Get beyond the buzz and the ketogenic diet has made a world of difference in the lives of children with epilepsy.
Through decades of research, we now know that the keto diet can reduce the frequency of seizures in children, especially if medication isn’t working.
Britt A. Schloemer, APRN, a nurse practitioner with UofL Physicians – Child Neurology, breaks down how the keto diet and program works to help kids.
The ketogenic diet is high in fat and low in carbs, and the amount of protein is strictly controlled. The diet prompts the body to switch its fuel supply almost entirely to fat.
At this point, Schloemer explains that it seems to center around replacing sugar as the brain’s primary fuel with ketones generated from fat. Brains that run on fat don’t seem to seize nearly as easily or as frequently as brains that run on sugar.
Most patients have a significant decrease in their seizure frequency and/or intensity, and many become seizure-free.
Parents also report increased alertness and improved development in their children.
Here’s how the program works.
Once the child’s neurologist has identified them as a good candidate, they’ll be referred to a ketogenic dietitian for a consultation and education. If, after the education, the parents are still interested and the dietitian agrees the child is a good candidate, they run tests to make sure the patient doesn’t have any conditions that would cause the diet to be a danger. They also change all medications from liquids, which contain sugar, to tablets.
The child will spend four to five days in the hospital, to be monitored while transitioning from a normal diet to the ketogenic diet. Families also learn how to prepare meals and monitor blood sugar and ketones.
There are some drawbacks.
It’s a lot of work for parents and can be complicated to maintain. It’s a lifestyle change. Plus, there are potential long-term side effects, such as poor growth, kidney stones and osteoporosis- all things that are monitored in the program.
Normally, the goal is to keep the child seizure-free on the diet for two years and then wean them off to avoid some of the potential side effects. But when the diet works well for a patient and family, they often don’t want to wean off. And most of the time, Schloemer says they support the families in that decision.
And yes, there are other diets geared towards epilepsy. Norton and UofL also use the modified Atkins diet, where carbs are restricted but protein is not. The low glycemic index diet has also been shown to positively affect epilepsy. But it’s extremely important that before trying any of these diets, patients and families speak with their neurologist.