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Ketogenic diet reduces seizures in many children, researchers find

1 Oct 2001

The Ketogenic Diet, a rigorously high-fat, low-carbohydrate diet, not only reduces the number of seizures in children with severe seizure disorders, but also keeps the frequency of attacks lower years after the diet is stopped, according to a paper published in October's Pediatrics journal.

Research led by paediatric neurologist Dr John Freeman, of the Johns Hopkins Medical Institutions in Baltimore, shows more than half of the children in a study of the ketogenic diet continued to experience at least a 50 per cent reduction in seizures three to six years after going back on a normal diet.

"Also notable," Freeman says, "is that many of the children who had success after ending the diet were free of both anticonvulsant drugs and seizures."

The report say the ketogenic diet is "an excellent alternative" for children whose seizures cannot be easily controlled. "What we're seeing is long-lasting effect for many children who used the diet," Freeman adds.

Freeman noted that those in the study represent seizure-prone children who do not respond to at least two different anticonvulsant drugs. In addition, children in the study had an average minimum of two seizures per week and were between the ages of 1 and 16 years. Children were not excluded from the study on the basis of what kinds of seizures they had.

Of the study's 150 children started on the ketogenic diet, 83 remained on the diet for at least one year. Three years after the last child was enrolled in the study, questionnaires were sent to all participating families; 107 questionnaires were completed. Families of 35 children were interviewed by phone. Parents were asked about the current frequency of seizures as well as if, when and why they removed their child from the diet.

One-third of the original 150 children were either seizure free or had greater than a 90 per cent reduction in seizures, and 44 per cent of those were entirely free from medication.

Freeman says that while the reason the ketogenic diet works continues to puzzle neurologists and nutritionists, a "flurry of activity" is now under way to reveal the biochemical reasons for the treatment's success. Many experts believe the suppression of seizures is related to the build-up and breakdown of ketones, natural metabolites that accumulate in cells programmed to conserve energy.