How the Ketogenic Diet Helps Elevate Mood and Fight Depression

Millions of people struggle with depression and other mood disorders. Although there are a variety of medications and therapies, these can have side effects and are often not effective. As a result, many are looking for lifestyle changes that can help them to resolve their mental health issues. According to new research, the keto diet benefits mental health and can help people to achieve the happiness, energy, and clear thinking that they are seeking.

What Is the Ketogenic Diet?

The keto diet is a kind of very low carb diet that allows just 20 net carbohydrates a day. It is rich in vegetables, healthy fats, and other nutrients with proven health benefits. The amount of protein allowed is moderate, so the body cannot use protein as a supply of blood glucose.  If this is confusing, you can calculate what you should eat on a keto diet here.

One of the main benefits of this kind of diet is the high ratio of healthy fats and oils. Certain types of fat have been found to improve brain function and offer a wide range of other health benefits.

When you do not eat ample amounts of carbs, your body begins to run low on them. Instead of using sugar stores, it then begins to break down fat as an energy source. This not only helps you to lose weight but can have a variety of health benefits. The process of metabolizing fat as a primary energy source causes the release of ketones, which is called ketosis. This diet has been found to have a variety of health effects.

People who are on a keto diet have lower levels of insulin in their bloodstream as well as less insulin resistance, both of which can help to reduce the effects of type 2 diabetes and metabolic syndrome. In addition, this low insulin level may help to prevent certain types of cancer.

Low insulin levels and the presence of ketones in the blood can also be beneficial to the nervous system. A ketogenic diet has been used successfully for decades to reduce seizures and other ill effects in people with epilepsy. It also may help people with neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer disease, Parkinson disease, and ALS (Lou Gehrig’s disease). Brain cells actually prefer ketones as an energy source.

In addition to these health effects, the ketogenic diet may have several psychological benefits as well, including stabilizing mood and helping to alleviate the symptoms of depression.

How the Keto Diet Helps Stabilize Moods

Stabilizing mood can be one of the most difficult challenges for people who are seeking mental health. There are several medications that can reduce mood swings, but these often have unpleasant side effects.

Researchers have noted that keto improves mental health in people using it to treat epilepsy, particularly by stabilizing mood.  This makes sense on an intuitive level because anti-seizure drugs have long been used as a first-line medication in treating refractory bipolar disease.

In addition, ketosis induces effects similar to those of mood stabilizing medications. mood stabilizers often act by slowing neurons down, reducing membrane permeability to sodium ions. Ketosis has similar effects on the excitability of neurons, reducing the amount of sodium that passes through ion channels in the cell membrane. This suggests that it may have the same modulating effects on mood.

The research is limited in this area but so far seems promising. Ketosis appears to have the same effect on the brain as mood-stabilizing medications. In fact, a case study found that it is more effective than the popular drug Lamictal.

In addition, having high levels of ketones in the bloodstream can be helpful for anxiety, helping to reduce the severity of one’s symptoms.  Anxiety can definitely contribute to mood swings, so controlling anxiety may indeed improve mood stability.

How the Keto Diet Helps Depression

Depression is one of the most common mood disorders in the world, affecting millions of people. According to several recent studies, ketogenic diets may be helpful in treating this devastating mental illness.

Researchers often use animals to measure the effects of depression treatments using something called the Posolt model. This model measures the effects of depression on their behavior, such as fatigue and despair. This is done because animals cannot self-report their mood.

Rats that were fed ketogenic diets were found to be more active and to show less of the behaviors associated with depression. In fact, the effects of a ketogenic diet were similar to that of antidepressant medications.

Exactly how this works is unknown. Many researchers believe that depression is partially caused by overactivity in certain areas of the brain. Because ketosis is not a slow certain types of neuron all activity, this may be the mechanism underlying this treatment of depression.

In addition, blood sugar fluctuations are known to have a very negative impact on depression. Because ketogenic diets stop these wide fluctuations, they may be preventing the mood swings that come with them.

In addition, many people on a ketogenic diet find that they have more energy and generally feel better about life. Getting in shape and feeling healthier is always a boost to the mood.

Additional Mental Health Benefits

The ketogenic diet has also been studied as a treatment for several less common mental disorders. These include a wide range of illnesses from ADHD to Alzheimer’s disease.

Laboratory rats with ADHD were placed on a ketogenic diet in one trial. These rats showed a decrease in the hyperactivity that they formerly displayed. They also had an increase in their ability to pay attention to tasks. Last, they did not exhibit any of the increased anxiety or mental fog that is often seen with common adhd medications. The rats returned to their former activity level and behaviors as soon as they were placed back on a more traditional carbohydrate-rich diet.

Ketogenic diets are also being used experimentally as a treatment for Alzheimer’s disease. Several studies have noted that Alzheimer’s disease is linked with an inability to take up glucose into brain cells in elderly people. Supplying these brain cells with ketones offers an alternative source of fuel that they can burn more readily, which may reduce the effects of the disease. As a result, several studies are looking into using ketone treatments to both prevent Alzheimer’s disease and to reduce its symptoms.

The Bottom Line on Ketosis and Brain Health

Although there is still much to be learned about the effects of keto diets on mood, depression, and other brain function, the latest research is promising. We now know that you are what you eat not just figuratively but literally. We depend on a healthy diet to sustain a positive mood and good brain function for a lifetime.  If you would like to try the ketogenic diet to improve your mental health, check out some affordable meal plans for an easy way to try the diet.


Photo by Jill Wellington on Pixabay.