Children suffering from epilepsy may be able to alleviate the symptoms by following a high-fat/low-carbohydrate diet, according to a study published this week in US journal Pediatrics (volume 108, p 898).

The impact of the high-fat/low-carbohydrate diet, called the ketogenic diet, was investigated as part of a long-term study into methods to treat drug-resistant epilepsy for 150 children. 30% of children suffering from epilepsy do not respond to medication, and those studied showed no improvement to at least two different drugs designed to stop seizures.

The possibilities of the ketogenic diet were well documented since a chance finding in the 1920s made doctors realise that long fasting periods cut seizures in epileptics. The diet regime is designed to mimic the biochemical effects of starvation on the body.

The team of scientists from the Johns Hopkins Medical Institutions, Baltimore, found that between three and six years after stopping the diet regime, 25% of the children were no longer experiencing seizures. More than half meanwhile recorded a 50% reduction in the frequency of their seizures.

A diet with very high fat, low carbohydrate and adequate protein helps to boost levels of hydroxybutyric acid in the body. Following the regime is unlikely to cause negative long term health implications, but lead researcher John Freeman revealed that in the case of children experiencing up to 400 seizures per month, “even if it took a year or so off their life, it would be worth it”.

A typical meal on the ketogenic diet might consist of roughly equal sized portions of carrots, chicken, double cream and butter.