…Well, it’s not exactly Atkins, but the ketogenic (or “keto,” for short) diet is now being prescribed as a treatment for drug-resistant pediatric epilepsy. This low-carb, high-fat diet involves eggs, cheese, yogurt, and cream all to a seemingly unreasonable and unhealthy extent. Patients require supplements to stay healthy and grow, and must drink enough fluids to avoid kidney stones. As crazy as it sounds, it works.
Dr. Elizabeth Thiele, a pediatric neurologist at Massachusetts General Hospital, has compiled clinical data showing 7 out of 10 patients reducing their seizure count by more than ninety percent on this diet. It appears that the diet has few lingering health effects after it is stopped and does not seem to stunt growth, and doctors have been using it since the early twentieth century. But how does fat prevent the electrical surges in brain activity that constitute epilepsy?
The current theory is that ingesting large amounts of fat forces the body to mimic starvation mode and burn fat for energy rather than carbohydrates. The ketone bodies that result from the breakdown of fats seem to have certain unique properties that help to protect the brain. All kinds of applications for these ketone bodies are being studied, including their ability to promote the slowing of tumor growth, and their potential use for the treatment of Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s Disease. How the ketone bodies are doing this has yet to be discovered so drug development is limited. Fortunately, the studies demonstrating the effectiveness of the diet in pediatric cases is opening the door for further research funding.
Original article: Epilepsy’s Big, Fat Miracle – The New York Times
Additional reading: The ketogenic diet in childhood epilepsy – where are we now? – Archives of Disease in Childhood