Ketogenic Diet

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Diets and Moods

Evidence for the importance of diet for mental health is slowly gathering.  People are looking into the importance of specific diets like the Mediterranean diet, which we have highlighted here before.  And the next big area of research into diet and mental health looks like being the ketogenic diet.

Many people have heard of the Atkins diet, which was an early entry in the field, and now there are several variants of what is also sometimes called the Low-Carb High-Fat (LCHF) diet.  Focusing meal plans around meat, fish, eggs, dairy products and non-starchy vegetables, and avoiding sugar, food grains and vegetable (or “seed”) oils, the LCHF diet at first glance seems to go contrary to what we thought we knew about dieting.

The ketogenic diet aims to induce a state of ketosis in the body, where you burn fat for energy instead of carbohydrates, which is more usual.  Ketosis can be a tough adjustment for the body, and it is recommended that anyone attempting a full or “classic” ketogenic diet do so under the care of a trained health care provider.  Especially if you are on any kind of medications, either for mental or behavioral health or for metabolic syndrome (blood pressure, cholesterol and blood sugar), you should consult with your prescriber(s) to be sure that the levels of medication in your system continue to be optimum while undergoing potential adjustments related to dietary changes.

Does the ketogenic diet help with mood swings, bipolar and/or major depression?  The jury is still out as far as hard evidence is concerned, but there are some hopeful signs that more research could bring useable results within a few years.  There are enough case studies and anecdotal evidence to show that the road ahead may include robust dietary recommendations for many mental illnesses.

Our Experiences with Ketogenic Diets

Our own experience is that ketogenic diets generally have an antidepressant effect, but may not have a mood stabilizing effect. Indeed, a few of our patients have developed hypomania while on the first phase of the Atkins.

What Does the Data Support?

Regardless of whether you choose to follow a named diet, we can safely recommend that you try to move away from a typical “modern” diet with lots of refined flours, sugars, and vegetable fats, especially tropical fats like palm and coconut oils.  Vegetables and lean meats and fish are healthier foods than many fast foods and convenience options.  Reducing reliance on sweets, pastries and fried foods can give anyone’s mood a boost and the long-term effects are clear, for both physical and mental health.

The Mediterranean diet is the diet that has been the best studied, and the evidence seems clear that it improves health and mental health in a number of ways. It focuses on reducing sweets and pastries, fried foods, and meat, and increasing consumption of legumes (beans), vegetables, fruits, whole grains and fish.

The new field of neurometabolic research is looking into the effects of diet and other metabolic health interventions on neurological disorders like bipolar, depression, anxiety, ADHD and others.  Research focused on the benefits of carbohydrate-restricted ketogenic diet therapies for improving mental health outcomes is now being undertaken at several major research institutions, including…

  • James Cook University
  • The Ohio State University
  • Stanford University
  • University of California, San Francisco
  • University of Edinburgh

We look forward to learning more as these important studies begin to produce results!