Diet helps kids with epilepsy



Bio | Email

Posted on June 26, 2010 at 10:29 AM

Tristan Carroll has lived with epilepsy since he was two. One doctor advised brain surgery to control his seizures. By last fall they overwhelmed him.

"Six months ago he couldn't even walk down the stairs by himself when he got out of bed in the morning, because he was so shaky and he would have a seizure before he got down the stairs," said mom Christine.

His meds became less effective.   

"Until finally November we were up to 50 or 60 seizures every day," said Christine.

Instead of surgery, the family turned to something called the ketogenic diet.

It's ultra-high in fats, but with strict calorie control. It supplies adequate protein but starves the body of carbs and sugar. It was studied in the 1930's before the days of epilepsy medications.

The diet is so meticulous Tristan had to start it in the hospital. His response was dramatic.

"Seizures started to already subside while we were in the hospital. Then we came home, and a week later they completely stopped, completely," said Christine.

He's been seizure-free for six months.

"It does work to some degree, for a high percentage of children that have epilepsy," said Dr. Edward Novotny, Seattle Children's.

Dr. Novotny, Director of Medical Epilepsy at Seattle Children's, says not enough parents know about the diet. And only a few try it.

Tristan's height, weight and heart health must be closely monitored.

"Important in children is obviously maintaining the amount of calories to sustain growth, and also maintaining it so that it's very balanced so you get all the proper nutrients and vitamins," said Dr. Novotny.

Now a study of 101 kids on the diet long-term found when it worked, it worked well. Nearly 80 percent were seizure free or had seizures reduced by half, even years after they stopped the diet. 

Tristan's mom says she should have known about it sooner.

"New where I'm sitting, six years into this journey, I would say the ketogenic diet should be a front line defense," she said.

Since he started on the diet, Tristan has been able to cut back on his epilepsy medications, and his math and reading skills have gone up.

Dr. Novotny says kids trying the diet must be screened for a family history of heart disease.

More information

Seattle Children's