It is estimated that more than 280 million globally suffer from depressive illness and that 85 million are affected by serious psychotic and bipolar mood illnesses.1 Sadly, mental health illnesses are often accompanied by metabolic health issues, with obesity, hyperglycemia (ie, high blood glucose levels), and hypertriglyceridemia (ie, increased levels of triglycerides) being common among those with bipolar disorder and schizophrenia.
What Does Current Research Say?
Currently, no strong evidence exists to enthusiastically support the use of ketogenic diet – a diet consisting of very low amounts of carbohydrate and high amounts of fat – for improving mental health.2,3 However, researchers are beginning to find that the ketogenic diet may have beneficial effects on both metabolic health and mental health.1,4 A few case studies have demonstrated that the diet may improve depression, anxiety, and schizophrenic symptoms.5,6 In particular, a recent study published in 2022 is worth discussing in detail.1 A small group of individuals (n=31) with poorly controlled severe mental illnesses such as major depressive disorder, schizoaffective disorder, and bipolar disorder were placed on a strict ketogenic diet in a psychiatric hospital setting. The intervention lasted anywhere from 6-248 days, and a retrospective analysis found that depression and psychosis symptoms were significantly improved and that the frequency and/or dosage of antipsychotic as well as other medications were reduced. In addition to mental health benefits, significant improvements in measures of metabolic health were seen, including reductions in weight, blood glucose, blood pressure, and triglyceride levels. The study concluded that the ketogenic diet is a well-tolerated diet that may benefit patients suffering from depression and psychosis.
How Does Ketogenic Diet Improve Mental Health?
Although more research is needed, it is currently hypothesized that the ketogenic diet’s beneficial effects on inflammation, insulin resistance, hyperinsulinemia (ie, increased levels of insulin), and impaired glucose metabolism – features commonly found in individuals with depression and/or psychosis – may play a role in improving mental health.1,5 In addition, the diet may increase supplies of neurotransmitters, improve neuroplasticity, and stabilize abnormal signaling pathways and imbalances in molecules, contributing to improved neurotransmission in the brain.1,5,7
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