Children living with epilepsy are less at risk of having seizures if they follow a ketogenic diet, researchers have said.
New evidence shows that a ketogenic (keto) diet can cut seizure rates by 50% in nearly half of children who do not get better on traditional epilepsy drugs.
Prior studies show that around one in 10 children with epilepsy who follow a keto diet can stop taking medication to control seizures.
However, the NHS is not recommending the diet due to a lack of funding, leaving 18,000 children living with the condition at risk of regularly having seizures.
The keto diet is a high-fat, adequate-protein, low-carbohydrate dietary therapy.
Foods that can be eaten on a keto diet include:
- non-starchy vegetables
- healthy oils,
- plain Greek yoghurt and
- cottage cheese.
According to NICE, the keto diet should only be advised for a child after their body has not responded well to at least two prescription medications.
A keto diet can cause some children to experience stomach upsets so it should only be considered in the last instance, NICE has reported.
Sara Garland, founder of epilepsy charity The Daisy Garland, said: “Some 60,000 children in the UK have epilepsy and around 18,000 of those have drug-resistant forms. Just 900 are on a ketogenic diet – thousands more could benefit.”
Meal plans are essential for children on keto diets as they need to consume the correct number of vitamins, calories and nutrients so their growth is not affected, experts have said.
“Our charity has provided the funding to set up these NHS clinics. When the trusts see the impact they can have, they often take over the financing of it,” said Sara.
She added: “Over the past 19 years we have helped 16 NHS trusts – out of around 200 – do this. But it doesn’t just reduce seizures – children also sleep better, their behaviour improves, and they are able to think more clearly. It makes a big difference to quality of life.”
Professor Helen Cross, director at the Great Ormond Street Hospital Institute Of Child Health, noted: “There is good evidence that using the diet much earlier – rather than as a last resort – could make a big difference.
“We’d advise families to try it after two drugs have failed, but often it’s not mentioned until patients have failed on four or five treatments.”
She added: “Some parents are taking it upon themselves, but we do not recommend this – it can have side effects and children need to be properly monitored.”
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Clara Hayhurst, 16, regularly had epileptic seizures before she started following a keto diet last year.
Clara’s mother Amanda said: “I’d never heard of it and her consultant neurologist at Birmingham Children’s Hospital never mentioned it. But since being on the diet for the past ten months, she’s gone from two seizures a day to two a month.
“At one point she was suffering up to ten a day. She was on four different epilepsy drugs, which left her feeling exhausted and drained.”
She added: “Out went all the pastries, pasta, potatoes and shop bread. I started to bake my own keto bread using seeds and gave her eggs, meat, cheese and big servings of green vegetables. Now she has just a few seizures a month. Why wasn’t I told about this diet before?”