Tuesday, May 06, 2008

The virtues of a high-fat diet

Since fat has been demonized so consistently in the media lately, I thought it was worth reporting this study on the link between diet and seizures.

For children with seizures, eating a diet high in fat and low in carbohydrates can significantly reduce the number of seizures they have. Which, when you think about it, is a fascinating bit of information.

People in recovery from anorexia need a lot of fat in their diets to restore normal brain functioning. Something I told my daughter over and over while she was recovering was that her brain needed fat in order to work properly.

It's true.


Anonymous said...

I believe this wholeheartedly. I have a Papillon (dog) who is epileptic and if I feed him a diet with no carbohydrates and moderate to high fat, he has almost none. Any time I feed kibble for a couple of days, he will have grand mal cluster seizures for hours and hours.

I know I know - hes just a dog but my education in dog nutrition is what stopped me from pursuing bariatric surgery. Why would anyone want to bypass the body's largest immune barrier?

Anonymous said...

I'm concerned that they say it mimics the effects of starvation. Are they feeding the kids enough? I couldn't tell from the link.

Anonymous said...

I'm curious as to whether they tested all of these children for celiac disease prior to the trial. It can cause tonic-clonic seizures that mimic epilepsy. (Or, as in my case, exist concurrently with epilepsy.) Unsurprisingly, though, when you remove or lower gluten through ketogenic diets, you reduce seizures. I found that out through some... less than desirable eating behaviors (that involved removing most food groups). Going on a gluten-free diet works a bit better. In combination with seizure medication, if you really are epileptic, too, it's pretty bang-up.

Just a thought. I could be left-field.

Carrie Arnold said...


This is fascinating. A little over a year after the AN kicked in full-force, I began having tonic-clonic (grand mal) seizures. And of course, the first thing to go in my diet was fat. Through much of the eating disorder, I had seizures on and off.

Now that I'm eating better (though I still have to remind myself to eat enough fat), I haven't had any seizures.

Thanks for sharing.

Carrie Arnold said...


This is fascinating. A little over a year after the AN kicked in full-force, I began having tonic-clonic (grand mal) seizures. And of course, the first thing to go in my diet was fat. Through much of the eating disorder, I had seizures on and off.

Now that I'm eating better (though I still have to remind myself to eat enough fat), I haven't had any seizures.

Thanks for sharing.

Harriet said...


Fascinating. Truly. I wonder if anyone's done any other research on this?

It's interesting how many things exist in conjunction with something else.

Just one more reason to say Pass the Haagen Dazs!


Anonymous said...

To add to the fun--

When my daughter was sick with AN, the very best child psychiatrist we saw told us about a collegue of his who'd had good luck using anti-seizure medication for AN. He said his buddy found that the anti-seizure meds dramatically reduced anxiety and obsessionality in many of his patients. Hmmm.

Harriet said...

Hmmm is right. This is all very interesting. I hope there are some researchers out there taking note. :-)

Carrie Arnold said...

And isn't it nice that Haagen Daaz has new flavors out- Sticky Toffee Pudding (whoever thought of that is some form of genius), Carmelized Pecan, and one other that I can't remember. They also have a fro-yo flavor that's vanilla with granola and honey- though I can make that myself for about 1/4 of the price. :)

I'm on anti-seizure meds that also work as a mood stabilizer, which I also need. No one has been able to diagnose me for sure, for sure, but it seems I have an atypical form of bipolar disorder (or major depression- depends on who you ask).

There's also been some research done on vagus nerve stimulation as a treatment for depression, bulimia, and now OCD. I think I'll put that on my "to blog" list.

Anonymous said...

I don't know how I missed the new Haagen Daaz flavors. They sounds amazing.

Susan B said...

Our son suffered brain damage as a baby due to lack of oxygen in utero and one of the things his neurologist stressed was that we should try to get as much dietary fat into him as possible because it seems to encourage brain and neuron development. It worries me that so many parents seem to be putting their kids on low fat diets at very young ages.

Also, I don't remember the name of the movie (it was a made-for-TV movie, about 10 years ago, based on a true story) about a boy whose seizures got so bad he was having them almost constantly. No drugs were working. His mother did research and put him on a "ketogenic" diet (low carb, high fat) and it curbed his seizures. I remember we watched it because our son, still a baby at that point, was on anti-seizure meds.

Fiona Marcella said...

The links between diet, behaviour and brain activity fascinate me. I also read this report which appears to be based on research that started in the 1920s and yes, originally the starvation was the "cure" which was being researched. It's called the "ketogenic" diet because the fat, combined with a reduction in carbohydrates produces ketones in the body, as does starvation as the body begins to break down. It is this that appears to soothe the brain and reduce seizures. Starving to soothe the brain is nothing new - just look at all those medieval anorexic saints and indeed those who fast for religious reasons now.

I'm sure there's a lot of truth in seeing low fat diets as a CAUSE of behaviour problems and general ill-health in children. It makes sense that a body which is designed to start life on breast milk which is a high fat food (and according to the link I just found via google one that increases in fat the longer the child is taking it) will not do well on dry bread and celery sticks. However for ME the fascinating hypothesis is that as restricting food is so "attractive" to sufferers of eating disorders, maybe they are using starvation as a (potentially fatal) type of self-medication for pre-existing brain problems. My daughter's "decision" to fast had little or nothing to do with body image and wanting to look like a catwalk model - it came after a very sensitive child became an even more sensitive adolescent and stopped eating when she was thwarted in love for the first time. As a way of numbing her feelings, restrictive eating worked. On the basis of this study, perhaps there's a good chemical brain reason why.

PS - I think she's on the same meds as you now Carrie and yet she's never had a diagnosis of epilepsy.

mary said...

I will pass on the info regarding fat and seizures. It's interesting that it made a difference for you Carrie.
The celiac connection is interesting as well. I tend to suspect allergies or sensitivity to something whenever there's an ache...like arthritis. The body has a wonderful ability to network within itself and become it's own enemy when it's not happy. I find that cream that's ultra pasteurized makes my hands hurt. I found another safe one for me and I still get cream in my coffee. If I didn't discover the culprit I'd assume I was developing arthritis. and I doubt a Dr. would have unraveled the mystery. We need to be our own detectives and teach our children to be the same.
I recall pointing out that fat was ESSENTIAL to having a healthy brain to my daughter too,Harriet. I suggested herbed olive oil as a bread dip or whatever she wanted. For some reason she was able to grasp the concept, as her brain was not her tummy (the part of her she was obsessed with) and she was fully aware that her mind was going off course. In fact fat is key in reclaiming life without an ED. So many parents allow for diet foods and foods without fat and that just doesn't bring a person back to earth the way a very small amount of fat each day will do. The BIG SCARE, fat, is not so bad after all.
Oh and Carrie, we were stealing the almonds out of a cereal for my famous homemade almond ice cream and discovered that if we threw the cereal on top it was awesome...gave it a tasty crunch and made it more like a toasted almond. Yummmm

BamaGal said...

The ketogenic diet has been around for a very long time. It was used exclusively back in the 30's and 40's for seizures in children. When it states that it mimics starvation, it means it requires the body to covert to using ketones as full not glucose. The brain functions better on a ketogenic, high fat, high cholesterol diet.

Many studies have been done on this. The ketogenic diet has also shown promise in treating Bipolar Disorder, Parkinson's, Alzheimer's for further info on the power of the ketogenic diet on the brain---read a book by a noted neurosurgeon, Dr Larry McCleary, The Brain Trust Program.

As for passing the Haagen Daaz, that won't work, the mega amount of carbs inhibits the beneficial production of ketones. A juicy rib-eye steak would be a better choice with it's saturated fat and cholesterol.

And before someone goes there--saturated fat and cholesterol are not bad for you. Saturated fat once inside the body turns into the same fat as olive oil.

The much-maligned saturated fats—which Americans are trying to avoid—are not the cause of our modern diseases. In fact, they play many important roles in the body chemistry:

Saturated fatty acids constitute at least 50% of the cell membranes. They are what gives our cells necessary stiffness and integrity.

They play a vital role in the health of our bones. For calcium to be effectively incorporated into the skeletal structure, at least 50% of the dietary fats should be saturated.

They lower Lp(a), a substance in the blood that indicates proneness to heart disease. They protect the liver from alcohol and other toxins, such as Tylenol.

They enhance the immune system.

They are needed for the proper utilization of essential fatty acids. Elongated omega-3 fatty acids are better retained in the tissues when the diet is rich in saturated fats.

Saturated 18-carbon stearic acid and 16-carbon palmitic acid are the preferred foods for the heart, which is why the fat around the heart muscle is highly saturated. The heart draws on this reserve of fat in times of stress.

Short- and medium-chain saturated fatty acids have important antimicrobial properties. They protect us against harmful microorganisms in the digestive tract.

The scientific evidence, honestly evaluated, does not support the assertion that "artery-clogging" saturated fats cause heart disease. Actually, evaluation of the fat in artery clogs reveals that only about 26% is saturated. The rest is unsaturated, of which more than half is polyunsaturated.

Another plus for the ketogenic diet ---it eliminates type 2 diabetes.

Another good book to read--Good Calories, Bad Calories.

Carrie Arnold said...

High levels of ketones are NOT good for you. That's why they freak out when diabetics (or ED patients) show up in the ER with ketones in their urine. It messes with the pH balance of your blood and can be fatal.

I include lots of fat in my diet, but NOT at the expense of any other carb or protein-rich foods. Your body needs fat, protein AND carbs. Period.

Harriet said...

One of the ways I knew my daughter was in very serious trouble was when her breath began to have the sour-sweet smell characteristic of ketosis. It was the same smell my cat took on as she was dying of kidney failure, and it scared the shit out of me.

Anonymous said...

Just a side note: HD's sticky toffee pudding flavor was developed by a nonemployee who won a contest; the process was featured either on the Food Network or on the Travel Channel.

observer said...

Carrie said:

"High levels of ketones are NOT good for you. That's why they freak out when diabetics (or ED patients) show up in the ER with ketones in their urine. It messes with the pH balance of your blood and can be fatal."

Uh, what is being feared is (diabetic) ketoacidosis, a potentially fatal condition which can be triggered by prolonged starvation (in a diabetic, the "too high" BG levels,ironically, are caused by starvation from not being able to utilize glucose properly). for which high ketone levels can be a sign.

Ketones are nothing to fear otherwise: The ketones themselves are simply a bi-product of fat metabolism for energy. In themselves--as long as they don't build up too much--their presence in the urine may well signify nothing more than someone has been burning fat to power the body and needs to eat more!

observer said...

I should rewrite my remark about diabetes and ketosis/diabetic ketoacidosis (posted the last comment too fast):

Diabetic ketoacidosis--and the high ketone levels (ketosis) that are a sign of the same--are the end result of the long-term starvation mode (for which high blood glucose levels are a sign) that is the long-term effect of the diabetic condition.

This starvation mode is the direct result of either the non-production of, or the inability to properly use, insulin. Therefore, the failure to treat the high BGs can start the cascade that starts out as ketones=normal starvation reaction and ends up as life-threatening diabetic ketoacidosis.

Now, the really important part:

Whether the diet is high fat or not is simply irrelevant. A low-fat diet may actually be the source of problems (including possible ketoacidosis) because humans simply cannot eat enough of a plant-heavy, low-animal-protein and low-staurated-fat diet over the long haul to provide sufficient calories to avoid burning fats for energy unless they become very inactive.