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Ketogenic diet raises cholesterol and lipid levels in children

20 August, 2003

Researchers have reported that the Ketogenic Diet, the high-fat and low-carbohydrate diet shown to reduce or eliminate difficult-to-control seizures in children with epilepsy, significantly raises children's cholesterol and levels of lipids and lipoproteins in the blood.

The study, by researchers at the Johns Hopkins Children's Center in Baltimore, has been published in the Journal of the American Medical Association. After following the diet for six months, only one in six children in the study group had either a cholesterol or triglyceride level considered acceptable for children.

Despite the elevated lipids, the researchers believe the diet should remain in the treatment arsenal because children remain on the ketogenic diet temporarily - only one to two years.

The study's lead author, Professor Peter Kwiterovich Jr, said:

"These high cholesterol and triglyceride levels are unlikely to be associated with a long-term increase in risk for cardiovascular disease in adulthood. Although we know that, in adults, high cholesterol and triglyceride levels may increase one's risk for heart disease, we believe that children following the ketogenic diet do not stay on it long enough for these high levels to become a problem. Typically, when the children resume a normal diet, these levels return to normal."

For the study, the Hopkins team tracked 141 children between the ages of four months and 20 years who had been diagnosed with difficult-to-treat seizures and were part of a larger group of patients accepted into the Johns Hopkins Ketogenic Diet programme between 1994 and 2001. After six months on the diet, the children's average total cholesterol rose significantly to 232 milligrams per deciliter, well above the 200 mg/dL level the medical community considers too high for children. Triglyceride levels averaged 154 mg/dL, which also exceeds normal levels for children. In a subgroup that was followed after 12 and 24 months, total cholesterol levels were lower than they were after six months, but still remained above 200 mg/dL.

Kwiterovich cautioned that the results of this study do not predict how all children will respond to a high-fat, low-carbohydrate diet like the ketogenic diet:

"Many of these children were on a number of medications for seizure control so diverse that it was not possible to determine the influence of each drug and dosage combination on lipid and cholesterol levels."