Dec. 10, 2003 (Boston) — Researchers at the Johns Hopkins Children's Center in Baltimore, Maryland, are experimenting with the Atkins diet as a possible regimen to prevent epileptic seizures in patients refractory to other therapeutic regimens.
Pediatric neurologist Eric H. Kossoff, MD, told Medscape he got the idea from parents who would say, "Like the Atkins diet?" when he told them he wanted to put their children on the ketogenic diet, a more rigorous high-fat, low-carbohydrate diet used as anticonvulsant therapy for intractable patients.
Both diets mimic starvation, tricking the body into burning fat and producing ketones. "Ketone bodies do something to help reduce epilepsy. Beyond that, we don't know," Dr. Kossoff said here at the 57th annual meeting of the American Epilepsy Society, where he presented a poster on a pilot study of six patients, ages 7 to 52 years.
Two children achieved 100% seizure control, and in an 18-year-old, seizure activity was reduced by 90%. Two middle-aged adults did not improve, and a 12-year-old patient experienced only a 20% reduction in seizure activity.
Both seizure-free patients are still on the Atkins diet -- one for 20 months, according to Dr. Kossoff. He said he has since tested the diet in a dozen patients, and is recruiting 20 children for a larger study.
A big advantage of the Atkins diet is that it is more lenient than the ketogenic diet, which children start in a hospital on a two-day fast, according to Dr. Kossoff. "It is much easier to start," he said. "We can tell them to go to CVS and buy a book."
The researchers began the children on 10 grams of carbohydrates a day, which is less than the 20 grams usually recommended in the Atkins diet, but more than is recommended in the ketogenic diet. "If they are doing well, we give them more carbs," he said. "If they are not doing well, we take away carbs."
Some of the children lost weight initially, but later stabilized, according to the Baltimore researcher. One concern is that the high-protein, high-fat combination in the Atkins diet might be more than the kidneys can handle, according to Dr. Kossoff. The only side effect in the pilot study was a slight cholesterol increase in a 42-year-old patient.
Despite the ubiquity of the Atkins diet, Dr. Kossoff warned against epileptic patients trying it ad hoc. "This is something that should be done under medical supervision," he said. "It is not something that families, parents should be doing on their own."
This study received no commercial funding.
AES 57th Annual Meeting: Abstract 2.310. Presented Dec. 9, 2003.
Reviewed by Gary D. Vogin, MD