Dietary Therapies for Epilepsy

Research in the 1920s showed that a diet consisting mostly of fats dramatically reduced the frequency of seizures in many children. The diet was named the ketogenic diet because it caused a metabolic change called ketosis. When the body metabolizes fat and protein, it produces ketone bodies. After the introduction of phenytoin (Dilantin) in 1938, the ketogenic diet fell out of use, but new studies during the past several decades confirmed its value.

Several stories in the press during the 1990’s highlighted dramatic successes with the ketogenic diet in children whose seizures were not controlled with medications or surgery. Consequently, the ketogenic diet has been more widely used. However, the diet is not without problems, including the child’s tolerance for the limited menu, kidney stones, growth retardation, and metabolic disorders.

This has led to the use of the modified Atkins and low glycemic (South Beach) diets that allow more protein but still restrict carbohydrates. Early experience with these less restrictive alternatives to the ketogenic diet suggests that they are also effective in some patients.