It’s no secret that the ketogenic diet is here to stay. This low carb, high fat diet has been shown to produce a wide variety of different benefits, one of them being improvements in overall mental function and health.
While this high fat, low carb diet has gotten publicity for its epic weight loss success stories, it’s shown to significantly improve cognitive health and function as well.
After all, the ketogenic diet first became popular in the late 1920’s due to its ability to dramatically reduce seizure activity in epileptic patients.
But more and more research is coming out to show just how much potential the ketogenic diet has against fighting different mental health issues.
The Ketogenic Diet
The keto diet is a diet consisting of high fat, moderate protein, and low carb intake.
An individual following a standard keto diet will typically consume between 20-50 grams of net carbs per day (and often times much less).
The body’s first preferred fuel source is carbs. But when it’s deprived of those carbs, it looks to its second source of energy — fat.
Forcing your body to rely on fat instead of carbs will allow you to enter a state of ketosis. Once in ketosis, your body will start to burn its own fat, which in turn produces ketone bodies.
These ketone bodies replace the role of glucose.
There are countless weight loss success stories about the keto diet. This low carb, high fat diet has been a successful weight loss technique for many people, but the benefits don’t stop there.
Keto and Mental Health
Mental illnesses cover a wide range of symptoms and disorders. The symptoms of these illnesses can be subtle and hard to diagnose to completely debilitating, making daily functions almost impossible.
Some of the most common illnesses we hear about today include mood disorders such as:
- bipolar disorder
- and other illnesses such as ADHD, Alzheimer’s disease, and schizophrenia
More and more research is beginning to come out showing the association between mental disorders and a poorly functioning digestive system.
But how so?
One way is the relationship between your gut and brain.
What’s Your Gut Telling You?
One way your diet may affect your cognitive health is through your gut. Your gut is coated with many healthy bacteria. The bacteria in your gut plays a few major key roles, including:
- Protecting the lining of your intestinal tract
- Help your gut digest and take in nutrients
- Acts as a barrier against harmful bacteria
Your gut contains 500 million neurons which are connected to your brain through your central nervous system (CNS). (1)
The vagus nerve is responsible for connecting your gut and brain, sending connections to both. (2)
Surprisingly, this fact is still often overlooked when individuals are diagnosed with various illnesses and disorders.
The truth is,
what you feed your body plays a key role in how your brain and body function. This is why many are beginning to look to the keto diet for answers.
However, it’s not just the gut that the keto diet plays a role in.
The different drugs associated with the treatment of various mental disorders often come with unfortunate side effects wIthout ever really fighting the root cause of the disorder.
Switching to a low carb, high fat keto diet may be a natural solution for the millions of people suffering from a mental illness or disorder.
Most of us either know someone or have experienced for ourselves the symptoms of anxiety, depression or other disorders.
Some symptoms of anxiety include:
- muscle tension
- high blood pressure
- digestive issues
The symptoms of depression include:
- loss of interest in normal activities
- feelings of being worthless or hopeless
- loss of sex drive
- thoughts of suicide
- changes in appetite and digestive issues
While more research is needed in order to allow doctors to start prescribing the keto diet as a type of treatment for psychiatric disorders, it may be sooner than we think.
Several studies have been conducted showing that while the ketogenic diet was initially used for weight loss, subjects reported dramatic cognitive improvements. (3)
The ketogenic diet has been thought to help reduce fatigue by simply controlling levels of blood sugar, but that’s not all. One review noted that there were improvements in disorders including anxiety, depression and bipolar disorder.
This may be due to the changes in the different neurotransmitters while on the diet. (4)
Another paper called The Current Status of the Ketogenic Diet in Psychiatry published in Frontiers of Psychiatry reviewed particular case studies where the keto diet showed improvements in the subjects cognitive health. (5)
While this review isn’t enough to consider the keto diet as a proven treatment for mental disorders, it does include some significant results.
One study mentioned a schizophrenic woman in her 70’s who saw her hallucinations (which she had been experiencing since she was seven) completely disappear.
Two other women who were diagnosed with bipolar disorder saw a significant increase in stability of overall mood. They even found the diets (in which they were following for 2 to 3 years) more effective in reducing their symptoms than prescribed psychiatric drugs.
While there may be limited research thus far on humans following a ketogenic diet, there are plenty of studies which involve animals following high fat, low carb diet.
One study published in 2016 examined the effects of exogenous ketones and their effect on rats and their anxiety-related behaviors.
A similar study was conducted, but with pregnant mice. Interestingly enough, feeding a pregnant mouse a ketogenic diet showed lower risk for anxious or depressive behavior in their offspring. (7)
By now we know that the food you put into your body is a direct correlation to your health.
While there is some research out there today making a strong point to follow a keto diet to better your mental health, more research needs to be done.