The Ketogenic Diet (KD) is a specfically designed diet for the treatment of epilepsy, developed nearly a century ago, in the Mayo Clinic. It was a popular and successful treatment option for epilepsy, especially in children and young adults, but it fell out of favor in the 1940's, as AEDs began to flood the pharmaceutical market. It is still used today, typically started through the direction of a medical professional in a hospital, requiring a fair amount of monitoring to initiate. Equally as difficult is continual compliance with the diet, because of its strict guidelines on the fat to carbohydrate ratio. The KD can be very difficult on the body as well, with many children stopping it due to kidney stones, diarrhea, severe constipation, and/or the inability to tolerate the limited food choices the diet has to offer in general.
How does the diet work? Once the diet is initiated, the body eventually goes into a state of ketosis, where the primary source of fuel for the body is fat and protein, which in turn, affects how the brain functions, in a very simplistic sense. The traditional KD uses little to no carbohydrates as a source of energy, instead uses fat to break down into ketone bodies. The Modified Atkins Diet (MAD) is similar in structure, yet allows more carbohydrates into the overall ratio of caloric intake. It could be referred to as the 'Ketogenic Diet Light' in a sense. The typical KD however, is fairly rigorous, with the ratio of fat to protein and carbohydrates being in the range of 4:1 to 1:1 (4:1 being obviously the most aggressive and rigorous end of the diet) in order to try and gain seizure control. On a 1,000 calorie diet, only 8 grams of carbs would be allowed on a 4:1 ratio, which makes it very difficult to meal plan around such a limited amount of carbohydrates.
If you consider the foods that have zero or nearly zero carbs, you won't get a hand cramp writing them down: eggs, heavy cream, butter, most meats, most cheeses, mayonnaise, coconut oil, and MCT oil. There are a host of vegetables that have low carbs, including spinach, cauliflower, and even broccoli, but they still contain some carbs, so the ability to weave them into the diet is challenging. When you are limited to 8 grams of carbs a day, it makes meal planning very difficult, yet very predictable. Again, there are less strict ratios for the diet, but the basic idea is that you are substituting a large percentage of your typical intake of carbohydrates and protein, with fat and calories.
We tried the MAD with Mira years ago and it was very difficult on her. We initially tried to have her admitted to try the traditional KD, but her labs were so far off the charts, that the clinic felt she would not be a good candidate for the diet. Before she was even considered being admitted to the hospital, she had very elevated BHB (beta hydroxybutyrate) levels for some reason, indicating that she was already in some level of ketosis. She also had very high cholesterol levels, which no one felt comfortable starting her on the diet at that point. We agreed to start her on the MAD instead, thinking that she might tolerate the ratio better that the KD. If we saw some seizure reduction with the MAD, we could increase the ratio as we went along. Unfortunately, Mira did not tolerate the diet well - there was a lot of irritability, constipation, vomiting, and continued elevated cholesterol after several months, that we slowly abandoned the diet after 4 or 5 months. She never really could stay in a solid state of ketosis either and with all of the complications just on the MAD, going to the full-fledged KD would have been brutal for Mira. We never saw any change in seizures in that time as well, in fact, if my memory serves me well, her seizures actually worsened.
Clearly, the diet does not work for everyone, but it has helped a lot of kids with seizure control. The Charlie Foundation was developed over 20 years ago as a resource for the KD, as a result of the diet being hugely successful for a child named Charlie Abrahams, who was battling epilepsy at the time. It is a fantastic point of departure to find out information on the diet, find support, and to see other therapeutic applications the KD has to offer.