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High fat low carb ketogenic diet transforms life for child with epilepsy

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Three-year-old Santiago Segura has been fighting for his life since he was six months old. Overwhelmed by more than 100 seizures daily, he had no idea what it was like to experience the joys of a normal little boy: Running in the park, playing with friends. Then, rather than add more medications, doctors at Children's Mercy Hospital tried an old remedy that has experienced a recent rebirth: A high fat, extremely low carb ketogenic diet. And the result was like an overnight miracle, reported Action News 41 on Jan. 30.

Located in Kansas, Children's Mercy Hospital reports that their pediatric neurologists increasingly are using food as medicine rather than drugs for their young epileptic patients. The reason: Diet can transform a child's future, as in the case of Santiago.

His mother, Bertha Guillen, described the situation as "heartbreaking" prior to the dramatic change in his diet and resulting improvement in his health.

"Your child is seizing and you're sitting next to him and you can't do anything to make the seizures stop," she recalled.

Now, however, she's carefully following the instructions of his doctor to boost the little boy's fat intake and limit his carbohydrates.

"This typically includes roughly about three to four parts fat to one part protein and carbohydrate," said Dr. Ahmed Abdelmoity, the chief of epilepsy and neurology at the hospital, in a Jan. 29 interview with KCTV 5. He also is Santiago's pediatric neurologist.

The ketogenic diet used to treat epilepsy in children is designed to high in fat, moderate in protein and low in carbohydrates. Although many dieters stay away from fat because they think it will cause them to gain weight, the ketogenic diet ratio keeps the children at healthy weights, said the physician.

"The reason our kids don't end up having a problem with weight or obesity is because we also limit the amount of carbohydrates," Abdelmoity explained.

And he's impressed with the benefits of the diet for his little patients.

"The quality of life and attention and cognition improved with the ketogenic diet. Patients feel happier, they feel better, they sleep better," Abdelmoity said.

And for children in particular: Ketogenic diets result in "better academic success in school," he added.

The ketogenic diet has been in existence for 15 years. However, new research has drawn its benefits for epilepsy to the attention of doctors. Hence, in the past six months, more physicians are using it for children with seizures.

At Children's Mercy Hospital, which has one of the largest ketogenic diet programs in the country, doctors estimate that one in three children with epilepsy qualify as candidates for the low-carb diets.

How does it work to control seizures? The moderate protein, high fat diet relies on the changes that occur in the body as a result of ketones: The body burns fat stores rather than carbohydrates or glucose for energy.

"With this diet, we're removing the fuel that's being used to fuel a seizure," Lindsey Thompsen, a clinical nutritionist at Children's Mercy Hospital explained.

It has been more than a year since Santiago has had a seizure, reported his mother.

The ketogenic diet also has been used increasingly for weight loss. Learn more about how this approach works for dieters by clicking here.

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