Ketogenic Diet and Mental Health

Today, there’s a massive awareness towards food and healthy living in general. Everyone’s now conscious about their calorie intake, and the type of diet that will solve their health issues. In fact, statistics show that there’s a reduced intake of junk foods in the life of an average American. It is, therefore, no surprise that there are different types of diets, each with its own benefits.

Diets like DASH, Vegan, and Ketogenic diet, are proven to provide lots of benefits to our body system. However, in terms of overall health benefits, the Ketogenic diet stands in a class of its own. The Ketogenic diet is the new rave for solving a lot of health issues while using less medication.

By forcing the body to use fat as its primary source of energy, this diet changes the cellular composition of the body, and thus, reduces health disorders like excessive weight gain and mental issues. Before we go into the relationship between Ketogenic diets and mental health issues, it’s better to get acquainted with the mechanism of the diet.

What is the Ketogenic Diet?

Referred to as a low carb diet, Ketogenic diet involves the consumption of only high fat-containing foods like meat, fish, and cheese, in order to solve a lot of health issues like weight loss, and some mental disorders. Yes, this might sound strange for most first-timers to this topic. Ketogenic diet aims at changing the body’s primary source of energy from glucose to fats.

What to Eat on a Ketogenic Diet?

The type of food you eat in a Ketogenic diet determines how fast you’ll get into a Ketogenic state. With this diet, it’s best to limit the intake of carbohydrates, especially processed carb products like wheat, flour, pasta, cereals, potatoes, and legumes. You’ll want to limit your carb intake to only vegetables, nuts, and dairy. You can also consume fruits like avocados, berries, and Star fruits in moderation. Keto Diet Foods include:

  • Meats – fish, beef, lamb, poultry, eggs, etc.
  • Leafy Greens – kale, spinach etc.
  • Vegetables – broccoli, celery etc.
  • Seeds and nuts- walnuts, macadamia nuts, sunflower seeds, peanuts etc.
  • Berries and avocadoes- blackberries, raspberries, and other low-carb berries
  • High Fat Dairy – high fat cream, milk, and butter.
  • Sweeteners – stevia, monk fruit, erythritol, etc.
  • Other fats – high-fat salad dressing, shea butter, and saturated fats.

Why the Ketogenic Diet?

In the last two decades, there’s been a massive increase in the consumption of foods filled with unnecessary high carbs. These foods increases the levels of glucose in the body. An increased level of glucose in the body, increases the chances of diabetes, Parkinson disease, High Blood Sugar Levels, Obesity, Heart Disease, Polycystic Ovary Syndrome, Fatty Liver Disease, Cancer, and Migraines. Most of the aforementioned disorders are brought about by the presence of free radicals in glucose.

These free radicals disrupt regulatory hormones, and neurotransmitters like GABA (gamma-aminobutyric acid). To curb and prevent all these disorders, it’s important to change the body’s primary source of energy from glucose to fatty acids. Ketogenic diets helps to reduce cases of inflammation, and cell death which is common with high glucose consumption. In other words, your cells heals and build-up faster with this diet.

Furthermore, fatty acids contains less free radicals than glucose, and provides a more efficient energy source. Besides most of our brain tissues are made up of fatty acids, and it’s only logical that it refueled by a similar chemical constituent.

How The Ketogenic Diets works?

When you consume a normal balanced diet, the body converts the carbohydrate portion of the food to glucose, and stores the fatty portion. This leads to a build-up of fats in the body, and it’s the cause of many weight gain problems. Yes, this diet is devoid of any carbohydrate, and it aims at driving the body to reach ketosis ( the state at which the body depends solely on fat for metabolism).

Ketosis involves putting the body in a state of starvation, whereby the body is forced to adopt fatty acids as the main source of energy. Fatty acids are a more efficient energy source than glucose, since they contain less free radicals. Additionally, fat-containing foods help to alleviate type II diabetes in the body by reducing the production of insulin. Hence, this diet is a perfect fit for those with weight loss issues and diabetes.

Most importantly, scientists have discovered a relationship between Ketogenic diets and brain functions. This relationship was used to reduce epilepsy episodes in patients in 1920s. It was only until the last decade that more benefits of Ketogenic diets were discovered. What’s more?; neurologists have been able to use ketosis to solve and reduce the occurrence of some mental issues. In fact, neurologists and psychiatrists have long used ketogenic diets to solve mental disorders in patients.

Benefits of a Ketogenic Diet

Low carb diets are a controversial issue in most health-conscious circles. This is due to the prejudice by fat-phobic health enthusiasts. Many believe that a fat-rich diet will cause heart diseases and increase the cholesterol levels. However, times are changing, and there are now human tests to back up the claims of Ketogenic diets. With recent studies, there’s more than enough proof to show that high-fat diets are more beneficial than low-fat diets.

Benefits of Ketogenic diets to man includes the following; reduced cholesterol Ievels, reduction in appetite, weight loss, more efficient metabolism, increased energy, reduction of insulin levels, and increase in mental functions. However, for this article, we’ll take a look at the benefits and the relationship between Ketogenic diets and mental health.

Ketogenic Diet and Mental health

Mental health includes our physiological, social, and economic well-being. It dictates how we think, act, and make decisions. However, our mental health becomes compromised due to the presence of free radicals produced by glucose in high carb diets. To curb this, we adopt a predominant fat and protein-rich diet to curb the flow of the free radicals in the brain. Hence, we improve our mental health.

How does Ketogenic Diet Improve Mental Health?

Ketogenic diet shows great potential in improving mood, and research shows that these diets affect the brain in a number of positive ways.

1. Increases Brain Functions

Do you know that your diet is one of the major causes of your brain fog, poor mental performance, and lack of productivity?

Yes, the typical western diet is deficient in some many ways; it lacks the necessary fatty acids. Fatty acids are not produced by the body, and it can only be obtain via foods. Without these essential nutrients, the body and mental health takes a drop in efficiency.

It is, therefore, no surprise that this diet is used to treat neuro-degenerative diseases like epilepsy, Parkinson disease, and other age-related cognitive cognitive issues. In cases like this, the production of ketone bodies can serve as a backup energy source for the body.

Mind you, different studies have shown the effect of this diet on mental health. The fat-rich diet increases brain functions in so many ways;
During a study published by the American Diabetes Association, type 1 diabetics saw improved cognitive performance and preserved brain function during hypoglycemia after ingesting medium chain triglycerides (derived from coconut oil).

Those with Alzheimer’s have seen improved memory scores that might correlate with the amount of ketones levels present.

How does Ketogenic Diet increase and improve brain functions? Well, the answer to that is not far-fetched. Low carb diets benefit brain functions via its neuroprotective properties. Fatty acids like Omega-6 and Omega-3 are essential for brain function and health. Since we can produce these fatty acids, it’s a must to get them from our foods. However, getting the right ratio of Omega-3 and Omega-6, anywhere between 1:1 and 1:4 is essential for brain health. A benefit of the ketogenic diet is its use of fats that help maintain the proper balance of omega-3s to omega-6s. Examples of natural sources of Omega-3 and Omega-6 includes; coconut oil, olive oil, butter, avocados, animal fats, fish, eggs[2]

2. Reduces Oxidative Stress and Inflammation in the Brain

So many studies point to the fact that Ketogenic diets reduces oxidative stress and Inflammation in the body. Well, as you know that inflammation is caused by the abundance of oxygen in the brain tissues. Researchers believe that ketones reduces the levels of inflammation, and increase the energy supply to the brain. Furthermore, ketone diets are effective in treating seizures in people by increasing the levels of glutathione ( this protects us from oxidative stress).

3. Increases Focus

Ever experienced foggy brain? Foggy brain or lack of mental clarity is a major symptom of unbalanced diet. These symptoms usually includes the following;

  • Glutamate, a neurotransmitter that increases stimulation in the body and is vital for brain learning and functioning
  • GABA (gamma-aminobutyric acid), the prinicpal neurotransmitter in the body that reduces stimulation.
    Glutamate is involved any time you are thinking, talking or processing information. In fact, as intelligence increases, glutamate receptors on the cells also increase. But like anything in life, too much of this substance; glutamate doesn’t mean better. By all accounts, Glutamate should be able to transform into GABA, but sometimes the transformation doesn’t occur as well as it should.
  • Glutamate is responsible for majority of the brain’s synaptic connections. Therefore, the brain can over-process and there won’t be any GABA available to reduce stimulation. So, if your body contains much glutamate and not enough GABA, then you’ll likely experience foggy brain. Additionally, you’ll have decreased social behavior and increased anxiety.

Ketogenic diets provide the brain with a better source of energy, and allows it to efficiently process the extra glutamate into GABA.

So, by increasing the stimulation of GABA, ketones can then help reduce the amount of extra neurons and improve mental focus. What’s more?; this might even reduce anxiety disorders and stress.

4. Improves Memory

Memory decreases as age increases. However, you can stop the decline of a perfect recollection by adopting Ketogenic diets. ketone bodies may reduce free radicals in the brain. This is by increasing the energy levels and efficiency of the mitochondria, which creates energy for the body’s cells. Yes, this diet can help produce new mitochondria and increase the level of ATP in your brain’s memory cells.

A perfect example of this effect was shown during a rat study in which the test subjects were given a diet of mostly ketones. Those fed on ketones performed better in cognitive and physical tests than those fed a high-carb diet or typical Western diet.

Ketogenic Diet and It’s Effect on Different Types of Mental Health Issues

As mentioned earlier, Ketogenic diets have been used since 1920 to reduce the occurrence of epilepsy and seizures in patients. In fact, it’s a better alternative to majority of the new anti-convulsing drugs.

What’s more; it comes with zero to none side effect. It was only until the last decade that psychiatrists and neurologists began to use this diet for a whole lot of mental health issues like depression, bipolar disorders, Alzheimer’s, Parkinson, and Schizophrenia.

1. Bipolar disorder

There are more than 5 million cases of bipolar disorders in the US alone. This disorder is accompanied by periods of depression low and manic high. Sadly enough, it’s incurable. However, there are drugs that can alleviate the symptoms and reduce the occurrence. Most of the drugs used for this disorder, come with side effects that might impede the daily activities of the user. Many of the drugs used for bipolar disorders have anti-seizure properties, which has established a link between high-fat, low-carb diet and its effects on the brain.
There’s not much data supporting the use of a ketogenic diet as a treatment for mental disorders like bipolar, but there are nonetheless a few clinical cases which have shown promise.
For example, a 2013 paper showed that two women with type II bipolar disorder, who went on a ketogenic diet for over two years, both achieved better mood stabilization with the diet than with medication.

2. Schizophrenia

Probably one of the most common mental health issues, this disorder causes hallucinations and paranoia. What’s more?; it affects the way people think, act, and feel, and this makes it much more dangerous than others. Besides medication, low carbohydrate diets and ketogenic diets have been shown to reduce symptoms of schizophrenia in animal studies. Furthermore, there’s been some small scale human testing.

With Ketogenic diet, affected individuals can effectively manage schizophrenia via all the different mechanisms of action mentioned earlier, especially via the increase in GABA levels in the brain, and by substituting glucose as the primary source of energy.

3. Dementia

This term is used to describe a whole range of mental illness that involves loss of memory, and other mental dysfunction severe enough to disrupt daily activities. Today, studies have shown that higher levels of ketones in the body may help with mild cognitive impairment (MCI); condition that makes someone more susceptible to develop dementia. One cause of mild cognitive impairment (MCI) is a high level of inflammation in the brain that comes from the build-up of amyloid plaques, similar to those found in Alzheimer’s disease.

More studies have shown us that keeping a strict ketogenic diet may be beneficial for reducing the formation of these inflammation and plaques. Although further research will be needed to confirm this claim.

4. Depression

Depression, perhaps, is the most common mental issue today. There are over 100 million cases of depression reported per year. This disorder comes in different forms; from rare episodes to recurrent ones. It is usually treatable by medical practitioners via the aid of anti-depressants. However, anti-depressants come with a lot of side effects.

Ketogenic diets stand as an alternative to the use of anti-depressants since they come with no side effects. Recent studies in animal test subjects have proved that there may be a case for the use of a ketogenic diet in treating depression. Although the mechanism of action of the diet is still unclear in most studies and research.

There’s a popular thought that the ketogenic diet has similar effects to antidepressant drugs. However, further studies are needed in human test subjects to confirm it.

5. Epilepsy

Perhaps, one of the most popular use for Ketogenic diet in mental health. This practice started in the 20’s . It was first used to treat epilepsy in children that were not responding to medication. In a test study, about 150 children suffering from frequent bouts of epilepsy were placed on Ketogenic diet. Over half of the children experienced a 50 percent reduction in seizures.

Ketogenic diets have long enjoyed a place in psychiatry and neurology. Since the early 20th century, there’s been major accomplishments in treating some mental issues with Ketogenic diets. However, there’s still insufficient testing and correlation between the acquired result and these treatments.

Ketogenic diets have proven to be an effective treatment method for difficult-to-control seizures in children. Additionally, the diet is recommended for children with severe reactions to the side effects of anti-convulsion drugs.

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