Saturday, June 07, 2008

Special oil enriched diet reduced boy's seizures!

A DAILY diet of cream, fried eggs, and breakfast cereal dripping in oil would have most parents running for the fruit bowl, but for Leah Eminovski it has been a lifesaver.

Her son Arrian, 4, was having constant seizures after developing a debilitating form of epilepsy at the age of three. He wore a bicycle helmet to protect his head and could never be left unsupervised, losing his personality, staring into space and drooling.

But within a month of being put on the high-fat, low-carbohydrate regime, known as the ketogenic diet, his seizures reduced from more than 20 a day to about three, and his family "has its boy back", a Sydney Children's Hospital pediatric neurologist, John Lawson, said yesterday.

"Initially, I was sceptical about how a change in diet could have such a dramatic effect on an illness as traumatic as epilepsy, but this has completely transformed their lives," he said.

The ketogenic diet comes in two forms. On the classic version, children receive about 90 per cent of their calories from fatty foods, with small amounts of protein for body growth and repair, while children on the oil version, used at the Sydney Children's Hospital, are given a diet of 80 per cent fat, with about 50 per cent of that obtained from a tasteless medium chain triglyceride oil added to all food and drinks.

The diet, which was developed in the 1920s, mimics starvation by forcing the body to burn fat for fuel, rather than carbohydrates and protein. The liver then produces ketones, which replace glucose as the brain's main energy source, and have an anti-convulsive effect on the brain, reducing the number of seizures a child will experience each day.

"This is not an alternative to medication though," Dr Lawson said. "This is an extremely unhealthy diet that most of us couldn't tolerate so it is a treatment we use only for people who have not responded to several drugs, which accounts for about one-third of all children with epilepsy."

A study in this month's Lancet Neurology, which followed 145 children who were having seizures daily and had failed to respond to at least two anti-epileptic drugs, found that those on the ketogenic diet had 50 per cent less seizures and many were not having seizures at all after three months. About one-third experienced a greater than 90 per cent improvement. But the side effects, which include constipation, lack of energy, pancreatitis, kidney stones and cardiac, renal and liver complications, can be debilitating and dangerous.

"It's not for everyone," Dr Lawson said. "But for some people, it can be life-changing."

For Arrian's mother, the diet has meant a radical change to family life, with his meals made up of cheese, cream, margarine, nuts and the oil.

"It's certainly been a challenge," Ms Eminovski said. "It takes a lot of commitment and organisation, but it has more positives than negatives."


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