Ketones are known to suppress seizures in children. Hence, a ketogenic diet is often recommended to people affected by this condition. The following article provides information about this diet and its side effects.
Epilepsy is a disorder, in which the affected person experiences recurrent seizures. Earlier, when the anticonvulsant drugs were not known, people practiced fasting to control seizures. Fasting, somehow reduced the incidence of seizures in children. However, in the early twentieth century, scientists successfully established the fact that the effects of starvation on the body can be effectively imitated by consuming certain foods. Thus, evolved the concept of ketogenic diet for epilepsy.
Ketones are produced in our bodies upon burning fats. When we starve ourselves, the body starts using the fat deposits to fulfill the energy requirement. The combustion of these fats leads to the release of ketones, which in turn reduces convulsions. The exact mechanism of how they suppress seizures is still unknown. However, fasting indeed seems to control epilepsy in adults and children alike. The same mechanism can be mimicked by eating some fatty foods. Ketogenic diet essentially means ketone-producing diet. Normally, our body derives its energy from carbohydrates. However, in such a diet, it is forced to use fats as a source of energy.
This diet is extremely low in carbohydrates and very rich in fat. The insufficient carbohydrate content forces the body to look for alternative sources of energy. This diet maintains a 4:1 ratio of fat to carbohydrates and proteins. It means that the diet provides 1 g of carbohydrates and proteins, and 4 g of fats. A 4:1 ratio is more strict, since it is an ideal diet for adults with epilepsy. A 3:1 ketogenic ratio is preferred for children as their carbohydrate and protein requirements are higher.
These are the foods which most weight-conscious people avoid. Butter, heavy whipped cream, mayonnaise, and oils form an integral part of such a diet menu. Interestingly, the use of this diet for weight loss is also very popular. In such cases, the liver is rapidly depleted of its glycogen (a polymer of glucose, responsible for energy) content. Due to this, the body is compelled to look for other supplies of energy, which are fat deposits. This results in weight loss. A typical diet includes eggs, bacon, ham, dairy products like cheese, chocolate desserts, etc.
The diet is planned according to the individual’s energy requirements and general health. It is to be strictly planned by a qualified dietitian or a physician only. Care must be taken to avoid consumption of non-food carbohydrates and proteins. For instance, a toothpaste may contain sugar, which is a derivative of carbohydrates. Usually, such a diet program is conducted in the confines of a hospital so that the person (particularly a child) can be monitored throughout the program. Before starting the diet, it is important to fast for 24 hours. This increases the effectiveness of this diet. Anticonvulsants can be taken as a supplement to the diet, however, the dosage can be reduced substantially. People who go for this diet experience at least 50% reduction in epileptic seizures. About 10 – 15% people can actually be completely cured of epilepsy.
This diet is bound to give rise to certain side effects, due to its limited content of protein and carbohydrates. People may experience lack of energy, until the body gets used to the alternate supply of energy. High fat foods increase the risk of high cholesterol, kidney stones, and weight gain. Children may develop growth and developmental disorders due to the limited protein intake. Lack of fiber in diet may also leave the person constipated. However, these side effects can be minimized by the use of vitamin, minerals, and other supplements.
Thus, this diet is indeed effective for epilepsy. However, one must follow it under the guidance of a dietitian. Going off the diet for once or twice, can drastically reduce its efficacy.
Disclaimer: This article is for informative purposes only and does not in any way attempt to replace the advice offered by an expert on the subject.