Lisa Vanatta, MS, RDN, CSP

Dietician with the Ketogenic Diet Program at Barrow at Phoenix Children's

The Ketogenic Diet: What You Need to Know

For children with epilepsy that is not easily controlled by medication and for whom neurosurgery may not be an option, Barrow Neurological Institute at Phoenix Children’s Hospital offers an alternative.

The ketogenic diet is one of the primary options patients are offered as part of the comprehensive Pediatric Epilepsy Program at Barrow at Phoenix Children’s especially in children who do not respond to standard therapy and medicines. It is a precisely measured, safe and effective method of treatment for epilepsy that requires a diet high in fat, moderate in protein and low in carbohydrates.

The diet is a time-tested, safe and effective method for the treatment of epilepsy. It is considered a medical nutrition therapy diet that is intended to be used in conjunction with or in place of seizure medications to help control seizures. It is a precisely calculated diet that is intended to be used in coordination with the child's prescribed medication. Calculations of the diet are based on the child’s age, height and weight. It provides enough calories and other nutrients for the child to grow and is designed so the body uses fat for energy instead of sugar.

The goal of the diet is to reduce the number and intensity of seizures. Improvement in seizure control is achieved in more than 50 percent of patients, with nearly one-third of children experiencing complete seizure control. In addition to seizure treatment, children on the diet also often experience increased alertness and attentiveness.

The ketogenic diet is most effective in children with atonic or drop seizures, myoclonic seizures, generalized tonic-clonic seizures, multi-focal as in Lennox-Gestaut and seizures related to structural abnormalities of the brain such as prenatal stroke and migration abnormalities.The ketogenic diet can also be utilized in acute and emergent situations such as status epilepticus. 

As ketogenic dietitians, we save lives. We may not be able to do neurosurgery, but when there are patients in status epilepticus in the pediatric intensive care unit who are not eligible for surgical treatment and have failed all the other medical therapy, we can help.It is up to the ketogenic dietitian with clinical expertise to implement this very specialized medical nutrition therapy for these patients.

Because of the complexity of this diet, supervision by an expert team including the medical practitioner and dietician is required. As this diet cannot be done just anywhere, our experts see patients from across the country for this highly specialized treatment. At Barrow at Phoenix Children’s, the Ketogenic Diet Program is coordinated by dieticians and epilepsy neurologist Randa Jarrar, MD.

When first starting on the diet, it may take up to three months for it to be effective. Because of the restrictive nature of the diet, it’s not for every patient. Taking on the diet often means change for the entire family. At Barrow at Phoenix Children’s, the program dieticians will help develop meal plans and recipe ideas for the patient and family.

In 2015 alone, Barrow at Phoenix Children’s treated more than 40 patients who were prescribed the ketogenic diet. For more information about the ketogenic diet and the Pediatric Epilepsy Program, visit the Barrow at Phoenix Children’s website.

For medical professionals interested in educational opportunities, we're proud to welcome the Charlie Foundation for Ketogenic Therapies for its Spring Summit on Ketogenic Diet Therapies for Epilepsy and Other Neurologic Disorders! The conference will be held on March 11-12, 2017 and in conjunction with the 21st Annual Children's Neuroscience Symposium. Learn more and sign up!

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