No one knows why the ketogenic diet―which was developed in the 1920's―works so well for seizure control, but it does. And these days, it's widely considered one of the hottest food fads in America.
What is the ketogenic diet?
The ketogenic diet (also known as the "keto diet") is a high fat, low carbohydrate, and "just enough" protein for growth and maintenance diet. Typically, it follows a ratio of 3-4 grams of fat for every 1 gram of carbohydrate and protein. This means that about 90% of the calories come from fat, requiring those on the diet to eat mostly fatty foods such as butter and cream. Although it may sound terrible, there are many creative recipes that make this a tasty approach. What distinguishes the traditional ketogenic diet from the modified-Atkins diet is the rigorous attention to food intake and limitation on total calories.
When should a ketogenic diet be used for seizure control?
Some children with epilepsy can have disabling seizures―up to hundreds per day―which can severely limit their quality of life and prevent them from participating in school and social activities. Seizure control is the first step in helping kids with epilepsy achieve otherwise normal lives. When medication isn't working and/or the side effects from it are too much to bear, the ketogenic diet might be offered as a treatment option. In fact, the statistics show that it is often more effective than another, new medication, and frequently also improves alertness and behavior.
According to a 2008 consensus report from an international expert panel, the ketogenic diet "should be offered to a child after two anticonvulsants are used unsuccessfully." The diet must be started and maintained under close medical supervision of an experienced medical team—including a dietitian.
Ketogenic diet looks different for every child and depends on several factors:
The child's age and weight
How the child and family eat (kosher, halal, vegetarian, organic)
The child's diet prescription (the specific combination of fats, protein, and carbohydrates weighed out)
The diet may not work for everyone but is suitable for many different patients.
The ketogenic diet can be effective for all seizure types and epilepsy syndromes. Some of the specific disorders that often respond to the diet include infantile spasms, myoclonic-astatic epilepsy, Dravet syndrome, Doose syndrome, myoclonic-astatic epilepsy, Rett syndrome, migrational disorders, GLUT-1 deficiency and tuberous sclerosis complex.
Ketogenic Diet in the Treatment for Infantile Spasms
The American Academy of Neurology and the Child Neurology Society recommend adrenocorticotropic hormone (ACTH) as the first line of therapy for infantile spasms. The goals for this medication are to completely stop the infantile spasms and improve the abnormal EEG. In some cases, pediatric neurologists prescribe the seizure medication Sabril® (vigabatrin), especially for patients with tuberous sclerosis. Both drugs work well, but your child's doctor will talk with you about which medicine may be the better choice for your child.
If those medications do not work well, the ketogenic diet can be particularly helpful when used early in the course of the disorder. Using a formula-only ketogenic diet for infants and gastronomy-tube fed children has been shown to work better than medications over time.
Typically, children are started at a Level IV Epilepsy Center and monitored as in-patients by a ketogenic diet team that may include a pediatric neurologist, pediatric epileptologist, nurse practitioner, dietitian, nurse, and social worker.
How well does it work?
Although it does not work for every child, several studies have shown that the ketogenic diet does reduce or prevent seizures in many children whose seizures could not be controlled by medications or those who were unable to tolerate the side effects of their medications.
Over half of children who go on the diet have at least a 50% reduction in the number of their seizures. It can start to help after just one week, but more often it can take a few weeks up to several months to judge whether it will be effective. If the diet successfully controls seizures, it may be continued for several years under the supervision of the child's health care team. Many children on the ketogenic diet continue to take seizure medications but on average they require one less medication and often the dosage of remaining ones is lowered.
Does the ketogenic diet have any side effects?
The ketogenic diet may cause side effects in some children, including constipation, reflux, weight changes, and kidney stones (due to uric acid build-up in the blood). These problems can be minimized by staying hydrated and careful monitoring. Some families notice mood changes such as hyperactivity or irritability.
Many of the side effects can be reduced by adjustments to the diet or with additional medication.
If you are considering the ketogenic diet, ask your child's doctor to explain all possible side effects, what you should watch for and what action you should take for each one.
Special Considerations for Families:
Parent to Parent: Would you recommend this?
A 3 to 6-year follow-up study of 150 children with epilepsy on the ketogenic diet asked parents the question, "Would you recommend the diet to someone else?"
An overwhelming majority (90%) of parents said that they would. Even though the keto diet is extremely restrictive, time consuming, and requires rigid maintenance, most parents found the potential benefits outweighed its drawbacks. Many parents in the study were more concerned about the side effects of the medications―and were grateful for the opportunity to explore an alternative option. Further, 55% would consider trying the diet again.
Are there other special diets for seizures?
Yes. Other special diets include: modified-Atkins diet, low glycemic index treatment, and MCT ketogenic diet. These may be used instead of the ketogenic diet for some children. If you have questions or would like to explore these options, talk with your child's doctor.
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How to Support a Child with Epilepsy: Information for Parents
The information contained on this Web site should not be used as a substitute for the medical care and advice of your pediatrician. There may be variations in treatment that your pediatrician may recommend based on individual facts and circumstances.
Does keto diet help children with seizures? ›
Several studies have shown that the ketogenic diet does reduce or prevent seizures in many children whose seizures could not be controlled by medications. Over half of children who go on the diet have at least a 50% reduction in the number of their seizures. Some children, usually 10-15%, even become seizure-free.What is the best diet for a child with seizures? ›
Both diets are:
- high in fats (like butter and oil) (Picture 1)
- moderate in amounts of protein (like meat and cheese)
- low in carbohydrate (like bread, sugar and fruits)
Ketogenic diets are strict, medically supervised diets that may be a treatment option for some infants and children with epilepsy. They involve a high fat and very low carbohydrate diet that ensures the body will mainly burn fat rather than carbohydrate and protein for energy, thus producing ketones.How long does it take for ketogenic diet to work for seizures? ›
Discussion: The KD works quickly when effective, typically within the first 1-2 weeks. Starting the KD after a fasting period may lead to a more rapid, but equivalent long-term seizure reduction, confirming prior reports. If the KD has not led to seizure reduction after 2 months, it can probably be discontinued.What helps with seizures in kids? ›
- Levetiracetam (Keppra®)
- Valproic acid (Depakene®, Depakote®)
- Topiramate (Topamax®)
- Lamotrigine (Lamictal®)
- Oxcarbazepine (Trileptal®)
A low glycemic index diet focuses on foods with a low glycemic index, meaning they affect blood glucose levels slowly, if at all. Although it's not understood why, low blood glucose levels control seizures in some people. Foods on this diet include meat, cheese, and most high-fiber vegetables.What are 5 foods to avoid that can cause seizures? ›
Stimulants such as tea, coffee, chocolate, sugar, sweets, soft drinks, excess salt, spices and animal proteins may trigger seizures by suddenly changing the body's metabolism. Some parents have reported that allergic reactions to certain foods (e.g. white flour) also seem to trigger seizures in their children.Do bananas help with seizures? ›
Bananas and seizures
This fruit contains a large amount of potassium - a mineral (often called an electrolyte) that your body uses to to work properly. One of the things your body uses potassium for is to help with sending electrical signals in the brain.
Fruits and Vegetables : To increase your antioxidant intake, incorporate a variety of colorful fruits and vegetables, such as berries, cherries, citrus fruits, tomatoes, spinach, kale, broccoli, and Brussels sprouts, into your diet regularly.Should children follow a keto diet? ›
Unless a keto diet is recommended and guided by a physician for medical purposes, it's inappropriate for most children and teens. Following a restrictive diet like keto can lead to unhealthy behaviors surrounding food and may affect growth in children and teens.
What is ketogenic diet in pediatric neurology? ›
The ketogenic diet is a high-fat, low carbohydrate diet therapy used to improve seizure control in patients with epilepsy whose seizures do not respond to traditional seizure medications alone.What is the secret of ketogenic diet? ›
Following a ketogenic diet is the most effective way to enter ketosis. Generally, this involves limiting carb consumption to around 20 to 50 grams per day and filling up on fats, such as meat, fish, eggs, nuts, and healthy oils ( 6 ). It's also important to moderate your protein consumption.What drinks are good for epilepsy? ›
Generally speaking, most people with epilepsy should be OK to drink coffee, tea, soda and other caffeinated drinks in small quantities without any serious risk of increasing the number of seizures they have.Is milk good for epilepsy? ›
The results of study indicated that lower fat dairy products reduced seizure threshold in intravenous PTZ-induced seizure as well as reduction in myoclonic and clonic jerk latencies in intraperitoneal PTZ-induced seizure.How long does it take for your brain to adapt to keto? ›
While the length of time it takes to adapt to a keto diet varies, the process begins after the first few days. Then, after about a week to 10 days, many low-carbers suddenly start to feel the positive effects of keto-adaptation. They report improved mental concentration and focus and more physical energy as well.Can childhood seizures go away? ›
Some children with epilepsy will outgrow their seizures as they mature, while others may have seizures that continue into adulthood. Although epilepsy varies from person to person, many children with epilepsy have seizures that respond well to medication, and they enjoy a normal and active childhood.How do children outgrow seizures? ›
Many children outgrow their seizures. A child is more likely to outgrow his seizures if he has a normal EEG, normal MRI, normal development, no other neurological problems, and the seizures are controlled easily with medication.What can trigger a seizure in a child? ›
What Causes Seizures? The most common type of seizure in children is from a fever (called a febrile seizure). Other causes include infections, low blood sodium, medicines, drug use (amphetamines or cocaine), brain injury or a tumor, and genetic changes. Sometimes, a seizure's cause is never found.What vitamin deficiency causes seizures? ›
The only vitamin deficiency known to cause or worsen seizures is a deficiency of vitamin B6 (pyridoxine). This deficiency occurs mainly in newborns and infants and causes seizures that are hard to control. In some cases, the doctor may give the baby the vitamin through an IV while recording the EEG.What triggers seizures the most? ›
Missed medication, lack of sleep, stress, alcohol, and menstruation are some of the most common triggers, but there are many more. Flashing lights can cause seizures in some people, but it's much less frequent than you might imagine.
What is the best vitamin for epilepsy? ›
Nutrients that may reduce seizure frequency include vitamin B6, magnesium, vitamin E, manganese, taurine, dimethylglycine, and omega-3 fatty acids.Is avocado good for epilepsy? ›
Avocados Are Good For The Brain
Avocados are also utilized in diets designed for individuals with neurological disorders, like epilepsy, because of the neuroprotective abilities the monounsaturated fatty acids have.
Dietary therapy is an approach to help control seizures, usually in conjunction with seizure medications. The classic ketogenic diet, a special high-fat, low-carbohydrate diet, is prescribed and monitored by a physician and nutritionist and can help control seizures in some people.Can lack of food cause seizures? ›
Chronic malnutrition from irregular eating habits, including eating too little or eating unhealthy foods, can lead to fainting and seizures.Why does honey help with seizures? ›
Researchers have identified that gluconate -- a small organic compound found in fruit and honey -- acts as an anticonvulsant, inhibiting seizures by targeting the activity of channels that control the flow of chloride ions in and out of neonatal neurons.What can calm down seizures? ›
- Ease the person to the floor.
- Turn the person gently onto one side. ...
- Clear the area around the person of anything hard or sharp. ...
- Put something soft and flat, like a folded jacket, under his or her head.
- Remove eyeglasses.
It has been shown that ginger has neuroprotective and inhibitory effects on glutamate receptors, which may be responsible for the anticonvulsant activity and for the prevention of seizure discharges (Shanmugam et al., 2011. (2011).What is the natural diet to epilepsy? ›
The ketogenic diet (KD) is a high fat, low carbohydrate, controlled protein diet that has been used since the 1920s for the treatment of epilepsy. The diet is a medical treatment and is usually only considered when at least two suitable medications have been tried and not worked.What is the juice for epilepsy? ›
Certain home remedies have been found beneficial in the treatment of epilepsy. The most important of these is the use of grape juice.Can a 7 year old do keto diet? ›
Why the keto diet is not recommended for children and teens. The keto diet is not recommended for weight loss in children because it seriously limits carbohydrates, and children need carbs to be mentally and physically active.
What is the youngest age for keto? ›
The keto diet has been studied extensively in young children (some as young as three years old), elderly populations, and every age in between. There are even some cases of people (anecdotally from blogs) who have had their children on the keto diet since birth.Who should not start a keto diet? ›
Keto is not safe for those with any conditions involving their pancreas, liver, thyroid or gallbladder. Someone new to the keto diet can also experience what's called the “keto flu” with symptoms like upset stomach, dizziness, decreased energy, and mood swings caused by your body adapting to ketosis.Why was keto made for epileptic children? ›
The ketogenic diet has been used to reduce seizures since the 1920s. The mechanism by which the seizures are regulated is poorly understood. Both the low sugar component and high fat component uniquely alters the 'excitability' of the brain, thereby reducing the tendency to generate seizures.Does keto improve brain? ›
A keto diet has also shown positive results as far as how the brain works. It has been used for many years to treat epilepsy and other neurocognitive diseases.What is brain fuel on keto diet? ›
On a standard low carb diet, the brain will still largely depend on glucose, the sugar found in your blood, for fuel. However, the brain may burn more ketones than on a regular diet. On a ketogenic diet, ketones are the primary fuel source for the brain. The liver produces ketones when carb intake is very low.What is the hardest thing about keto diet? ›
The Hardest Part About Keto Is Eating Enough Fat
Until keto, fat was an occasional indulgence: a slice of rich, triple creme cheese here, a sausage and bacon breakfast there, the once-a-year slice of many-layered birthday cake. Now fat is a daily requirement and it can be a struggle to get enough of it.
When the body is forced to use fat for energy due to fewer carbohydrates or sugars, ketones are produced. These ketones, which the brain can use as an alternative source of energy, have an anti-epileptic effect on the brain. This can lead to improved seizure control.What not to take with epilepsy? ›
Diphenhydramine and other antihistamines used for treating allergies can increase seizure susceptibility, with the increased risk extending beyond the course of treatment. Pseudoephedrine, phenylephrine, and dextromethorphan are all used to alleviate cold symptoms, particularly congestion.What not to say to epilepsy? ›
Don't start whispering or lowering your voice to ask any questions you may have about epilepsy. Don't say “That's sad!” and nothing else. This does not help. Don't dismiss epilepsy as “No big deal.”Is Gatorade good for epilepsy? ›
what the gatorade is probably doing is keeping you well hydrated and keeping your blood sugar at an even keel. its not a miracle or anything, just good healthy habit. it doesnt cure epilepsy but it never hurts to treat your body better since we have a lot of going on in our bodies and brains.
Can an Apple watch detect seizures? ›
SeizAlarm is a user-friendly iPhone and Apple Watch app that allows those with epilepsy and other seizure disorders to alert emergency contacts when they need help*. FEATURES: - Seizure detection.Is Egg good for epilepsy? ›
Fats also have the advantage that they contribute to the proper functioning of the nerves, brain, and heart. That is why consuming food with fat is essential for people with epilepsy to improve their health. Such food includes: Eggs.Why do I feel better on keto? ›
During ketosis, BHB can reach high levels in the brain, where it can bind to the same anxiety-reducing receptors as GHB. They bind with sufficient affinity that they may have similar effects.How do you prevent brain fog on a ketogenic diet? ›
It's also possible to experience confusion or “brain fog.” The good news is that these symptoms often disappear spontaneously within a few days or at most a couple of weeks. The even better news is that you can possibly avoid these symptoms altogether by consuming adequate water, salt, and calories on day 1.Does keto clear brain fog? ›
Alternatively, brain fog could be a temporary side effect of the ketogenic diet. While this might seem paradoxical (keto is supposed to improve mental clarity, right?), the reason why this happens makes sense. And the good news is that once brain fog is “cured,” you'll be a lot less likely to experience it again.Is keto diet good for epilepsy? ›
The ketogenic diet is one treatment option for children or adults with epilepsy whose seizures are not controlled with anti-seizure medications (ASMs). The diet may help to reduce the number or severity of seizures and may have other positive effects.How does the keto diet help seizures? ›
When the body is forced to use fat for energy due to fewer carbohydrates or sugars, ketones are produced. These ketones, which the brain can use as an alternative source of energy, have an anti-epileptic effect on the brain. This can lead to improved seizure control.What are the negatives of the ketogenic diet for epilepsy? ›
Ketogenic diets (KDs) are highly effective in the treatment of epilepsy. However, numerous complications have been reported. During the initiation phase of the diet, common side effects include vomiting, hypoglycemia, metabolic acidosis and refusal of the diet.Is keto good for ADHD kids? ›
Could keto help ADHD? No studies have been conducted specifically on patients with ADHD. However, researchers noted “improved behavior and focus” among children with epilepsy who tried the keto diet.What foods aggravate epilepsy? ›
Stimulants such as tea, coffee, chocolate, sugar, sweets, soft drinks, excess salt, spices and animal proteins may trigger seizures by suddenly changing the body's metabolism. Some parents have reported that allergic reactions to certain foods (e.g. white flour) also seem to trigger seizures in their children.
Is banana good for epilepsy? ›
Bananas and seizures
One of the things your body uses potassium for is to help with sending electrical signals in the brain. There is some evidence that having too much potassium in the brain could be a seizure trigger. However, if you just have one banana per day, this is unlikely to put you at an increased risk.
Fruits and Vegetables : To increase your antioxidant intake, incorporate a variety of colorful fruits and vegetables, such as berries, cherries, citrus fruits, tomatoes, spinach, kale, broccoli, and Brussels sprouts, into your diet regularly.Can cutting out sugar help with seizures? ›
The common feature of these diets is that they eliminate sugar and all sweets. Nutritionists who counsel people with epilepsy have noted that even simple but consistent diet changes have resulted in improvement in seizure control.Does ketosis improve brain function? ›
Does a keto diet improve brain functions, such as learning and memory? A keto diet has also shown positive results as far as how the brain works. It has been used for many years to treat epilepsy and other neurocognitive diseases.Can poor nutrition cause epilepsy? ›
Low levels of the minerals sodium, calcium, and magnesium can alter the electrical activity of brain cells and cause seizures.What are trigger foods for kids with ADHD? ›
Some of the common foods that can cause ADHD reactions include milk, chocolate, soy, wheat, eggs, beans, corn, tomatoes, grapes, and oranges. If you suspect a food sensitivity may be contributing to your child's ADHD symptoms, talk to your ADHD dietitian or doctor about trying an elimination diet.What special diet is used to treat children with ADHD? ›
A high-protein diet.
Beans, cheese, eggs, meat, and nuts can be good sources of protein. Eat these kinds of foods in the morning and for after-school snacks. It may improve concentration and possibly make ADHD medications work longer.
In general, the best diet for people with ADHD is the diet that doctors recommend for most other people — one that is rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, healthful fats, and lean proteins. It should include limited amounts of saturated fats and junk foods.