The ketogenic diet and its effect on children with epilepsy

5th February 2018

A ketogenic diet is a treatment option for children who have epilepsy that is often used when seizures cannot be reduced or stopped completely through the use of epilepsy medication. It’s often used for epilepsy that is hard to control with anti-convulsive medication. There are still some aspects of the treatment that are unknown or unexplained.

What is a ketogenic diet?

In its simplest form, the ketogenic diet is a low carbohydrate, high-fat diet that must be managed by a dietician. The treatment relies on the bodies response to the diet, which is to produce ketones in the liver for energy rather than use rather than the glucose that is produced as a result of eating carbohydrates.

A ketogenic diet should only ever be attempted under the supervision of neurologist and a dietician who are experts in the field. It’s not a natural diet and as such needs to be managed to ensure that it’s working and the child doesn’t experience any adverse effects from the change in diet. The treatment may not be advisable for some children, especially if they have other metabolic or neurological disorders so it’s always best to get advice from a medical professional.

How does the ketogenic diet help with epilepsy?

We must stress that there is still much to be understood about how the ketogenic diet works. Some evidence points to the fact that the brain needs glucose to cause a seizure, which it will have minimal access to with a low carbohydrate diet.

Our bodies are incredibly adaptive to the foods that we put into them. With a higher carbohydrate diet, the body will use glucose as its primary energy source, which means the body produces insulin to process the glucose in the bloodstream. By eliminating carbohydrates and instead eating fats the body produces ketones, which can be used as an alternative energy source.

Does it work?

Research shows that approximately 50% of the children who try a ketogenic diet will have a positive reaction and some will even become seizure free. However, the diet doesn’t work for every child and many will see no change. It’s impossible to predict which children it will benefit which means it’s often a case of trying it and seeing with the advice of a medical professional or dietitian.

Why can’t adults use a ketogenic diet?

It’s not that they can’t, but at present, it’s still unknown how effective a ketogenic diet could be adults, although many argue that it is much less so than that of a child. There is also the argument that it is less tolerable for adults and as it’s unsupported for adults on the NHS they are not advised to try it without seeking specialist help.

Many adults with epilepsy have tried the modified ketogenic diets and some have seen success. There are two options, the Modified Atkins Diet and the Low Glycemic Index Treatment diet. However, it’s still strongly advised to seek medical advice before attempting either.

Need more information?

For more information or to discuss whether your child may benefit from trying a ketogenic diet or advice on managing epilepsy, please feel free to call us on 01706 373075 or email