The benefits of the ketogenic diet for mental health
Today I will be discussing one of the primary ways I have improved my mental health - through the ketogenic diet. This post will be a brief overview of the principal ways that the ketogenic diet can improve mental health, which I plan to discuss further in future posts.
The Ketogenic diet is effective at maintaining optimum mental health and has the ability to improve and resolve mental and cognitive disorders such as depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder and Alzheimer's.
To begin, the ketogenic diet is very anti-inflammatory. Inflammation is a major cause of many of the symptoms of mental disorders, depression in particular seems to have a strong link to inflammation in the body (1). The ketogenic diet is anti-inflammatory primarily due to the fact that it eliminates most sources of inflammatory foods - such as sugar, refined carbohydrates and vegetable oils. It also eliminates problematic foods which commonly lead to inflammation such as gluten. The foods that are eaten on a ketogenic diet are generally quite anti-inflammatory - such as salmon and leafy green vegetables. In a state of ketosis, anti-inflammatory pathways are also activated and pro-inflammatory pathways are inhibited. Ketosis also mimics a state of fasting, which is inherently anti-inflammatory as it induces detoxification and autophagy, which is also controls inflammation through regulatory interactions with immune signaling pathways (2). Which is why the ketogenic can resolve depressive symptoms as it decreases inflammation through various mechanisms as mentioned previously.
The Ketogenic diet can improve the symptoms of Alzheimer's disease, as Alzheimer's is thought to be caused by an impaired glucose metabolism and mitochondrial dysfunction (3) - some even call Alzheimer's "Type 3 diabetes" as the complications of type two diabetes can lead to Alzheimer's. So when the brain is provided with an alternative form of fuel, such as ketones which are produced in a state of ketosis as the body is no longer running off of glucose, the cells have an alternative source of fuel which they can effectively run on, therefore improving the symptoms of Alzheimer's. I believe that Alzheimer's can even be prevented by consuming a diet low in carbohydrates, especially sugar and refined carbohydrates as these are very damaging to the brain and body and lead to an impaired glucose metabolism.
Mood can also be stabilized on the ketogenic diet through stabilizing blood sugar due to the lack of sugar and grains in the ketogenic diet. Blood sugar fluctuations can cause anxiety, depression and ADHD symptoms. Blood sugar dysregulation is most often a result of the "standard american diet" which is full of refined carbohydrates, sugars, and grains - which are all horrific for your blood sugar and your mood. So eliminating these types of foods from your diet and replacing them with blood sugar stabilizing foods such as fats and proteins will work wonders for improving your mood.
Additionally, the ketogenic diet favors the conversion of glutamate to GABA. GABA is a calming, inhibitory neurotransmitter which decreases anxiety and racing thoughts. Glutamate is a excitatory neurotransmitter which leads to neurotoxicity in excessive amounts, which also contributes to seizures. Glutamate has the potential of turning into aspartate which is excitatory and neurotoxic in high amounts (4). A potential cause of depression is excitoxicity and neurotoxicity, so in this case a ketogenic diet can be beneficial in reducing mood disorder symptoms induced by excitoxicity and neurotoxicity.
What is interesting is that the ketogenic diet was originally used to treat epilepsy, and modern day drugs used to treat epilepsy are also used to treat bipolar disorder, which signifies the disruption in brain chemistry that causes seizures also causes bipolar symptoms. Because a ketogenic diet is used to treat epilepsy, it is likely that it is an effective treatment for bipolar disorder as well - and even depression as bipolar disorder and depression have similarities.
The ketogenic diet can improve cognitive functioning in general. Many report greater mental clarity and focus on the ketogenic diet. This is likely due to ketones being a more efficient source of fuel for the brain, compared to glucose, as well as the diet being high in saturated fats and omega 3 fatty acids, which are essential for proper brain functioning. Improved cognitive function on the ketogenic is also likely a result of eliminating foods known to cause brain fog, such as gluten and sugar.