The Diet That May Treat Childhood Seizures

While the incidence of seizure disorders in children is declining, about 45,000 children under the age of 15 years develop epilepsy each year.  If you’re the parent of a child with a seizure disorder, like West syndrome, which hasn’t responded to anti-seizure medication, the ketogenic diet may provide relief.  A recent study out of John”s Hopkins University, researchers used the ketogenic diet to treat 104 infants who presented with an intractable (untreatable) seizure disorder.

Eighteen of the infants followed the ketogenic diet as a primary intervention, while others had been on medications before the healthcare professionals introduced the diet (and some continued these medications during dietary treatment).The researchers found that 2/3 of the infants had a greater than 50% reduction in seizure activity after 6 months on the diet, and over 3/4 had a greater than 50% reduction in seizures after 1-2 years on the diet.  As many as 33% of the infants remained completely seizure-free through 24 months of treatment.

The medically-supervised diet begins with a 24-hour fasting period followed by the slow introduction of the high fat, low protein/carbohydrate diet.  Doctors usually recommend continuing the ketogenic diet for 2 years if the infant is having fewer seizures. The doctors work closely with a dietitian to develop a meal plan specific to the needs of each growing child.

In the past, the greatest concerns for children on such a strict diet were proper growth and development, but the research found that 94% of children in their study maintained adequate growth throughout.  A small number of participants experienced minor adverse effects, like constipation, reflux, diarrhea, or high cholesterol.

The ketogenic diet consists of 3-4 grams of fat for every combined gram of protein and carbohydrate.  For example, a 4:1 ratio for a 1000-calorie diet would include 900 calories, or 100 grams, from fat, and 100 calories, or 25 grams, from protein and online pokie machines carbohydrate combined.  If you can imagine a meal consisting of tuna packed in oil with added full-fat mayonnaise, and a side of cauliflower prepared with butter and heavy cream, you can imagine how difficult this diet would be for adults, or even older children to maintain. Hence, the diet is primarily used to treat infants and young children who are still drinking formula to meet all (or at least a majority) of their daily calorie needs.

The diet has been used by health care professionals for years, but the evidence was anecdotal and the reason it worked is still not very well understood.  Experts say that the diet mimics starvation (forcing the body to use fat, rather than glucose, for energy) and changes the metabolic pathways used by the brain, thereby preventing seizure activity.

The most important things to remember about the ketogenic diet is that it should never be initiated without direct supervision by a physician and dietitian who work together to provide a safe and nutritionally adequate diet for a growing child.  Parents of a child on a ketogenic diet are responsible for strict food measurements and routine nutrient supplementation, and will need the help of medical professionals experienced with the ketogenic diet to provide ongoing support and supervision.

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