Two high-fat diets – the classic ketogenic and a modified version of Atkins – can reduce and in some cases completely eliminate seizures in children with absence epilepsy, according to a study recently published in the Journal of Child Neurology. Absence epilepsy is a common seizure disorder that often begins in childhood and involves multiple daily “absent” staring spells. If developed during adolescence, it can lead to more serious generalized seizures.

The high-fat, low-carb ketogenic diet has been used since 1921 to successfully treat several forms of epilepsy in patients who do not respond to anti-seizure drugs, or AEDs. The diet works to trigger biochemical changes that eliminate short circuits in the brain’s signaling system. The Atkins Diet, made popular a decade ago, is a low-carbohydrate diet is often referred to as a meat-only diet.

Researchers from Johns Hopkins Children’s Center observed 21 patients with absence epilepsy treated with either the keotgenic diet or a modified version of Atkins, as well as reviewed studies published between 1922 and 2009 on how diet affects epilepsy in children. They found that after one month, 76 percent of the patients treated with either diet experienced at least 50 percent fewer seizures, and many showed as high as 90 percent improvement. Nearly 20 percent became seizure-free. After three months on the diet, 82 percent had at least a 50 percent reduction in the number of seizures and nearly half of the patients had 90 percent fewer seizures. Some patients improved after three days on the diet while others didn’t improve until three months later.

Researchers say both diets worked equally well, and offer a drugless option and much-needed hope to children and their parents coping with the disorder.

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