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Today I want to share information about GARD that has been growing in popularity with epilepsy patients for several years.

GARD stands for Glutamate/Aspartate Restricted Diet. It was developed by John B. Symes, a licensed veterinarian of 30 years and a sufferer of Celiac Disease.

My experience with this diet has been rather life changing. I was at a point in my struggles with my body that I had almost given up on the idea of eating anything that would not cause intense pain, as well as other symptoms.

I went to a GI doctor to try to find out the cause of this problem. During the years I went to her, she never tested me for Celiac Disease. She merely told me I had problem with nerves, and should eat all the foods that hurt me because I was “babying my system” too much.

She even suggested a narcotic for the pain. Am I the only one that thinks this was probably a stellar example of a poor medical diagnosis?

I limped along, randomly continuing to cut things out of my diet to get relief. Then I read somewhere that a large percentage of people with epilepsy also have Celiac Disease and that researchers are trying to figure out the link. That was enough for me to go on.

I did not bother going to another GI doctor, because I was still angry from the previous experience, and because my primary care doctor did not feel a GI would understand and help me tie the issues to my current condition

With the approval of my PC, I began to systematically cut gluten out of my diet. I got a measure of relief, but soon realized it was not enough.

In the US, there doesn’t seem to be any nutritionists that you can consult on how to configure a diet for your conditions, unless you have diabetes. I looked and looked, thinking that in Houston I would find someone who wasn’t centered on diabetes or weight loss regimes. Even my PC told me such a profession did not really exist in this country.

I started to read all sorts of information on diets and theory. One good book was The Virgin Diet by J.J. Virgin, CNS,CHFS. I found her approach to eliminating problem foods based on potential allergies tremendously helpful. I was still thinking that my issues with gut problems were separate from the seizures.

Then, in my reading about alternative treatments for those of us with drug resistant TLE, I saw GARD listed alongside the Modified Atkins. I tried the Atkins at one point, as well as coconut oil and many other popular treatments, with no success. I knew these approaches worked for others and felt a lot of disappointment when they failed to help me.

It is for this reason that it took me awhile to look at GARD. When I did, I was really surprised to find that I was on the edge of doing a lot of the things he recommends. The benefit was that now I understood why some of these things made such a difference.

The diet is described in 20 numbered sections written for a non-medically oriented person to understand. Each section gives important information and if you are at all interested in trying this you should read each one carefully to get a real picture of the “why” as much as the “how” of it.

The diet eliminates the following:
• Gluten, which comes from wheat, barley and rye
• Casin, which comes from cow’s milk products (but is mostly absent in goat’s milk)
• Soy, which is in nearly everything from chocolate to tuna, and soy’s cousins peanuts and legumes
• Corn, which includes corn syrup
• Aspartame and MSG

Elimination of these foods serves multiple purposes, but it is the one linked to epilepsy that interests me the most.

Dr. Symes maintains glutamic acid (wheat gluten is 25 percent glutamic acid, casin is 20 percent, soy is more than wheat or casin, and corn is less) and aspartic acid (aspartate) can lead to overstimulation of neurons in the form or seizures. He claims it can also reduce pain threshold, sleep disorders and emotional disturbances or neuronal death such as ALS (Lou Gehrig’s Disease).

Dr. Symes states that because the diet is one of elimination of common foods, it is “simple” but not “easy”.

Uh, he has that one right.

I have learned a lot since I started dealing with this issue. For instance, did you know a can of lightly salted mixed nuts contains both milk products as well as wheat? Or that a can of tuna normally contains soy (my husband pointed this out), as does almost any chocolate product at the grocery store.

If you embark on this diet you can expect to learn to live with simple, unprocessed foods and a lot of protein. But here’s the thing: it has reduced some of my seizures and raised the seizure threshold. It also has reduced my chronic pain in damaged nerves, and it certainly has worked toward healing my gut. I feel so much better.

And because of that feeling of increased health, I know I will never be tempted to return to old eating habits again.