The Ketogenic or Paleo Diet for Epilepsy
Epilepsy is a brain disorder that is characterized by the individual having recurring seizures (convulsions) over time. When these seizures occur, brain activity is disturbed leading to changes in attention and/or behavior. Seizures vary from loss of alertness to staring spells to violent shaking. This can be very frustrating for epileptic individuals as well as their parents as the disease can often delay or interfere with normal growth and development, cause injury from choking , falls, bumps, and other self-inflicted injuries, or even lead to permanent brain damage.
Treatment for epilepsy usually involves surgery, medications, which can often produce many undesirable side effects, or a specialized diet called the ketogenic diet.
What is the Ketogenic Diet?
The ketogenic diet is a type of high fat diet that can be used to treat seizures that are not responding well to medications (such as Lennox-Gastaut Syndrome). Basically, a ketogenic diet tries to compel the body to use more fat for energy instead of glucose (sugar). When the body metabolizes fat, ketones are created. No one is really certain why or exactly how the ketogenic diet works for helping to control symptoms of epilepsy, but higher ketone levels often lead to improved seizure control. It is supposed that a metabolic change happens within the body that affects the chemistry of the brain.
How Does the Ketogenic Diet Work?
The diet must be started under strict supervision and guidance of medical professionals, usually a doctor and dietician. The diet is started gradually, increasing to the full amount over a 3 to 4 day time period. The diet can become effective at reducing and eliminating seizures almost immediately or over the course of a couple of months. Improvement, however, is usually seen within the first 10 weeks of being on the diet.
The ketogenic diet consists of eating a very precisely calculated ratio of fats, proteins, and carbohydrates. Caloric needs are carefully calculated by a dietician based on age and activity level. To achieve the desired level of ketosis, the diet is calculated into 4:1, 3:1, or 2:1 ratio. For example, the 4:1 ratio means that 4 times as much fat is consumed as is protein and carbs combined. The diet can be tricky as the exact gram weight of each food must be determined on a scale. Typical meals include a small amount of vegetable or fruit, a food rich in protein, and a source of fat such as heavy cream and butter, or vegetable oil.
The diet is usually followed for a period of 2 to 3 years if it has proven to be helpful in eliminating or reducing seizures. Cheating on the diet at all could cause seizures to recur within a short period of time.
Risks Associated with the Ketogenic Diet
Adverse affects associated with the diet are usually not serious, with the most common being constipation. This can usually be dealt with by drinking plenty of water and choosing high fiber vegetables that are allowed within the diet guidelines. Another concern with the ketogenic diet is the possibility of vitamin and mineral deficiencies. It is not a healthy eating plan for adults or children, especially long-term (diet usually only followed for period of 2-3 years). However, taking a vitamin supplement can usually eliminate some of the concern. Other possible adverse affects are dehydration, vomiting, increased cholesterol, kidney stones, changes in behavior, and slower rates of growth.
How Well Does the Ketogenic Diet Work?
How well the diet works is highly contingent upon the strictness with which the guidelines are followed. In fact, this seems to be one of the key reasons why doctors are skeptical in recommending its use. It can be extremely hard to follow. For the diet to work in preventing seizures, it has to be followed exactly, with types of foods eaten, as well as amounts, measured with extreme precision. Preparing meals can take some time.
This diet, even despite being followed with exactness may not work for all children. However, results show that around 4 in 10 children have half as many seizures as before, and some see even greater seizure reduction than that. According to the Charlie Foundation, a group dedicated to helping cure childhood epilepsy, studies have shown that “1/3 of children treated with the ketogenic diet have greater than 90% seizure control with half of these becoming seizure free. An additional 1/3 gain a 50% reduction in seizures. The remaining 1/3 discontinue the diet due to its ineffectiveness or its difficulty.”
To read up on some pretty amazing stories of how the ketogenic diet for epilepsy has helped numerous kids get their life back, check out www.charliefoundation.org.
If you have more questions about the ketogenic diet for epilepsy, it’s always a good idea to talk to your doctor.
Epilepsy. (March 28, 2011) Retrieved on June 2, 2012 from http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmedhealth/PMH0001714/
Ketogenic Diet for Epilepsy. Retrieved on June 2, 2012 from http://www.webmd.com/epilepsy/ketogenic-diet-for-epilepsy
Ketogenic Diet. Retrieved on June 2, 2012 fromhttp://www.charliefoundation.org/faq/ketogenic-diet.html\