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Ketogenic Diet Raises Cholesterol in Kids

Findings Could Have Implications for All Who Eat Very High-Fat Diets

New Findings

In the latest study, researchers measured cholesterol and triglyceride levels among 141 children accepted into the Johns Hopkins ketogenic diet program. The average age of the children was 4, and all had frequent epileptic seizures that could not be controlled with medication.

After six months on the diet, the children's average total cholesterol level skyrocketed to 232 -- well above normal. Overall, more than 60% of them had high total cholesterol.

Average LDL "bad" cholesterol increased to levels almost 20 points above normal, and triglyceride levels also exceeded normal levels.

When the children were followed for 12 to 24 months on the ketogenic diet, average total and LDL cholesterol levels decreased slightly but still remained high. At the 24-month cutoff, triglyceride levels were not significantly different than before the ketogenic diet was started.

Weighing the Risks and Benefits

Epilepsy specialist Gregory L. Barkley, MD, says the findings confirm what has been suspected for some time but they are unlikely to change clinical practice.

"This is something that physicians will want to include in their discussion about the risks and benefits of this particular treatment," the director of Detroit's Henry Ford Comprehensive Epilepsy Program tells WebMD. "But we know that uncontrolled seizures carry all kinds of risks. This remains a useful treatment. But like many treatments, it is not without risks."

What Does This Mean for Atkins?

The Atkins diet and other wildly popular low-carbohydrate eating plans represent somewhat less restrictive versions of the ketogenic diet. Recent studies have found that people who are losing weight on these diets typically see reductions in cholesterol and lipid levels.

But Kwiterovich says his results suggest that following these diets long term, in the absence of weight loss, may be dangerous.

"It is very possible that staying on an Atkin's-type diet for maintenance once weight stabilizes will cause an increase in cholesterol ... even though the same diet can lead to reductions while weight loss is going on," he says.

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