Modified Atkins diet could help epileptic children

By Staff Reporter

- Last updated on GMT

The Atkins diet may have fallen out of favor with those looking to
lose weight, but new research suggests that a version of the
low-carb, high-fat regime could help control seizures in children
suffering from epilepsy.

Researchers at John Hopkins University conducted a small study to investigate the effects of a diet containing fewer carbohydrates than the standard Atkins regime on children who suffered from between four and 470 seizures per week.

Pediatric epilepsy is often controlled by the restrictive ketogenic diet, which requires measurement of all foods and liquids to ensure consumption of the correct ratio of carbohydrates, fats and proteins.

Although the child should maintain a close to ideal weight for their height, the diet mimics the effects of starvation. The body burns up glucose and glycogen first, then stored body fat. But with insufficient glucose remaining, it cannot completely burn the fat reserves. Chemical by products called ketones are left behind, and these are believed to be responsible for suppressing seizures.

The ketogenic diet is reported to be very effective, with many children staying seizure-free when they return to a normal diet after two years. But the researchers, led by pediatric neurologist Dr Eric Kossoff, were interested in investigating an alternative as it is difficult to adhere to. It also involves an initial stay in hospital and may result in side effects including constipation and kidney stones.

The study was funded by the Dr Robert Atkins Foundation and the results presented yesterday at a meeting of the American Epilepsy Society. It confirms the results of an earlier study by the same team, involving three 12-year-olds and three younger patients.

The participants were 20 children aged between three and 18 years, whose epilepsy was unresponsive to drug therapy. Sixteen of them followed the modified Atkins diet for the complete six-month period, at the end of which 13 had a 50 percent improvement in seizures, seven had a 90 percent improvement and four were no longer suffering from seizures.

Dr Kossoff said that these results were due to the modified Atkins diet producing ketones too.

"This study suggests that for some children, we need not be so restrictive in allowing protein, weighing foods and counting calories. That should make it a little easier for parents and children to do,"​ he said.

However he added that although the findings were "encouraging and intriguing"​, the study was not large enough give grounds for replacing the ketogenic diet with the modified Atkins diet.

While it could be a useful alternative for adolescents and adults who are not normally prescribed the ketogenic diet, or a first step for parents and children in getting used to the ketogenic diet, Kossoff warned that any dietary intervention for epilepsy should be under medical supervision.

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