Jefferson University Hospitals

Ketogenic Diet Therapy

If you have been diagnosed with epilepsy, physicians of the Jefferson Comprehensive Epilepsy Center may utilize a ketogenic diet therapy to help control the number of seizures you experience, when traditional medical or surgical procedures prove unsuccessful.

What Does Ketogenic Diet Therapy Involve?

Developed in 1921, physicians discovered that patients who fasted had fewer seizures. Since prolonged fasting is not practical, the concept of the diet is to "trick" the brain into reacting as though fasting was still in progress with dietary modification.

The dietary modification "trick" relies upon forcing the body to convert fat to ketones. Ketones, in turn, are used by the brain as an energy source when its normal fuel, glucose, is unavailable. The ketogenic diet makes glucose unavailable to the brain by restricting access to the carbohydrate foods.

Possible Side Effects of Ketogenic Diet Therapy

Like all treatments for epilepsy, the ketogenic diet has side effects which may or may not affect a particular individual. Some side effects can be easily managed if caught early; knowing what to look for can make a difference.

A common side effect is constipation. Some ketogenic diet plans restrict fluid and lead to significant problems with dehydration, kidney stones and gallstones, but that has not been a great difficulty for Jefferson patients – we do not restrict fluid.

Women on the diet may have irregular menstrual cycles. If you are family planning, it is not recommended that you follow the ketogenic diet. There have been reports of decreased bone density on the diet, and a DEXA scan or bone density scan will be performed while you are on the diet.

There are also concerns about the possibility of elevation in cholesterol and lipids; lipid levels will be followed closely. There have been rare case reports of cardiac abnormalities on the diet, particularly in patients who are not supplemented with selenium or vitamins. An EKG will be followed periodically.

The diet lacks several important vitamins, which have been added to the supplements; it is critical that you take the supplements.

Why Choose Jefferson for Ketogenic Diet Therapy in Philadelphia?

Successful and safe use of the diet relies on the cooperation of a multidisciplinary team and you as the patient to sustain the regimen. Because the ketogenic diet is not always successful and is not always tolerated, the Jefferson Comprehensive Epilepsy Center has assembled a team of dieticians, nurses, physicians and psychologists to help you and your family have the best chance of success with this therapy.

Due to dietary restrictions involved with this diet, particularly the high fat content, the diet is not a good option for everyone. Careful screening for medical conditions that might be made worse by the diet must be performed, and patients are closely monitored on a regular basis after the diet is initiated. Each person is evaluated carefully by our experienced healthcare professionals before the start of the diet.