, there are generalized seizures 2. These are more widespread and can affect various parts of the brain.

Most common generalized seizures include:

  • Absence Seizures – Person Loses Consciousness With No Convulsions
  • Conclusive Seizures- Person Loses Consciousness With Convulsions
  • Atonic Seizures – Person Falls Into Seizure With No Warning
  • Clonic Seizures – Person Loses Control of Bodily Functions During Seizures

During these episodes, people may react differently. Some might make noise, while others might lose control of muscles. That’s because electrical currents in the brain are causing a malfunction in the system.

What Causes Seizures?

The frequency and treatment of epilepsy depend on the person, and sometimes it can be challenging to treat with medication at all.

According to the American Brain Foundation,

“In epilepsy, the disturbance in neuronal activity due to illness, brain damage or abnormal brain development can cause strange sensations, emotions, and behavior and may also result in convulsions, muscle spasms, and loss of consciousness. The outcomes can be severe, life-threatening and disabling 3.”

American Brain Foundation

Studying epilepsy is challenging because there are many factors involved that lead to a seizure. When electrical currents become erratic, it can influence various areas of the brain that control different functions. All of these factors play a role in how long a person experience a seizure and the lasting effects once the abnormal behaviors cease.

Types of Epilepsy Conditions

To make matters even more confusing, epilepsy is broken down into different categories. They differ in severity of symptoms, frequency of episodes, and factors that caused the episodes to begin.

Types of epilepsy conditions include:

  • Lennox-Gastaut – Severe Childhood Epilepsy with Multiple Types of Seizures
  • Dravet – Prolonged Seizures That Cause Fever
  • West Syndrome – Infantile Spasms
  • Juvenile Myoclonic – Happens in Sleep With Uncontrolled Body Movement
  • Nobody is sure why a person experiences a seizure. However, research on the gut-brain-axis is circling on gut bacteria. We’ll discuss that in a bit. However, let’s take a closer look at strokes first.

    What Are Strokes?

    ketogenic diet and brain health

    Unlike seizures, strokes are not a chronic neurological disorder. Rather, strokes occur more suddenly when a blood vessel in the brain is either blocked or bursts.

    In turn, you may experience symptoms, such as slurred speech, vision problems, or face paralysis.

    Symptoms of a stroke are caused by a lack of oxygen making it to the brain. This action causes permanent brain damage and sometimes even death 4.

    Types of Strokes

    Much like seizures, strokes are also classified by severity, frequency, and symptoms. There are five types of strokes, with the most common being an ischemic stroke. This type of stroke accounts for approximately 87% of all strokes 5.

    Types of strokes include:

    • Ischemic Strokes – Clot Stops Blood Flow to Brain
    • Hemorrhagic Strokes – Eruption of Weakened Blood Vessel
    • Transient Ischemic Attack (TIA) – Mini-stroke That Indicates a Clot
    • Cryptogenic Strokes – Strokes Without a Known Cause
    • Brain Stem Strokes – Occurs in Brain Stem, Causes Person to Lose Speech

    Seeing as they both influence the brain, strokes can also cause epilepsy in patients. Now, recent studies have begun to show that the microbiome and gut health is more closely related to the potential development of epilepsy and the prevalence of strokes than previously thought 6. Let’s dive a little deeper into research that can help that hypothesis.

    Ketogenic Diet and Seizures

    keto and strokes and seizures

    The ketogenic diet is certainly a health trend right now, with everyone claiming health and weight loss benefits. This popular diet was originally created to treat patients with epilepsy and help them manage their condition by decreasing seizures 7.

    The exact mechanism of the ketogenic diet involves the regulation of certain neurotransmitters and complex hormonal pathways by using ketones. These energetic bodies come from fat. That’s why many believe the keto diet helps with weight loss. Additionally, our body uses ketones as a fuel source instead of glucose 8.

    Keto Diet and Microbiome

    salmon Mediterranean diet

    Something that has also been observed through the use of the ketogenic diet to regulate epilepsy is it’s impact on the microbiome 9. A recent study has shown that the alterations in the microbiome through the ketogenic diet is not simply a side note to the diet’s effects, but actually may be a key in why the diet works to treat seizures.

    In the study, rats experienced electrically-induced spontaneous tonic seizures. The study used two common gut bacteria found in the gut biome of someone following a ketogenic diet.

    These genera were Akkermansia and Parabacteroides. They placed the bacteria into gut biomes of rats that were sterilized by antibiotics.

    Studies noted changes in the epileptic rats’:

    • Colonic Lumenal
    • Serum
    • Hippocampal Metabolomic Profiles


    “Correlate with seizure protection, including reductions in systemic gamma-glutamylated amino acids and elevated hippocampal GABA/glutamate levels. Bacterial cross-feeding decreases gamma-glutamyltranspeptidase activity, and inhibiting gamma-glutamylation promotes seizure protection in vivo.”


    The ketogenic diet is not the only clue pointing to the microbiome’s role in the development of epilepsy and predisposition to strokes. Let’s take a look at another study that sheds some light on the gut-brain connection.

    Ketogenic Diet and Strokes

    A recent study found that gut bacteria can influence the structure of blood vessels in the brain 10. In a study involving mice genetically predisposed to specific intestinal flora found that gram-negative stomach bacteria produce molecules known as lipopolysaccharides (LPS).

    According to the analysis,

    “When the mice received injections of LPS alone, they formed numerous large cerebral cavernous malformations (CCMs), similar to those produced by bacterial infection. Conversely, when the LPS receptor, TLR4, was genetically removed from these mice they no longer formed CCM lesions.”

    NIH/National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke

    These malformations can cause strokes and epileptic seizures. Additionally, it was found that when the bacteria were removed, and there were no more LPS in the bloodstream, the development of brain malformations decreased. Inevitably, that would lower the chances of strokes and seizures.

    This study elucidates that the microbiome can affect disease development in people who are already genetically predisposed, but also that different bacterial compositions can cause different outcomes in people with the same genetic predispositions.

    Probiotics and Seizures

    A recent study found probiotics could help mitigate epileptic seizures 11. The analysis also noted that the use of probiotics improved memory and spatial cognition.

    Many of the positive benefits were attributed to the increase in gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) after probiotic intervention.

    Probiotics and Strokes

    While strokes weren’t studied in the aforementioned resource, there has been much research on the benefits of GABA in stroke treatment and the prevention of future strokes 12.

    The Microbiome, Stroke, and Seizure Prevention

    microbiome and strokes

    These studies do not prove that probiotics are an effective treatment for epilepsy. Still, it is encouraging to see that supplementing with probiotics could potentially have a positive effect on epilepsy. These findings further suggest that the microbiome plays a role in the development of neurological conditions.

    The microbiome affects many aspects of our health and wellness. With every study, new ways that the microbiome is implicated in our well-being become illuminated. The connection between the microbiome and epilepsy, as well as strokes, is an exciting scientific development. Through this connection opens the possibility that taking care of our microbiome can help with decreasing our risk of strokes and if you have epilepsy, potentially reducing seizure prevalence.

    Managing Strokes and Seizures Through Diet

    A good way to start taking better care of your microbiome is by eating a healthy balanced diet and by taking probiotic supplements. While the science behind probiotic supplementation for epilepsy and stroke prevention is still new, it is clear that probiotics offer a myriad of other health benefits. The possible prevention of epilepsy and strokes are just icing on the cake.

    As we discover new connections in the web of wellness, it becomes more evident that looking after one part of your health has implications for other areas as well. That’s why Thryve tries to make it easier for you.

    In the Thryve Gut Health Program, we analyze your stomach bacteria to determine what’s causing unfavorable mental health issues. From there, we recommend a probiotic supplement that helps bring balance to the system. Lastly, we work with you on a diet plan that will help keep harmful bacteria from growing and healthy bacteria flourishing.

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    • 1 “The Internet Stroke Center.” The Internet Stroke Center. An Independent Web Resource for Information about Stroke Care and Research., 7 Apr. 2020, www.strokecenter.org/patients/about-stroke/stroke-statistics/.
    • 2 “Types of Seizures.” Epilepsy Ontario, Ontario Trillium Foundation , 2018, epilepsyontario.org/about-epilepsy/types-of-seizures/.
    • 3 “Epilepsy-Seizure Disorders.” American Brain Foundation , American Academy of Neurology , 7 Apr. 2020, www.americanbrainfoundation.org/diseases/seizure-disorders.
    • 4 “About Stroke.” Www.stroke.org, 7 Apr. 2020, www.stroke.org/en/about-stroke.
    • 5 “Types of Stroke.” Www.stroke.org, 7 Apr. 2020, www.stroke.org/en/about-stroke/types-of-stroke.
    • 6 “Microbiome Research in Epilepsy: Hope or Hype?” Microbiome Research in Epilepsy: Hope or Hype? // International League Against Epilepsy, 2019, www.ilae.org/journals/epigraph/epigraph-vol-21-issue-3-summer-2019/microbiome-research-in-epilepsy-hope-or-hype.
    • 7 Kim, Do Young, and Jong M Rho. “The Ketogenic Diet and Epilepsy : Current Opinion in Clinical Nutrition & Metabolic Care.” LWW, Mar. 2008, journals.lww.com/co-clinicalnutrition/Abstract/2008/03000/The_ketogenic_diet_and_epilepsy.6.aspx.
    • 8 Rho, Jong M. “How Does the Ketogenic Diet Induce Anti-Seizure Effects?” Neuroscience Letters, Elsevier, 26 July 2015, www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0304394015300549.
    • 9 Olson, Christine A, et al. “The Gut Microbiota Mediates the Anti-Seizure Effects of the Ketogenic Diet.” Cell, U.S. National Library of Medicine, 14 June 2018, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/29804833.
    • 10 NIH/National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke. “Brain Blood Vessel Lesions Tied to Intestinal Bacteria.” ScienceDaily, ScienceDaily, 18 May 2017, www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2017/05/170518140232.htm.
    • 11 Bagheri, Samaneh, et al. “Effect of Probiotic Supplementation on Seizure Activity and Cognitive Performance in PTZ-Induced Chemical Kindling.” Epilepsy & Behavior : E&B, U.S. National Library of Medicine, June 2019, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/31026781.
    • 12 Paik, N. J., & Yang, E. (2014). Role of GABA plasticity in stroke recovery. Neural regeneration research, 9(23), 2026–2028. https://doi.org/10.4103/1673-5374.147920.

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