High fat diet could prove helpful for kids with seizures

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by JIM BERGAMO / KVUE News

Bio | Email | Follow: @JimB_KVUE

kvue.com

Posted on November 12, 2013 at 8:35 PM

Updated Tuesday, Nov 12 at 8:40 PM

Watching a child suffer an epileptic seizure can be frightening for a parent. That's why many are turning to a method first discovered nearly 100 years ago to lessen the severity - and maybe stop them altogether.

The ketogenic diet was first used in the 1920s. The high fat, low carb diet keeps the body burning stored fat. While doctors aren't sure why it works, they say it's proven effective - especially in kids who react badly to seizure medication.

Seven-year-old Liberty Deraffele was born with a brain injury. She suffered her first epileptic seizure at the age of three. Her mother Kristyn says Liberty has one to 10 seizures every week.

"No matter how many times you go through it, you don't get used to it, and you don't want to get used to it," Kristyn said.

Liberty has had difficulty with seizure-controlling medications, so Kristyn scoured the Internet and came across the ketogenic diet.

"If you were on a desert island, your body would start starving and you would go into a very heightened state of ketosis. What the Ketogenic diet does is puts your body into that state of ketosis, but your body is not starving. You're feeding your body," Kristyn explained to KVUE.

Ketosis occurs when our body's daily supply of glucose runs out. To maintain energy the body begins to burn stored fat. 

The ketogenic diet maintains that condition by using foods primarily high in fat like peanut butter, coconut oil, raspberries and bread. Or even Liberty's favorite: chicken soup. Not plain chicken soup though. It must have chicken, broth, bacon, broccoli, macadamia nuts and coconut oil.

While the diet hasn't eliminated Liberty's seizures, it has made a significant difference.

"Literally the week we went on the ketogenic diet, that six to seven minute seizure went to more like a minute, a minute and a half," Kristyn said.

So why has the ketogenic diet proven effective in limiting seizures?

"The direct physiology of that is not very well understood. In the same way that a lot of our medications are not very well understood in terms of exactly how they decrease seizures," Pediatric Neurologist Dr. Karen Keough said.

Kristyn isn't sure either. But seeing her daughter's negative reaction to most medicines and the positive results of the ketogenic diet have made her a believer.

"For me it was medicine or food, so why wouldn't we try food?" she said.

Doctors caution that the diet is not something parents should attempt to do on their own. Often kids have to be admitted to a hospital where they are monitored as the process begins. Then a team of nutritionists use a computer program to determine the right portions of each food group.

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