Imagine if you could treat your seizures with a popular diet. What if this diet could even cure your seizures in some cases? And what if this diet could help you to reduce, if not eliminate your medications at the same time?
Well, Dr. Atkins, developer of the popular and often controversial Atkins Diet, has made this possible.
Before his death April 17, 2003, Dr. Atkins as you may well remember, came under much controversy after publishing Dr. Atkins’ Diet Revolution in 1972. Back then, and even up until his untimely death, Dr. Atkins spent much of his career defending his belief that refined carbohydrates and sugars were not only the downfall of the typical Western diet, but were also responsible for the growing number of cases of diabetes, hypertension and heart disease in the American population. This lone cardiologist consistently challenged the rigid medical establishment, even being brought before a senate committee for his passionate beliefs.
Never wavering from his indisputable research, Dr. Atkins watched in disbelief as FAT became the enemy, an evil every dieter and concerned individual was to avoid at all costs.
By the 1980s, fat free had become the catch phrase of the day and every company with shareholders and profit margins in mind had come out with new fat-free (guilt-free) products to shed those extra pounds. The mere thought that a highly accredited doctor could possibly promote a diet high in fat, was not only unthinkable, but verging on blasphemous. Fat free zealots everywhere jumped on the “ban Atkins” bandwagon. Today, despite undeniable evidence and recognized studies published in esteemed medical journals around the world, the controversy continues in many cases.
What had the medical community up in arms was Dr. Atkins’ theory, which contradicted everything doctors and dieticians were ever taught. Dr. Atkins believed that fat was not the enemy and in fact, by reducing the healthy fats in our diet, we had inadvertently contributed to the expanding waistlines of good intentioned Americans. According to Dr. Atkins, increased carbohydrates and reduced fat intake were the real cause of weight gain and many diseases. Today, the typical American diet still consists of on average, 750 calories a day from sugar alone and much more in many cases. This translates to about 158 pounds of sugar per person each year!
This becomes relevant when you understand that the carbohydrates we eat are turned into glucose (sugar) and burned as fuel for energy. Health professionals argue carbohydrates are the primary source for energy production within the body. As such, a healthy diet according to the FDA’s Food Pyramid should consist of 60 percent carbohydrates. The remaining should consist of fats, from which we absorb glycerol and fatty acids, and protein, our primary source of amino acids necessary for cell production.
What Dr. Atkins argued however, was that we are consuming far more carbohydrates than our body needs and the excess glucose is causing severe spikes in our blood sugar levels. This is a problem on many levels, but primarily because once sugar levels go up, the pancreas then releases insulin in order to move the glucose out of the blood. This glucose is sent to the cells to be used as fuel for energy. When the body’s energy needs are met however, the remaining glucose is then converted by the liver to glycogen and stored in the liver and muscles for later energy use. Once the body’s glycogen storage capacity has been filled, the liver turns the excess glucose into fat. What happens when we are bombarding our bodies with carbohydrates is that our insulin levels are also rising. This can lead to an entire host of other problems such as increased salt and water retention, which of course can lead to high blood pressure. It can also lead to heart disease, high triglyceride levels, an increased risk of breast cancer and polycystic ovarian syndrome, not to mention diabetes, a disease affecting 20.8 million Americans each year, a number that is expected to rise dramatically over the next few years.
The Atkins Diet is designed to not only lower carbohydrate intake but also push the body to burn fat for fuel instead of sugar. This process is called ketosis, not to be confused with ketoacidosis, a condition diabetics experience when their blood sugar levels spin out of control after consuming excessive carbohydrates. When the body burns fat, it leaves behind an ash-like residue known as ketones. The liver and the brain use these ketones as an energy source. When there are sufficient ketones in the body, the body is considered to be ketoic or in ketosis. For people trying to lose weight, ketosis is an obvious benefit to weight loss.
The Atkins Diet also serves another purpose. Dr. Atkins believed that many people suffer from food allergies, more specifically, an allergy to refined carbohydrates. In reducing and even eliminating in some cases, these refined carbohydrates, such as wheat and white sugar; individuals experience a variety of benefits. Often people eliminate chronic sinus problems, abdominal bloating, chronic fatigue and in general, they begin to feel invigorated.
Theory Behind the Atkins for Seizures Diet
To this day, doctors do not know the exact reason behind the success of this diet as a nutritional treatment for seizures. Of course, they have theories, but like epilepsy itself, much about the inner workings of the diet is still a mystery.
It is known that fasting has been used as a treatment for seizures for thousands of years. There are even references to this treatment found in the Bible. Although mentioned intermittently throughout the ages, it wasn’t until 1921 when Dr. Rawle Geyelin, a prominent pediatrician, presented his positive results to the American Medical Association, that the idea to use fasting to treat epileptic seizures was considered as a viable treatment. Back then, the only medications used to treat seizures were Phenobarbital and bromides, so the idea that simply fasting a patient could cure their condition was welcomed with much enthusiasm.
Later that year, another doctor, Russell M. Wilder went one step further and published a paper introducing a diet he said could mimic the physiological effects of fasting. This diet was the first ketogenic diet and consisted of 80 percent fats and 20 percent carbohydrates and proteins.
The ketogenic diet was widely used until 1938 when phenytoin, a new anticonvulsant medication was introduced that promised to be as effective as the rigid diet and far easier to administer. The focus then turned to the development of new drugs and as more doctors prescribed these medications, the diet was essentially phased out. A few studies continued, but the medical consensus was that the diet was too hard to administer and as such, was effectively unsuccessful.
Then, in 1993, a two-year-old boy named Charlie Abrahams changed the outlook on this once valued nutritional treatment. Countless medications and as many doctors, were unable to treat Charlie’s violent seizures. He was eventually diagnosed with Lennox-Gastaut Syndrome, a severe form of epilepsy. His father, Jim Abrahams, a recognized film producer, began to research alternative approaches to epilepsy and came across the ketogenic diet. Charlie was brought to Johns Hopkins and prescribed the diet after which his seizures where miraculously and completely controlled.
After two seizure-free years, Charlie came off the diet. He had a few seizure episodes shortly after and resumed the diet for a time. Now, however, Charlie is completely off the diet and has been seizure free for years.
Many questions came about from Charlie’s amazing success. His story quickly became of national interest, once again putting the ketogenic diet in the spotlight.
Still, many questions remained and Charlie’s success led to the studies at Johns Hopkins using a modified version of the ketogenic and Atkins diets.
These studies, too, have been successful. While not all children experienced the same results as Charlie, the majority of these kids were still able to reduce their seizure counts by as much as 90 percent and reduce and even eliminate their medications in many cases.
The ketogenic affects of the Atkins diet are believed to be responsible for its amazing successes as a seizure treatment. Much like the diet works for weight loss by raising ketones levels through lowering carbohydatre intake, these same ketones are proven necessary for seizure control. We also know that children have been able to eventually come off the diet and continue to be seizure free, so something within the diet changes the body’s metabolic functioning.
For my family, interest in a nutritional approach to seizure control was also personal. My daughter began having seizures when she was only two-and-a-half. It was a terrifying experience for everyone and brought up so many feelings of fear, helplessness, anger, frustration and above all else guilt. We tried everything, including every possible medication her tiny body could endure, but nothing seemed to work and in fact, made things worse in some cases. It was my endless frustration and the horror of watching my daughter suffer up to 100 seizures a day that finally brought me to the Atkins Diet. In fact, my daughter was one of the original test patients for the Johns Hopkins study on he effects of the Modified Atkins Diet for Seizures.
Although it was not easy, this diet has changed all of our lives. Today, my daughter no longer requires medications and is practically seizure free, something we could only have dreamed about before Atkins.
Seizures, like many medical conditions are not well understood. If you or a family member suffers from epilepsy, it is imperative you investigate all of your options. While the Atkins for Seizures Diet may not be right for you, it is certainly worth exploring.
Michael Koski is the founder of http://www.atkinsforseizures.com, a highly recognized and credible source for information on epilepsy and seizures. He is the author of the widely recommended book Atkins for Seizures: The Story of One Child’s Journey Through Epilepsy (http://www.atkinsforseizures.com/story.html). His book recounts his family’s experiences using the Atkins Diet for Seizures and guides parents through each step of the process. Both his book and web site are recommended by Dr. Eric Kossoff, leading pediatric neurologist at the John M. Freeman Pediatric Epilepsy Center and Pediatric Neurology department at Johns Hopkins.