The ketogenic diet is a high-fat, adequate-protein, low-carbohydrate diet that in medicine is used primarily to treat difficult-to-control (refractory) epilepsy in children. The diet forces the body to burn fats rather than carbohydrates. Normally, the carbohydrates contained in food are converted into glucose, which is then transported around the body and is particularly important in fueling brain-function. However, if there is little carbohydrate in the diet, the liver converts fat into fatty acids and ketone bodies.
The ketone bodies pass into the brain and replace glucose as an energy source. An elevated level of ketone bodies in the blood, a state is known as ketosis, leads to a reduction in the frequency of epileptic seizures. Almost half of the children, and young people, with epilepsy who have tried some form of this diet, saw the number of seizures drop by at least half, and the effect persists even after discontinuing the diet.
There is some evidence that adults with epilepsy may benefit from the diet, and that a less strict regimen, such as a modified Atkins diet, is similarly effective. The most common adverse effect is constipation, affecting about 30% of patients—this was due to fluid restriction, which was once a feature of the diet, but this led to increased risk of kidney stones and is no longer considered beneficial.
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