Fats and children with seizure disorders





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A study reported in the October issue of Pediatrics, indicates that there may be a role for high fat diets in treatment protocols for children suffering from severe seizure disorders. Seizure disorders are characterized by periods of uncontrolled activity in the brain’s electrical system. According to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke at the National Institutes of Health, approximately one in every 25 children will have at least one febrile seizure, a seizure that is associated with or the result of a fever. These febrile seizures usually occur in children between the ages of 6 months and 5 years and are particularly common in toddlers. However, few of these children actually go on to develop epilepsy. This particular study focused on the 3 to 5 percent of the children who did develop a severe seizure disorder.
Researchers from the Johns Hopkins Medical Center in Baltimore, followed 150 children diagnosed with seizure disorders, 83 of who were considered in the “difficult to control” category. The children were placed on a Ketogenic diet, a diet that is extremely high in fat and proteins and low in carbohydrates. The Ketogenic Diet requires exact measurement and timing of portions given to the patient. Parental and clinical involvement and cooperation is fundamental to a successful implementation of this diet. In addition to the time, care, and attention involved in implementation of the diet, the patient must be followed carefully because the diet can cause a build-up of ketone bodies, or toxic acidic chemicals, in the blood. When ketones build, up a condition known as “ketoacidosis” occurs. This condition can be fatal if not corrected. Symptoms of ketoacidosis include poor appetite, frequent urination, a dramatic change in breathing, and an unusual odor to the breath. Treatment for ketoacidosis is typically done with the introduction of intravenous fluids and glucose in a hospital setting.
In the reported study, all of the children placed on the diet were followed for three to six years. At the conclusion of the study period, 107 families responded to report questionnaires initiated by Hopkins neurologists. Of the original patient group of 150, 20 were seizure free, and 21 had a 90% to 99% reduction in frequency of seizures. In regard to medication use, 29 were medication free and 28 had been successful in reducing their daily treatment to a single medication. Researchers state that the results of this study indicate that a Ketogenic diet is successful in controlling difficult to control seizures in children, is well tolerated and often allows a decrease or even discontinuation of medication.
Parents of children with seizure disorders should consult their physician if interested in trying this or any type of diet therapy. A complete understanding of the benefits and risks involved will allow the parent to assist the physician in making the determination if a Ketogenic diet would be an appropriate treatment.


Hemingway C, Freeman JM, Pillas DJ, Pyzik. The Ketogenic Diet: A 3- to 6-Year Follow-Up of 150 Children Enrolled Prospectively. Pediatrics. Oct 2001;4(108);898-905.