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Food as Medicine: Epilepsy Diet

Reported April 07, 2009


ROCHESTER, Minn. (Ivanhoe Newswire) -- More than 320,000 children 15 and under have epilepsy. Many suffer from uncontrolled seizures that make daily life a struggle. Some kids are finding relief not from new medication but from food. Changing his diet helped one little boy change his life.

 

Teagon Heinrich has been through a lot in the first five years of his life.

"Multiple emissions to the emergency room," Angie Heinrich told Ivanhoe. "We called 911 a lot."


Teagon has epilepsy. He suffered from weekly seizures that lasted for hours.

"The neurologist told us, 'We don't know if he's going to make it through another one of these seizures,'" Angie said.

He was on powerful drugs including valium. His parents even considered brain surgery. But before scheduling the operation, they tried one last option -- the ketogenic diet.

"We said, you know, it's a diet," Angie recalled. "Why not just try it? What would it hurt? It's not brain surgery."

 

 

It's similar to the Atkins diet -- high fat, low carbs. Instead of milk, Angie gives Teagon heavy cream to drink.

"Cream, butter, oil take up a fair bit of the diet, and our dietician is careful to choose the appropriate fats," Elaine Wirrell, M.D., Director of Pediatric Epilepsy at The Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn., told Ivanhoe. "We also monitor the children very carefully blood work-wise just to be sure we don't get into problems with significantly high cholesterol."

The diet actually mimics starvation, forcing a child's body to burn fat for energy instead of carbs. The body then produces chemicals called ketones, which impact the brain's metabolism.

About one-third of kids on the diet become seizure-free. Another third improve but have some seizures, and another third don't respond at all.

After three months on the diet, Teagon 's seizures stopped. He doesn't take any meds.

"It's like we have our little boy back," Angie said.

Teagon hasn't had side effects after a year and a half on the diet, but the diet can cause constipation and a higher risk of developing kidney stones. Kids should be carefully monitored by a dietitian.

Some kids are weaned off the diet after two years and still keep their seizures under control. Others stay on it.

FOR MORE INFORMATION, PLEASE VISIT:
Dana Wirth Sparks
Department of Public Affairs
The Mayo Clinic
Rochester, Minn.
(507) 538-0844