Keto diet gives hope to epileptic babies who can’t find relief with drugs

Some babies are born suffering from epilepsy – and some of those turn out to be resistant to anti-epileptic drugs, giving parents and doctors a dilemma.

Now Great Ormond Street Hospital for Children (GOSH) has come up with a strategy that could change their lives.

Because it turns out a ketogenic diet, which is low in carbohydrates and high in fat, shows promise as an alternative treatment option for resistant epileptic infants. What’s great about this is that it gives families a feeling of empowerment over their baby’s treatment while also giving paediatric neurologists an alternative route of care.

Results from the ketogenic diet in Infancy trial is the first in the world to compare the impact of the diet to additional anti-seizure medication for infants aged one to 24 months with drug-resistant epilepsy.

Being high in protein and light on carbohydrates, the diet alters the body’s metabolism, directing it to draw on body fat as its primary fuel source and mimicking a physiological effect of starvation even though you’re fully nourished. The switch from carbohydrates to fat for body fuel is known as ketosis. The researchers looked at whether the diet could reduce seizure frequency, compared with more medication in 136 infants across 19 centres in the UK between 2015 and 2021.

Of the patients, 78 infants started a ketogenic diet and 53 started additional anti-seizure medication, in addition to their standard treatments.

Before and after starting the ketogenic diet, the team recorded the number of seizures each baby had for the first eight weeks after starting their new treatment – then they followed the babies for up to 12 months. Both treatments reduced the number of seizures in infants at eight weeks and there proved to be no significant difference in the quality of life and development for both groups.

GOSH’s lead author, Dr Natasha Schoeler, said: “There is no evidence to show that there is a difference between the effectiveness of a ketogenic diet and further anti-seizure medication in infants with drug-resistant epilepsy.

“We can’t overpromise and say that a ketogenic diet is better than another drug.

“However, it should be considered as another treatment option.”

She added: “They may have to stay on the diet for around two years but then we can have a conversation about coming off it.

“Previous research in children shows that around 75%-80% maintain the response after stopping the ketogenic diet, if they become seizure-free while on the diet”.

Parents of children suffering from epilepsy can be left feeling helpless, but this treatment will help to restore their confidence.