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Treating epileptic seizures with high fat diet

Rochester, N.Y. -- Seven-year-old Julia Emerson is one of the 326,000 kids under age 15 in the United States living with Epilepsy.

She started having seizures at ten months old.

They occurred often, sometimes multiple times every day.

You feel extremely helpless, Julias mother Christine Emerson said. I'm a pediatric nurse practitioner and there's nothing you can do except sit and watch.

Julia was diagnosed with Epilepsy when she was four.

The family tried numerous medications which didn't decrease the seizures; it added more, so they tried an extreme form of therapy known as the Ketogenic Diet.

It makes 60% to 70% of your calories come from fat, a small portion coming from protein and about 10% or less coming from carbohydrates, Dr. Inna Hughes with Strong Hospitals Epilepsy Center said.

Dr. Hughes said the diet can reduce a child's risk of seizures.

About 67% of kids on the diet, who are doing the diet well and have had the chemistry changes that go along with the diet, 67% of those kids will have a greater than 50% reduction in seizures; about 30% of kids will become seizure free to having a reduction of more than 90% in total number of seizures, Dr. Hughes said.

The Emersons pay close attention to nutritional labels and shop online to save money.

Julias special diet costs the family an extra $100 month in groceries.

She eats a lot of ground Macadamia nuts, which are pricey. She eats a special mayonnaise now; we use a lot of coconut oil, Christine said.

But the Emersons say its worth every penny, they say theyve seen a difference in their daughter.

We had a great reduction in seizures and were even able to wean her off of her anti-seizure medication, Christine said.

Our hope and our dream is to be one of the stories where we have her on the diet for 2 years, she comes off it and never has seizures again," Julias dad Tim Emerson said. It's still our hope and dream. Is it reality? Still don't know at this point.

So far, Julia hasnt had a seizure in 40 days.

Doctors caution that it's not a diet for everyone and you can't just start it on your own.

This is a medical therapy that needs to be overseen by a multi-disciplinary team including a neurologist and dietitian, nurse practitioners, Dr. Hughes said.

It's a lifestyle change for the Emersons.

They say it takes time and patience, something the family says is worth it, compared to the alternative:

Everyone says the diet's hard. Well, watching your kid seize everyday multiple times a day is much harder, Christine said.

More useful information:

http://www.epilepsyfoundation.org/aboutepilepsy/treatment/ketogenicdiet/index.cfm

http://www.charliefoundation.org/faq/ketogenic-diet.html

http://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/neurology_neurosurgery/specialty_areas/epilepsy/treatment/dietary_therapy.html

Alexis Arnold, 13WHAM-TV
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