About three million adults and children in the United States suffer from epilepsy or seizures. Many find relief through medication.
When drugs fail, however, seizures can have a huge impact on daily life. That’s where fatty foods could save the day, even for those with life-threatening forms of epilepsy.
The fact that 14-year-old Nilu is sitting here today doing homework is nothing short of what her mom calls a miracle. The active teen was rushed to the hospital after having her first of several seizures.
"We were so worried and we were so emotional," said Niranjala Wickremasinghe, Nilu’s mom.
Nilu had status epilepticus, a life-threatening condition.
"She was in very bad shape, to say the least. She had ongoing seizures for three months. She was essentially comatose during that entire situation and tried about seven or eight anticonvulsive medicines, none of them were helping her seizures," said Dr. Eric Kossoff, pediatric neurologist, Johns Hopkins Children's Center.
That’s when Kossoff decided to try something different, a high fat, low carb diet, much like Atkins.
"Bacon, eggs, whipping cream, and oils, you know very high fat foods," Kossoff said.
Doctors aren’t exactly sure why the 90 percent fat diet works, but, "about half the children we put on it will do better and about 10 percent become seizure-free," Kossoff explained.
Since Nilu was unconscious, her diet was delivered through a feeding tube.
"When it works, it works pretty quickly," Kossoff said.
One week later, Nilu woke up.
"I feel that I’m a really lucky person. I mean, I got another chance to live again," Nilu said.
Now, with a new clinical trial underway, others like Nilu could get the same second chance.
Nilu was on a modified Atkins diet for six months once she emerged from her coma. She is now back to a regular diet and is able to control the few short seizures she’s had since with medication.
The most common side effect of the diet is constipation and temporary higher cholesterol, and kidney stones are also possible.