Healthy Kids - Summer 2021

I N-DEPTH The Brain-Diet Connection How food can be used to control epilepsy in children

off the diet after several years. He is now considered cured, and his family created the Charlie Foundation for Ketogenic Therapies to promote awareness, training and research. Rady Children’s has had its own share of success stories like this. One is Hilary Hansen. At age 5, Hilary began having up to 40 seizures a day that couldn’t be quieted by medications. Her neurologist and dietitian at Rady Children’s put her on a ketogenic diet. It took a lot of adjusting—Hilary’s mother had to carefully measure everything she ate and keep her from childhood celebrations for fear she’d consume sugar—but the results were undeniable. After just three weeks, the seizures stopped. At Rady Children’s Comprehensive Epilepsy Center, patients throughout Southern California with treatment-resistant epilepsy have access to the highest level of medical and surgical care. The excellence in care delivered also benefits from clinical and laboratory research that the team conducts. Rady Children’s pediatric epileptologists, neurosurgeons, neuroradiologists, neurodiagnostic technologists, nurses and neuropsychologists work closely with families to design individual treatment plans for each patient. As an addition or alternative to medications and various forms of the ketogenic diet, specialists may also employ

SINCE THE DAYS OF HIPPOCRATES, physicians have known that what we eat greatly impacts our overall health. Now, doctors like Jong M. Rho, MD, division chief of neurology at Rady Children’s and a professor of neurosciences and pediatrics at UC San Diego School of Medicine, are working to understand how certain eating patterns can help manage and, in some cases, even cure diseases and disorders in children, like epilepsy. “Every time you eat or drink, you’re either feeding disease or fighting it,” he says. Dr. Rho has been building on research showing that the low-carb, high-fat ketogenic diet can prevent seizures in patients with forms of epilepsy that don’t respond well to medications. The ketogenic diet was developed around a century ago, after doctors observed that fasting helped control seizures in patients with epilepsy. Medical scientists discovered that a ketogenic diet could mimic fasting without necessarily depriving a patient of calories, which is a crucial consideration for infants and children. Dr. Rho says the research shows that, worldwide, around 60 to 70 percent of patients for whom epilepsy medication had proven ineffective responded significantly better to a ketogenic diet—and a third of them actually became seizure-free. The most publicized case is that of Charlie Abrahams, son of Airplane! director Jim Abrahams. At less than a year old, Charlie was diagnosed with a severe form of epilepsy that did not improve with medication or even after brain surgery. The ketogenic diet was eventually prescribed and within a few days of starting, the toddler became seizure-free. He never had another seizure and was transitioned

investigational drugs, brain and nerve stimulation, special implanted devices to block seizure activity, or minimally invasive thermal laser ablation.

To learn more about epilepsy treatment at Rady Children’s, visit

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