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Dietary Therapy for Epilepsy: A Parent’s Experience

Dietary Therapy for Epilepsy: A Parent’s Experience



Foods That Heal

Using the Modified Atkins Diet for Seizures


By Jeanne Riether


Most likely if you are reading this, you are either a parent of a child with epilepsy, or have a family member or friend with the condition. Perhaps you suffer from seizures yourself. Some people have milder forms of epilepsy and experience seizures only once or twice a year. Other epilepsy patients experience hundreds of seizures per day. In China, where I live, over 9 million people currently suffer from epilepsy. Thirty percent of patients experience seizures that cannot be controlled by medication.



Please understand, I am not a doctor. I can’t give you medical advice, and you will need to work with a qualified neurologist to find the right treatment. However, because the Modified Atkins Diet (MAD) is a newly introduced therapy in China, I hope that by sharing about our personal experience using it, other parents will find some of the answers they’re seeking.

My son’s epilepsy was successfully controlled using the diet, and our hopes are that others will find similar success. However, while MAD therapy worked for us, it is important to understand that it doesn’t necessarily work for every child exactly the same way. MAD is a medical therapy, not magic. Every child is different, and as much as we might wish it to be so, unfortunately there is no “magic cure” that works for everyone.

But information and knowledge is power, and knowing what options are out there will help you make wise decisions. In the midst of my son’s medical crisis I longed for clear information. Unfortunately, when our children are seriously ill, we are so busy caring for them that we have little time to search for answers; we are left feeling desperate, vulnerable and frightened.

This story is an attempt to share what we learned in the hope that it will help others. Dietary therapy is available as a treatment option, and it may also work for your child.

What is Dietary Therapy for Epilepsy?
Thankfully most cases of epilepsy today can be controlled successfully with medication. However, not everyone is able to achieve full seizure control with medication, and dietary therapy offers particular hope to the estimated 30% of children whose seizures can’t be controlled well with drugs. Interest is also growing in use of the diet as a first-line treatment for certain kinds of epilepsies, before medication is prescribed. This is how I chose to treat my son, using the diet as his first form of medical treatment.

The Modified Atkins Diet was developed at the renowned Johns Hopkins Hospital in the United States in 2002.* It is a variation of the traditional Ketogenic Diet which has been used as a treatment for epilepsy since the early 1920′s, but gradually fell into disuse after the development of modern anti-seizure medication in the 1940′s and 1950′s. The quest to find answers for those who are not helped by medication eventually brought scientists back full-circle, and dietary therapy was once again explored as a modern treatment option. The results are promising: the outcome of a number of published clinical studies have now established MAD as an effective treatment for both children and adults with intractable seizures.**

The Modified Atkins Diet is an extremely high fat, low carbohydrate, moderate protein diet. There are certain cases when MAD therapy is not recommended or safe, such as when a child’s liver cannot handle a high fat diet, or in certain types of metabolic syndromes when the body cannot utilize fat. For that reason, the diet should not be attempted without a doctor’s direction. Children with poor impulse control or those who refuse to comply with a restricted way of eating would be poor candidates for the diet; sugary drinks and snacks are forbidden and it requires commitment to stick to the diet without fail.

However, if you feel you and your child can manage the diet, and your child is cleared by a doctor to start, you will find it is a fairly simple regimen to follow once you get used to it. I learned to make many delicious foods using ingredients my son was allowed to eat, substituting certain artificial sweeteners for sugar, and later learning to bake breads and cakes with nut flours instead of wheat.

Though we had to adjust to a new way of eating, and it took me time to learn how to cook this way, eventually it became second nature. The results are wonderful and it truly was worth any inconvenience or difficulty. Seeing him happy and healthy, medication free, and no longer having seizures, has been well worth the difficulty of learning how to plan his meals and cook them.
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