High-fat Diet May Reduce Epileptic Seizures

September 23/Press Association Mediapoint -- A new high-fat diet is helping epileptic children who do not respond well to traditional medications, research in the U.K. has revealed.

Trials of the ketogenic diet found nearly half of the children treated had more than a 50% reduction in seizures.

The diet has even helped bring a smile to one young girl's face, her mother said.

Three-year-old Erin Clarke, from Leicester, had not smiled before as she was on so much anticonvulsant medication, but her life had changed since she started on the regime.

Researchers at the University Hospitals of Leicester NHS Trust have been trialling the diet with 23 children over the past four years.

The ketogenic diet provides high fat content, adequate protein and very low carbohydrate levels.

It fools the body into thinking it is starving, meaning it burns fat rather than carbohydrate.

The ketogenic diet provides fats from outside the body for it to burn and limits carbohydrates.

This causes ketones -- acid residue that builds up as the body burns its own fat -- to increase, and it is this high level of ketones that suppresses seizures, providing an anticonvulsant effect.

A hospital spokeswoman said the diet was an age-old treatment for epilepsy but fell from popularity with the advent of newer antiepileptic drugs.

Despite this, a number of children who do not respond well to medication found positive results from following the diet plan.

During the trials, at Leicester Royal Infirmary, of the 23 children treated with the diet over the past four years nearly half have had a more than a 50% reduction in seizures, the spokeswoman said.

She said a quarter of patients have been seizure free for more than six months, and 39% of children on the diet were able to decrease the number of antiepileptic medications taken by half.

Only 8.6% developed problems and had to discontinue the diet, the spokeswoman said.

As part of the high-fat diet, children can enjoy hot chocolate made with 36% cream for breakfast, celery stalks filled with peanut butter or cream cheese for lunch, and a dinner of hot dog with ketchup or mustard.

Dr Jayprakash Gosalakkal, consultant paediatric neurologist and lead clinician on the study, said, "By treating children using the ketogenic diet, we are able to limit medication and take a more rounded approach.

"The study to date has produced some fantastic results and children and parents are very happy with the initial findings."

The hospital said children on the regime are closely monitored and calories are kept consistent, so they do not gain weight.

A spokeswoman said studies by charity Epilepsy Action showed only a small percentage of children have a substantial increase in their cholesterol levels.

The long-term effects on heart disease and stroke are unknown, but very few children remain on the diet for long enough for this to become a problem, she added.  

From the September 28, 2009, Prepared Foods E-dition