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High fat low carb ketogenic diet helps control epilepsy when drugs fail

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Epilepsy in very young children ranks as one of the most challenging conditions to manage. In the past few years, however, some physicians are turning to high fat low carb ketogenic diets to provide a solution when drugs fail. And a low carb diet proved the answer recently for a family who felt helpless when it came to their baby's diagnosis of Lennox–Gastaut syndrome, reported Nature on July 9.

A form of epilepsy, the syndrome results in multiple daily seizures and severe cognitive impairment. As he grew from an infant to a toddler, Elijah continued to become more seriously ill. At age two-and-a-half, he had more than 50 seizures a day, lack of speech and a halt in his cognitive development.

And then his neurologist proposed a high fat low carb ketogenic diet. Dubious initially, the family quickly became believers when Elijah was seizure-free within six weeks of starting the ketogenic diet. The plan consists of 90 percent fat, based on a weight ratio of 3:1 or 4:1 of fat to a combination of protein and carbohydrate.

And the little boy is not alone in finding this diet plan to seem like a miracle. Pediatric neurologist Eric Kossoff of Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore estimates that 50 percent of patients respond to the diet, compared to 30 percent who will respond to the second drug that he tries to prevent seizures. Several alternative versions of the ketogenic diet are available, and some adults find it easier to use a modified Atkins diet.

In addition to being used for epilepsy, a high fat low carb ketogenic diet has been helpful for conditions such as multiple sclerosis. Jack Osbourne, who has MS, has been forthright in his use of a Paleo high fat low carb ketogenic diet to manage his disease.

The Atkins weight loss plan also has proven successful for many dieters. It emphasizes protein, fats and vegetables while eliminating starchy carbohydrates such as bread and cereal. Dr. Eric Westman, who leads the Duke Lifestyle Medicine Clinic, views it as the healthiest and most effective approach for weight loss.

An estimated 2.5 million Americans have epilepsy. Although there are no estimates on how many are trying the holistic option of a ketogenic diet, it is known that for the majority of cases, physicians prescribe drugs and even invasive surgery, reported WNDU News on July 11.

For two decades, Jeff Martig experienced 30 seizures daily. And they were life-threatening.

"I'd feel a sensation in my nose, my left side of my face would twitch, and then I would start gasping for air," said Jeff.

To try to control the seizures, Jeff underwent surgery to remove part of his brain. Now doctors are hoping to find other solutions.

An experimental technology called S.E.E.G "helps us locate affected areas so that we know the area in the brain where the seizures may be coming from,” said Dr. Imad Najm, Director of the Epilepsy Center at the Cleveland Clinic. Once they locate the area, the physicians use lasers.

"Therefore without making any major changes, we remove the electrode, we put another probe, we ablate the focus and we put it back," said Dr. Najm.

But not everyone with epilepsy has such severe seizures. And what some people consider "senior moments" or temporary periods of forgetfulness, those episodes may actually indicate epilepsy, reported CBS News on July 11.

“The image that we all have when we think about epilepsy is somebody shaking all about and dropping to the floor, which is not true," said Joseph Beshay, MD, a neurosurgeon at Medical City Dallas Medical Center. “Especially when you talk about temporal lobe epilepsy.”

He feels the condition often is not diagnosed for years. "I've treated patients before that have been diagnosed with panic attacks for years, and they didn't have panic attacks—they had temporal lobe seizures."

For parents with children who have epilepsy, the Charlie Foundation hopes to help. It's designed to raise awareness about the ketogenic diet as a treatment for childhood epilepsy. They also have information about clinical trials.

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