What Is the Ketogenic Diet, and How Does It Help Epilepsy?
Could a diet high in butter, cream, oils, and mayonnaise be the answer to your child’s epilepsy? The ketogenic diet is real, even if it sounds strange and unappealing at first. And it works for a lot of kids. However, the ketogenic diet, which is extremely high in fat and very low in carbohydrates, is not for everyone. It’s strict and difficult. And it isn’t exactly “healthy” in the traditional sense. If you’re thinking about it, consider how it will affect your child’s life, as well as the impact on the entire family.
Who Should Consider Trying a Ketogenic Diet Plan?
When they first hear about the ketogenic diet, some parents of children with epilepsy are skeptical. Is there such a thing as a diet that can control epilepsy and stop seizures without the use of medication? It’s almost as if it’s a ruse.
The ketogenic diet, on the other hand, is real and legitimate. The catch is that it is time consuming and difficult to follow. In fact, because it is so difficult to follow, most doctors only recommend it to people who haven’t been able to control their seizures with medication.
Since its inception in the 1920s, the ketogenic diet has been used to treat seizures. About half of the children who follow it see a significant decrease in the number of toys they receive. As many as one in every seven.
The diet is beneficial for a variety of epilepsy conditions, but it is particularly effective for Lennox-Gastaut syndrome, myoclonic Asiatic epilepsy (Doose syndrome), and others. Most adult epilepsies do not respond well to the ketogenic diet, but some pediatric epilepsy syndromes do.
Because the ketogenic diet is so demanding, doctors usually only recommend it after a child has failed to respond to two or three medications.
When the diet works, kids can often reduce or eliminate their medication dosages. Furthermore, most children who follow a ketogenic diet for at least two years have a good chance of becoming seizure-free, even after returning to a regular diet.
What Foods Is Your Child Allowed To Eat?
The fat content of your child’s diet will be high. To put it in perspective, fat accounts for about 25% to 40% of calories in a healthy child’s diet. About 80 percent to 90 percent of the calories in the ketogenic diet come from fat. As a result, your child’s meals are high in fats, while protein and carbohydrate portions are small. In a typical ketogenic diet, children consume three to four times more fat per meal than carbs and protein combined.
In practice, what does this mean? Bread, pasta, sweets, and other high-carb foods are all off the table. This is usually the first step taken by your doctor, but there are some variations. If it works, you can usually go back to a modified Atkins diet and gradually introduce carbs. This usually entails carb counting and keeping track of the carb to fat ratio.
The diet may be started in the hospital so that nurses and doctors can monitor your child for the first few days. They will most likely need to fast for 36 to 48 hours before starting the diet. Following that, food is gradually increased over a few days.
Because this diet lacks all of the vitamins that the human body requires, your child will most likely need to take sugar-free vitamin supplements.
What Is the Process?
We still don’t know, despite the fact that it’s been around for over a century. Many experts thought it had something to do with a metabolic process known as ketosis. The diet’s name is derived from this. When your body runs out of carbohydrates to burn for energy, it switches to fat burning.
This is the same process that occurs when someone fasts, whether on purpose or due to starvation. For centuries, fasting has been used as a seizure treatment.
In one significant study, researchers at Johns Hopkins University looked at 150 children with epilepsy. Half of the children had 50% fewer seizures after a year on the ketogenic diet. One-fourth of the children had their seizures reduced by 90%. Many of these children no longer required medications after a few years on the diet.
However, many experts aren’t sure if ketosis plays a role in why the diet works. It could be linked to another effect that we’re not aware of.
What to Anticipate
The ketogenic diet is not something you should try on the spur of the moment. It’s a big commitment, and going at it alone can be dangerous. You and your child will need to collaborate with a group of professionals. Expect to spend a few days in the hospital. When children begin a diet, doctors frequently monitor them to ensure that they are doing well.
Work with a dietitian on a regular basis. Each child’s ketogenic diet is different. As a result, a dietitian will provide you with detailed information on what your child can eat and how much of it. Because the ketogenic diet is deficient in key nutrients, your child will most likely require calcium, vitamin D, iron, folic acid, and other supplements.
Carbs should be avoided at all costs. Carbohydrates can be found in surprising places, such as toothpaste.
Visit the doctor on a regular basis. At first, your child will require regular checkups every 1 to 3 months. The doctor will keep track of their growth and weight, test their blood and urine, monitor their cholesterol levels, and determine whether the diet or medication dose needs to be adjusted.
At the very least, stick to the diet for a few months. If it’s effective, you should notice fewer seizures by then, if not sooner. If the diet doesn’t work, your child will gradually return to his or her regular eating habits. It’s possible that abruptly stopping the ketogenic diet will cause seizures.
What Are the Negative Consequences?
Your child may feel tired when they first start the diet. Other negative consequences include:
- Stones in the kidneys
- Low weight and slow growth
- Bones that are weak (which may be more likely to break)
- Cholesterol levels are high.
Inform your child’s doctor if they experience any side effects. You might be able to help them by making dietary or medication changes.
Ask your doctor about other epilepsy diets, such as the modified Atkins diet and the low glycemic index treatment diet, if the side effects are too much for your child. They’re a little easier to work with.
The Ketogenic Diet’s Downfalls
There are a few drawbacks to the ketogenic diet:
- It is critical to weigh food precisely.
- Even minor lapses, such as snatching a cookie crumbs or swallowing a nasal decongestant, can result in a seizure.
As you might expect, most parents find it difficult to keep their children on this diet. At school or at a friend’s house, children may accept food from other children. Older children may have strong preferences for what they eat. The ketogenic diet is most effective in young children who have yet to develop strong food preferences.
Children on the ketogenic diet, at least at first, are frequently hungry. You should keep an eye on all of the food in the house, including the dog’s bowl.
You might be concerned about the health consequences of eating so much butter and cream. Isn’t it true that being overweight is bad for your health? A study found that children on the ketogenic diet have significantly higher cholesterol levels than the general population. However, the effects of a high-fat diet usually take years to manifest. The ketogenic diet is usually followed by children for only a few years.
Getting Started on the Ketogenic Diet
This high-fat/low-carb diet may sound similar to any of the protein diets you’ve heard of. In fact, some popular protein diets claim to kickstart the ketosis process. The ketogenic diet, however, is not like a typical protein diet, and it is not something you can do on your own.
A dietitian can assist you in adapting the diet’s strict rules to real-life menus so that you can prepare meals that your child will enjoy.
If you’re thinking about trying the ketogenic diet, don’t expect your child to follow the strict guidelines. Discuss it with your partner and your neurologist. Your child is likely to want the seizures to stop as well, and may be willing to cooperate.
Is a Ketogenic Diet Appropriate for Your Child?
You must determine whether or not your family is prepared to follow the ketogenic diet. You’ll need to alter the food you keep in your house as well as the meals you consume. If you have other children in the family, this can be difficult. All of your child’s caregivers, from babysitters to teachers, must be aware of the diet and agree to follow it. A seizure can be triggered by even minor deviations from the diet plan.
Consult your child’s doctor if you think you’re up to it. Going “keto” is never easy, but it can be a huge success for many children.