Epilepsy is a neurological disorder that affects nearly 50 million people around the world. When neurons in the brain fire too fast, normal brain function suffers from a complete disruption. This results in the muscles and senses overreacting and can often lead to a loss of consciousness. Parents have looked to control chronic epilepsy in their children for decades.
About 60% of the time, anticonvulsants can usually help to control seizures within about a year. For those that do not respond to these medications, the ketogenic diet has become a common household name in homes that have children with epilepsy living with them.
Established in the 1920’s by Rollin Woodyatt and Mynie Peterman, the ketogenic diet is named after ketone bodies, which are produced by the liver when healthy human beings consume low carb, high fat diets. Children with epilepsy are not able to create these bodies on their own regardless of how active they are. To promote the production of these water-soluble compounds, it was discovered that children should try to consume one gram of protein for every 1,000 grams of body weight, 10 to 15 grams of carbs and the rest of the diet in fat. This daily diet, while still in its early testing showed extremely positive results early on with tests showing that 95% of patients developed improved seizure control, and a majority of them even becoming seizure free. The test results aren’t as positive for adults, but it can still work. However the ketogenic diet is focused towards children while different combinations of nutrient intakes are studied for a solution for adults.
When a child initially starts on the ketogenic diet, they will most likely be monitored in a hospital for around 24 hours. Initial reactions can leave a child very sluggish since several energy promotion nutrients are cut out from the diet. If a child is forced to stay on the diet for a longer time than usual, they can experience a series of side effects that parents need to be aware of. The most common side effects are kidney stones and high cholesterol. Dehydration and constipation can also be expected if a child is on the diet for more than 2 years. With the lack of several bone and joint nutrients, a child may also become susceptible to bone fractures after a long time on the diet, so if you see results with the ketogenic diet, consult with your doctor about weaning your child off of the diet and on to something with more vitamins and minerals for a strong body.
In most cases, children on the ketogenic diet can discontinue the routine after 2 years if their seizures are completely under control. In most cases the long term affects alone are enough for a doctor to recommend that a child stay off the diet. Most, if not all children who have been living on the diet for extended periods of time must wean themselves off the diet using something similar to an Atkins based diet or even a mild dose of anticonvulsants before completely going of this ketone body boosting routine. Stopping the diet suddenly can harm the body’s control over seizures and could force a child into remission with seizures being much worse than they were before.
The ketogenic diet is not a diet that’s generic for every patient. A registered dietician must initiate and monitor the results of diet and adjust as necessary. There’s often a lot of commitment that’s associated with starting an epileptic child on the diet. From meal planning and nutritional balance it’s important that a patient stay dedicated to the diet while avoiding any and all unplanned eating that could essentially break the progress. A pediatric nurse and neurologist must also be involved to track progress of the child’s seizures and if they are deteriorating or not. Parents will also have to go through education on the diet for the safety of their child.
If you’re considering trying the ketogenic diet for yourself or your child, bear in mind that you should stick to the diet for at least three weeks before concluding that it does not work for you. While some adults benefit from the diet, children find it extremely useful, with several patients seeing better results in a ketogenic diet over anticonvulsant medications.