The effect of starvation in controlling epileptic seizures was first observed by scientists in the 1920s. Since then, the ketogenic diet, which mimics the effects of fasting, has been devised as a way of controlling epilepsy in children who are not responsive to medication.
Reports on the effectiveness of this diet have shown it leads to improvements in up to 60% of patients, irrespective of the type of epilepsy or the age of the child.
The ketogenic diet is usually recommended in children with refractory epilepsy that fails to respond adequately to two or more antiepileptic drugs. Studies have shown that nearly 75% of all children with refractory epilepsy who respond to the ketogenic diet, do so within two weeks, although recommendations suggest that such children should try the diet for at least three months before deciding it has been ineffective. Children with refractory epilepsy are likely to find the ketogenic diet more effective than trying another antiepileptic medication.
The ketogenic diet is not usually recommended for adults, mainly due to the limited food options meaning making it hard to adhere to. However, studies have shown that the diet seems to be just as effective when it is applied to adults.
It is also common for parents to express concerns about the restricted food choice and calorie intake in terms of the effects this may have on their child’s growth and development. In the classic ketogenic diet, the ratio of fats to carbohydrates and proteins combined is 4:1. Examples of the high-fat foods eaten include butter, cream, lard, olive oil and duck fat and examples of the high-carbohydrate foods to avoid include grains, bread, pasta, sugar and starchy fruits.
Reviewed by Sally Robertson, BSc