Children with Absence Seizures Respond to High-Fat Diets
Children who have the common form of epilepsy known as absence seizures may experience up to a 90 percent reduction in episodes if they follow a high-fat diet. The new study evaluated two high-fat diets, the classic ketogenic and a modified version of the Atkins diet.
Ketogenic and Atkins Diets
The ketogenic diet was introduced in 1921 to treat individuals with epilepsy who did not respond to antiseizure drugs. The diet consists of high-fat foods and low intake of carbohydrates, a combination that triggers changes in the brain and short circuits the development of seizures.
A modified version of the high-fat Atkins diet, which gained popularity as a weight-loss diet in recent years, was found to control seizures nearly as well as the ketogenic diet by Hopkins Children’s researchers in 2003. The Atkins diet also produces a ketogenic state, but has fewer protein and calorie restrictions.
Absence seizures (also known as petit mal seizures) are characterized by brief episodes of staring that usually last less than 10 seconds but can last as long as 20. These episodes begin without warning and end suddenly, and people who have them typically do not realize they have occurred.
Petit mal seizures usually begin between ages 4 and 14, and in nearly 70 percent of children, these episodes stop by age 18. Children who develop absence seizures before they are 9 years old are more likely to outgrow them than children who begin to have seizures after age 10.
New High-Fat Study
In the new study, researchers at Johns Hopkins Children’s Center observed 21 patients with absence seizures who followed either the ketogenic diet or a modified Atkins diet. The investigators also reviewed all studies of the subject that had been published since 1922.
Of the 21 patients with absence seizures on the two diets, 76 percent had at least a 50 percent reduction in the number of seizures after one month on the diet. Nearly 40 percent said they had 90 percent fewer seizures, and almost 20 percent were seizure-free.
After three months on either of the high-fat diets, 82 percent of patients had at least a 50 percent reduction in the number of seizures, about half had a 90 percent reduction, and nearly 20 percent were seizure-free. The ketogenic and modified Atkins diet appeared to be equally effective.
The results of previous studies, which included a total of 133 patients, showed that 69 percent experienced at least a 50 percent reduction in the number of daily seizures, and 34 percent were seizure-free for at least a period of time.
Pediatric neurologist Eric Kossoff, MD, who is also director of the ketogenic diet program at Hopkins Children’s and senior investigator on the study, noted that some pediatric neurologists consider absence epilepsy to be a benign condition and so hesitate to put children on restrictive diets, such as the high-fat ketogenic and modified Atkins diets.
However, Kossoff pointed out that “our new findings bring more good news to children with absence epilepsy who don’t respond to antiseizures medications,” as these high-fat dietary approaches can be beneficial. The study’s authors suggest that doctors should at least discuss the modified Atkins diet with patients and parents as an easier-to-follow option to the ketogenic diet.
Groomes LB et al. Journal of Child Neurology 2010 Jul 20
Kossoff EH et al. Neurology 2003 Dec 23; 61(12): 1789-91