Kristin Sanchez's son, Danny, was put on 14 medications to control his epileptic seizures. All of them failed, leaving him to suffer from more than 100 seizures a day.
Now the 4-year-old gladly sits down to eggs swimming in butter and glasses of heavy whipping cream as part of a high-fat diet that has kept him seizure-free for almost a month."It has been the best miracle," said his mother from her home in Overland Park, Kan. "We had tried everything and nothing worked."
Danny is benefiting from the ketogenic diet, developed at Johns Hopkins Hospital and the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota more than 70 years ago. The diet was largely ignored all those years in favor of drugs. But it's making a comeback thanks to a Hollywood producer who read about it in a pamphlet and tried it with his 1-year-old son. Jim Abrahams was so impressed he made a 50-minute film, set up a foundation and last year made an appearance to tout the diet on "Dateline NBC."
Before the wave of publicity, Dr. John Freeman, director of the Pediatric Epilepsy Center at Johns Hopkins, placed 12 to 18 children a year on the diet. Now he gets about 40 inquiries a day.
But Freeman and other doctors at the American Epilepsy Society's annual meeting in Baltimore this week warned that the diet is not a cure-all for pediatric epilepsy, which affects 300,000-350,000 children in the United States.
"The diet is not a silver bullet for epilepsy," said Freeman, one of the diet's strongest supporters. "But there is no question in my mind that it works."
About 500,000 children and adults in the United States have epileptic seizures that resist medication, according to the society.
Initial findings at hospitals nationwide suggest that the diet cures epilepsy in 20 percent to 30 percent of children who try it, has no effect in about 30 percent of cases and helps diminish seizures in the rest, Freeman said.
The diet's high-fat meals and snacks have four times as much fat as protein and carbohydrates combined. The diet does not allow kids to eat all the fat they want, however; it calls for carefully regulating and measuring all they eat.
The diet works by reproducing the effects of fasting. Normally, the body burns sugar before it begins burning fat, but children on the diet have little sugar to burn so their bodies burn fat instead. That produces a buildup of ketone, a chemical byproduct of fat that in some cases inhibits seizures.
In many cases the children remain seizure-free even after returning to a normal diet, but doctors don't know why.