As researchers find out more about how diet significantly affects overall health, nutrition is taking an ever-larger role in the treatment of some diseases. In all modern hospitals, nutritionists work closely with clinical staff to coordinate patient diets with medical needs Certainly, it's been known for a long time that diabetes can be controlled through the proper regulation of blood sugar through diet (though the traditional focus on simple sugars has given way to a larger view that encompasses all carbohydrates).
Other conditions, such as celiac disease, a severe digestive reaction to fats that primarily affects young children, require special diets formulated by dietitians.
But now the diet/disease connection is reaching into areas not so obviously linked.For example,research has found that very-high-fat diets can be very effective in controlling seizures. Consequently, hospitals such as Shands Children's Hospital at the University of Florida in Gainesville have developed what are called "ketogenic" diets, in which more than 90 percent of calories are derived from fats. Bacon, whipped cream and butter are the staples of this diet.
Shands is one of the few U.S. hospitals specializing in ketogenic treatment, devoting one and a half dedicated dietitians to the program.
"The diet has a 70 percent general success rate in controlling seizures," says Lee Marlowe, RD, head pediatric dietitian."Apparently, those who suffer from this condition are missing a certain fat in their bodies, but by burning ketones, a dietary fat byproduct, for some reason—no one knows why—it helps control seizures," she explains.
Unfortunately, the regimen is highly restrictive."They literally can blow it simply by sticking their finger in some frosting and licking it off," Marlowe says. Still, for families struggling with children suffering from otherwise-uncontrollable seizures, the relatively simple treatment with diet can be a godsend.
Shands currently follows 40 to 50 children who have the disorder and are on the ketogenic regimen. It only accepts one or two new patients at a time so that they can get a lot of specific attention.