To Your Health

Out of the blue my eight-month-old son has begun having seizures. We thought he was going to die, but thankfully, DilantinTM has stopped the seizures. What is causing this, and is there anything else I can do to control them?

Q: Out of the blue my eight-month-old son has begun having seizures. We thought he was going to die, but thankfully, DilantinTM has stopped the seizures. What is causing this, and is there anything else I can do to control them?

A: Seizures, which are basically unregulated nerve activity in the brain, may result from brain injury, but about 80% of the time the cause is not known. Seizures in infants and children sometimes stop as mysteriously as they start. If your son remains free of seizures for a few months, your physician may be able to safely take your son off the DilantinTM. Seizures are frightening, and in some instances life-threatening, but can usually be controlled with medication.

Nerve impulses in the brain depend on chemical messengers called neurotransmitters. There are dozens of neurotransmitters that excite nerve cells but only four that "cool off" nerve activity. These are taurine, serotonin, glycine, and GABA (gamma amino butyric acid). Of these, taurine seems the most likely to help your son.

Infants, unlike most adults, require taurine in their diet. Breast milk has much more taurine than cow's milk formulas do, and when an infant is weaned from breast to bottle the amount of taurine will diminish quite a bit. It is safe to supplement with taurine unless a person has suffered kidney damage, and even an infant can use 500 milligrams per day. It is one of the few amino acids that works better when it is supplemented at mealtimes. This is an advantage when it is given to infants because it doesn't taste very good. If you use it, mix it with a flavorful food such as applesauce.

The physician who prescribed DilantinTM is no doubt aware of its side effects and may choose another product if long-term anticonvulsant medication is needed. DilantinTM, more than other anticonvulsants, tends to reduce folic acid absorption and a supplement of folic acid would be helpful if it is going to be used for a long time. Other nutrients that should be considered, and supplemented if needed, include biotin, vitamin E, vitamin B12, and vitamin D.

Before anticonvulsant medications were available in the 1950s, a special diet called the ketogenic diet was found to reduce seizures, especially in children. It is very high in fat and low in carbohydrates and protein, and requires the supervision of a knowledgeable health care provider. The ketogenic diet purposely induces high blood levels of ketones, a product of incomplete fat metabolism. It reduces or eliminates seizures in about half the children who use it, but since it is deficient in many vitamins and minerals, food supplements are required.

The ketogenic diet may work because it changes the way the liver uses fatty acids or because it provides a higher amount of the essential fatty acids that are so abundant in the brain.

At their worst, seizures can be life threatening, but there is hope that your son has a more limited condition.

Q: Are nuts like walnuts and pecans bad for me?

A: Nuts can definitely be part of a balanced diet; research indicates that five ounces per week reduces your risk of heart disease. The Mediterranean Diet, which contains generous amounts of walnuts and walnut oil, seems generally superior to the American diet when it comes to heart health. The Mediterranean Diet is also higher in omega-9 fatty acids (from olives and avocados) and is lower in omega-6 essential fatty acids. The American diet already supplies too much of the omega-6 essential fatty acids relative to the omega-3 fatty acids in nuts. Keep in mind that peanuts are not nuts and supply fatty acids in the omega-6 family.

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