Research About The Ketogenic Diet and Childhood Epilepsy Is Moving Forward

The parents of kids with epilepsy in this community might be interested to know that research on the effect of dietary therapy on childhood epilepsy is moving forward rapidly. The ketogenic diet, if you’re not already familiar with it, is a diet that carefully controls and balances nutrients to provide low carbs, adequate protein, and high fat, in order to change the way the body uses nutrients.

A Big Year in Ketogenic Diet Research

Last year a 3-day conference in Phoenix brought together researchers on the ketogenic diet, where, among other things, the researchers discussed issuing a consensus
statement on the use of the ketogenic diet with children. In September, that consensus statement came out, with recommendations on how to manage the use of this diet in children. (If you want all the details, you can read a summary of the consensus statement in Epilepsia here). Also last June, the very first randomized controlled study of the ketogenic diet was published in the journal Lancet Neurology, indicating that children treated with the diet could achieve significant reductions in frequency of seizures.

I’m not an epilepsy scientist; my research interests are in obesity treatments, including low glycemic diets and Medifast results. But the ketogenic diet is closely related, so I’ve been following this new research with a lot of interest. Low glycemic diets seem to have so many benefits, from diabetes and weight loss to epilepsy; it’s simply one of the most exciting areas of nutritional
research.

It’s hard to believe, but ketogenic diets have been in use for children with epilepsy
for decades; (originating in 1921) without much in the way of clinical research. The early results were positive, and so the diet came into widespread use. Since the 1990s, though, researchers have finally started producing more scientific background to help us understand who is likely to benefit from ketogenic diets, how to manage it, why it works, and now, most recently, when it’s best to start using the ketogenic diet.

Current Findings On The Ketogenic Diet

As Dr. Eric Kossoff reported in the journal Developmental Medicine and Child Neurology
recently, the trends in research suggest that children with status epilepticus could benefit from the ketogenic diet, and that even infants might be placed on the ketogenic diet by simply replacing regular infant formula with a ketogenic formula.

Kossoff notes that there are both big benefits to the ketogenic diet and some challenges. The benefits include drastic improvements for children who aren’t responding to anticonvulsant medications; many patients placed on the diet become seizure-free within only a week on the ketogenic diet. That’s pretty impressive. On the down side, the ketogenic diet isn’t a simple therapy; parents have to learn about the diet and the cooperation of a neurologist and a nutritionist is essential to success. And of course, keeping a child on a restrictive diet isn’t easy.

There are some uncomfortable side effects too; lots of kids experience vomiting, weight loss, hypoglycemia, and an increase in the acidity of body fluids. That can be difficult for kids and their parents. But Kossoff believes that it might be possible to achieve lasting success by keeping children on the diet for a few months. Traditionally, two years seizure-free has been the standard period used in treatment, but remember that the ketogenic diet was in use long before it was being scientifically studied.

In a recent study, Dr Villeneuve and his colleagues attempted to determine the ideal timing for beginning the diet for a given child. Their results showed that children whose seizure frequency has recently increased are more likely than others to benefit from the ketogenic diet. Even with the side effects and other challenges, that’s good news for parents who face an increasingly unpredictable health situation for their child.

This recent research-and the research that’s likely to follow in the next few years-offers both hope and some guidance. In a future posting, I’ll offer some further details on the recent study by French scientists using the ketogenic diet with patients with focal epilepsy.

About the Contributor

Matthew Papaconstantinou, PhD, is a research assistant at Washington University in St. Louis, Missouri (MO), who has twice been awarded research grants by the American Heart Association to support his research on cardiovascular diseases (CVD). Matt has a long-held personal interest in researching obesity treatments and spends his leisure time developing his website weightlosstriumph.com, which offers a free online calorie counter tool that can help people manage their weight, and offers research-based information for people who are looking for obesity diet programs reviewed.

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About Arlene Martell

Arlene Martell is the publisher of EpilepsyMoms.com and the author of Getting Adam Back – A Mother’s triumph over Epilepsy and Autism. She resides in a seaside suburb on Vancouver BC Canada with her husband James and their four children Adam, Justin, Shelby and Victoria.