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Thursday
Apr212011

Super High-Fat Diet Treats Kids with Seizures?

ITStock Free/Polka Dot(BOSTON) -- Nine-year-old Jack O'Connor's parents feed him a steady diet of bacon, heavy cream, sausage, and, on special occasions, allow him a "treat" of a few strawberries or a slice of apple. Jack's diet is so fat-rich and nutrient-poor that he needs to take daily calcium and vitamin supplements so as not to stunt his growth.

While this may sound like malnourishment, this food is Jack's medicine, and this strictly regimented 90 percent fat diet offers relief from his debilitating epilepsy in a way that no drug ever could.

As of a year ago, Jack suffered 50 seizures a day, while his parents, Juliette and Chris O'Connor, bounced desperately from doctor to doctor, trying "X" number of medications.

But nothing worked -- until doctors at Massachusetts General Hospital Epilepsy Clinic suggested trying what, to the O'Connors, sounded like a shocking regimen: a high-fact ketogenic diet.

Stricter from a fat standpoint than the Atkins diet, about 90 percent of its calories -- measured down to the tenth of a gram -- come from fat.

The diet has made all the difference for Jack and many children like him for whom pharmaceutical drugs have failed.

"After two months, we started to see a decrease in the seizures. They were cut in half within a few months," Chris O'Connor says.

Now, several months into the diet, Jack has fewer than five seizures a day. "Some days, especially recently, he's down to no seizures a day," says his father.

"The diet is a miracle," Dr. Elizabeth Thiele, director of pediatric epilepsy at Massachusetts General Hospital, told ABC's World News. "Many children who go on this diet have already been on six or eight or 10 anti-convulsion medications without effective seizure control or with side effects that can't be tolerated. And they go on this diet and become seizure-free."

According to Thiele, a third will no longer experience seizures and another third will experience a greater than 50 percent reduction in their number, and for a final third, the diet doesn't work, or is not tolerated, "and that's across 80 years of the history of this diet," says Thiele.

The ketogenic diet was developed in the 1920s, after it was noticed that after fasting, epileptics would experience a marked reduction in their seizures.

Whereas normally the body will break down carbohydrates as fuel, a ketogenic diet supplies calories mostly in the form of fat and hence the body must switch gears and break down fat for fuel instead, a state known as ketosis. This is also what the body does when fasting.

It's not known exactly how ketosis hinders seizures, Thiele says, but the impact a ketonic state has on cell production is currently under investigation for a number of diseases, including Parkinson's and Alzheimer's, and certain types of cancer.

To learn more about Jack and other children like him, watch World News With Diane Sawyer Thursday at 6:30 p.m. ET on ABC.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio







ABC News Radio