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By Karen Alexander, Oncology Wellness Specialist


Can Diet Help Children with Epilepsy?

A seizure is an abnormal, unregulated electrical discharge that occurs in the brain and interrupts normal brain function. A seizure typically causes altered awareness, abnormal sensations, involuntary focal movements and/or convulsion. After two unprovoked seizures, epilepsy may be considered. Worldwide, it is estimated that 1% of the population has epilepsy. According to recent data from the CDC, the number of U.S. adults and children with epilepsy has risen in recent years. The number of adults with active epilepsy rose from 2.3 million in 2010 to 3 million in 2015, and the number of children with the condition increased from 450,000 in 2007 to 470,000 in 2015.

Common causes of seizures vary by age of onset:

  • Before Age 2: Fever, birth or developmental defects, birth injuries, and metabolic disorders
  • Ages 2 to 14: Idiopathic seizure disorders
  • Adults: Cerebral trauma, alcohol withdrawal, tumors, strokes, and unknown causes (in 50%)
  • Elderly: Tumors and strokes

A seizure can occur in either a portion of the brain (partial seizure) or the entire brain (generalized seizure), and may be triggered by known or unknown factors. Diagnostic assessment includes physical examination and measurement of blood chemistries. Imaging may include MRI, CT, video electroencephalograms, and electroencephalogram (EEG).

If seizures are not controlled, they can have serious consequences such as broken bones, falls, and accidents. Regular seizures may impair driving and the ability to keep a job. Seizures may lead to brain damage, reduced quality of life and even death. Treatment may include elimination of the cause if possible, use of anti-seizure drugs, surgery and diet management. Unfortunately, 30% of people with epilepsy do not respond to anti-seizure medications, but intervention with a ketogenic diet has been shown to improve the efficacy of the medications.

A ketogenic diet is a special low carb, high-fat diet that includes heavy cream, butter, and nut and seed oils. The diet eliminates sweets such as candy, cookies, and desserts. Other carbohydrate-rich foods such as bread, potatoes, rice, cereals, and pasta are not allowed on the strictest form of the diet, but are allowed in more liberal forms. All foods must be carefully prepared, weighed on a gram scale and entirely eaten in order to achieve therapeutic effect.

There are some variations of the ketogenic diet:

  • Classic Ketogenic Diet: Strict low carb, high-fat dietary regimen. Typically has a macronutrient ratio of 4:1 (or 3:1) to provide 4 g of fat to every 1 g of protein and 1 carbohydrate.
  • The Medium-Chain Triglyceride (MCT) Diet: Includes more liberal amounts of carbohydrates and the use of MCT. (MCT is an expensive oil that insurances don’t cover)
  • The Low-Glycemic-Index Treatment (LGI T): Select carbohydrates are restricted, and it requires liberal fat and protein.
  • The Modified Atkins Diet (MAD): Restricted carbohydrates with liberal fat and protein. The modified ketogenic diet consists of ratios of 2:1 and 1:1.

This type of diet may be applied according to your characteristics and needs, as well as your support network. A young child with a small appetite could feel more comfortable following a classic ketogenic diet, which allows for small portions. Adults and adolescents, on the other hand, may adhere better to the MAD or LGIT, which allow for a more liberal diet. Before choosing to follow a ketogenic diet, ask your doctor if it is recommended for you or your loved one. This type of diet must be implemented under close surveillance of a healthcare team, and should never be self-prescribed.

These diets may have low palatability for some, and can reduce your appetite. Also, since these diets restrict some food groups (grains, fruits and the amount of vegetables) they can limit your intake of fiber and nutrients such as calcium, folate, and beta-carotenes; this may increase risk of constipation. Since nutrient deficiencies can interfere with growth and development in children, vitamin and minerals supplementation may be required. An adequate fluid intake is essential since the diets low in carbs may have a diuretic effect and some anti-seizure medications may cause kidney stones when using in conjunction with a ketogenic diet.

For more information regarding how the ketogenic diet can help manage epilepsy, visit the Charlie Foundation’s website

If you want to learn more about following a ketogenic diet, visit:

-My Keto Planner 

-Keto Diet Calculator 


Best regards,

Karen Ambrosio, MSCN, BSND

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