Dietary Treatment Program
If your child suffers from inborn errors of carbohydrate metabolism or epilepsy that can’t be controlled with medication, he or she may benefit from a medically prescribed diet. There are currently several diets proven to change the body’s chemistry in ways that help control seizures.
Undergoing a dietary treatment for seizures requires close medical supervision and a high level of support. The Dietary Treatment Program is part of CHOP's Neuroscience Center. Our experienced team is dedicated to helping your family incorporate these nutritional and dietary treatments into your child’s seizure management plan.
Our program is currently one of the largest of its kind in the world. More than 170 children are actively enrolled in our program and 40 to 50 new children and adolescents begin treatment each year. Two-thirds of the children in our program have seen a 50% decline in seizures, while 15%-20% have become seizure-free.
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The diets we offer can help treat children with various conditions, including:
- Pyruvate dehydrogenase deficiency
- Glucose transporter type 1 deficiency
- Some mitochondrial disorders
The dietary treatments we offer include:
- Classical ketogenic diet: The ketogenic diet is very high in fat — about 90% of calories come from fat, 7% from protein and 3% from carbohydrates. Your child’s meals are weighed to the tenth of a gram, and they will consume an exact number of calories in this strictly controlled diet. To begin this treatment, your child will require a five-day stay in the hospital, so we can monitor them and teach your family how to manage the diet.
- Modified ketogenic diet (also known as the modified Atkins diet): This treatment is less strict than the classical ketogenic diet. Your child will eat unlimited fats and moderate amounts of proteins, and restrict carbohydrate consumption to 10 to 15 grams per day of net carbohydrates (net carbohydrates= total carbohydrates-fiber). Meals are not weighed, but calories are counted. Your child will start this diet as an outpatient.
- Low glycemic index treatment (LGIT): On this diet, your child will monitor their intake of carbohydrates. Total daily carbohydrate allowance is more liberal than the other diets, typically in the 40 to 60 gram/day range, but only carbohydrates that have a low glycemic index are allowed. As with the other diets, your child will be encouraged to eat foods high in fat. This diet also begins with an outpatient visit.
When your child is admitted into the program, your family will meet with a team made up of a neurologist, nurse, dietitian and social worker who will work closely with you throughout your child’s treatment. Our team will teach you and your child the skills needed to manage your child’s nutrition at home. We will also provide you with recipes, and you will practice preparing meals in our Keto Kitchen, the first ketogenic diet teaching kitchen in the nation.
Our team is actively involved in research related to the use of dietary treatments with a focus on improving implementation practices, understanding and minimizing side effects of these diets, finding predictors of response, and addressing quality of life issues. We are actively participating in translational research related to how the diet stops seizures and how to improve seizure control. We are also studying the use of dietary therapies in other areas such as autism, pain, cancer and more.
The Dietary Treatment Program team is led by pediatric neurologist Christina Bergqvist, MD, and includes registered dietitians, nurses and social workers. Everyone on your child’s healthcare team is an expert in dietary treatments of neurologic and metabolic disorders. Dr. Bergqvist herself has started more than 600 children on dietary therapies.