By Paula Walter
Its been said we are what we eat. Studies have shown how eating the right foods can keep us healthy and prevent diseases. The Internet lists a vast array of nutritious foods we should be eating such as black beans, kale, salmon, walnuts and blueberries that have been found to be beneficial for our health. Recent findings in the fight against epilepsy have shown that eating foods very high in fat and low in carbohydrates have made a significant difference in the lives of some who have become resistant to the very drugs that were designed to decrease or halt seizures.
Xavier has just turned three years old. For nearly all of his young life, he has been experiencing what is known as absence seizures or petit mal seizures. They often go unnoticed. You may notice his eyes flutter a bit, or he briefly halts in his play as he stumbles just a little bit to catch his balance. His particular type of seizures may occur up to 100 times a day. Until recently, Xaviers parents witnessed about 40 per day.
Approximately 30 percent of people are not able to control their epilepsy with medications. Xavier had worked his way up to four different medications taken on a daily basis. They would seem to work for just a little while, but it wasnt long before he grew resistant to the medication and the seizures would begin to increase again. According to his neurologist, Xavier has what is known as intractable seizures, meaning they are resistant to any medications. Desperate for help for their child and on the recommendation of Xaviers neurologist, his parents decided to try a modified Atkins diet that has shown success in other patients with epilepsy.
Xavier is currently only allowed 10 grams of carbohydrates a day. It is a modified version of the once famous Atkins diet where the amount of carbohydrates is very limited. There are no calorie restrictions. He is able to eat protein and large amounts of fat in his diet. Approximately 65 percent of his diet is comprised of fat that comes from cheese, butter, eggs, cream and even meats with high fat content, such as hamburger. The regime must be followed very closely in order to reduce his seizures. A typical meal for him might be chicken fried with some diced up bacon, butter, and a little tomato, onion and maybe a little zucchini or broccoli, said Julie Chapa, Xaviers mother. My husband gets very creative and is always trying new combinations of meat, fat and low-carb vegetables so that Xavier doesnt get bored. Chapa recognizes that the diet is not balanced and supplements are part of Xaviers routine.
The entire family eats the same foods as Xavier does for their shared meals. Every morning Chapa packs a special lunch for him that he takes to school, as he cant deviate from the special diet. Initially, he would protest his new diet and refused to eat as he was craving carbohydrates, but eventually gave in when no other food alternatives were offered. We had to wean him of the carbs, said Chapa. Although he has adapted for the most part to the low-carbohydrate diet, Xaviers parents get reports from time to time from his teacher that their son confiscated another students cookies.
The diet has been shown to reduce seizures by to 90 percent in many patients. We were amazed, said Chapa. A few days on the diet and his seizure count dropped from around 40 per day to maybe one or two. The diet did what no other high-priced seizure medication could. It makes us wonder why our doctor didnt suggest the modified Atkins diet before we tried all those medications. Not only has the number of seizures Xavier experiences decreased, but also the length of the episode has dropped from 30 seconds to approximately 10 seconds. Its hard to quantify exactly since its easy to miss a seizure, Chapa reported. They dont last long and hes always on the move being a busy three-year-old.
Not only does Xavier suffer from seizures, but also he has some significant developmental delays. While he sat up, crawled and walked all on schedule, he has yet to begin to talk. Communication for him consists of pointing, gesturing and often shrieks when he becomes frustrated. As his seizures have diminished, his parents have noticed he seems to comprehend a bit more of what is happening around him. Xavier recently went to the store with his father and happened across a machine full of small toys where you can control the handle to grab a prize. Standing next to his father, he patted his pocket, looking for money so he could have a turn at trying to retrieve one of the tempting toys inside the glass container. It sounds like something so simple for a three year old, but for Xavier, it was a milestone. He seems more alert, Chapa said. Its like he can finally think straight.
Nearly one-third of people with autism suffer from seizures. While an actual diagnosis hasnt been made yet, Xavier exhibits many symptoms in the autism spectrum. His delayed speech has been a great concern to his family as up to 40 percent of those with autism never speak. He is preoccupied with trains, wheels and has become addicted to games on his mothers Kindle Fire. Routines are very important to him and he shows some of the classic signs of autism with hand flapping and toe walking, especially when he is excited. He often avoids eye contact. Regardless of his limitations, Xavier will take your hand when he wants you to see something and lead you to it. He is beginning to learn some very basic sign language, and his teachers at school are working with him on a picture exchange communication system where he can convey what he wants to express. He is making leaps and bounds in that area, said Chapa. We havent seen a big jump in his verbal skills as we had hoped but he is attempting to communicate with us more, mostly through sign language.
The incidence of autism is on the rise. Since 2007, the chance of a child in the United States being diagnosed with some form of autism has risen 72 percent. One out of 50 children will receive an autism or autism spectrum disorder diagnosis. Previously one out of every 50 boys received an autism-related diagnosis. It has increased to one out of every 31 boys. In 2007, one in 204 girls were diagnosed as falling in the autism spectrum, and it has now increased to one in every 143 girls. The question begs if we have become better at diagnosing the associated disorders or if there is something happening in our environment and in what we eat that is playing havoc with the health of not only our children, but ourselves as well.
By Paula Walter