Medicine being a progressive forward-looking endeavour, it would seem highly unlikely that a ''folk remedy’’ from almost a century ago would have much to contribute to, say, the treatment of epilepsy in children. But it does.
In 1920, Dr Rawle Geyelin, a New York physician, presented a paper describing the case of the son of a friend with epilepsy of such severity that for the previous four years ''he has had several fits virtually every day’’.
His father had sought the opinion of numerous specialists to no avail, until he was advised to consult a naturopath, who put his son on a fast for 15 days. This was followed by a period of feeding, followed by another fast and so on. From the second day of this new regime he had not had a further convulsion.
The consequences of fasting include the breakdown of protein stores in the body to generate energy, resulting in a slight acidification of the blood known as ketosis. The same effect can also be induced by a (very) high-fat diet (butter, cream, meat) which doctors at the Mayo Clinic, inspired by Dr Geyelin’s report, adopted – reporting the results in the American Journal of the Diseases of Childhood the next year: “Ten children are currently free from convulsions and a further four have shown a marked improvement.”