Keto diet improves mental health

The keto diet has been found to improve mental health. Picture: UNSPLASH

A groundbreaking study conducted by researchers at Stanford Medicine has unveiled the promising potential of the ketogenic diet in improving mental health conditions.

Published in Psychiatry Research on 27 March, the study sheds light on a novel approach to managing serious mental illnesses such as schizophrenia or bipolar disorder.

For individuals grappling with these conditions, standard treatment involving antipsychotic medications presents a complex dilemma.

While these drugs play a crucial role in regulating brain chemistry, they often trigger metabolic side effects such as insulin resistance and obesity. These adverse effects can be distressing enough to compel many patients to discontinue their medication regimen.

However, the Stanford-led pilot study has unveiled a beacon of hope. It reveals that not only does a ketogenic diet restore metabolic health in patients continuing their medications, but it also significantly enhances their psychiatric well-being.

Dr. Shebani Sethi, associate professor of psychiatry and behavioural sciences and the lead author of the study said the ketogenic diet has been proven to be effective for treatment-resistant epileptic seizures by reducing the excitability of neurones in the brain and it would be worth exploring this treatment in psychiatric conditions.

“It’s very promising and very encouraging that you can take back control of your illness in some way, aside from the usual standard of care,“ Dr. Sethi said.

Dr. Sethi highlighted the growing body of evidence suggesting that psychiatric disorders like schizophrenia and bipolar disorder may stem from metabolic deficits in the brain, impacting neuronal excitability.

During the four-month pilot trial, the research team monitored 21 adult participants diagnosed with schizophrenia or bipolar disorder. These individuals were concurrently taking antipsychotic medications and exhibited metabolic abnormalities such as weight gain, insulin resistance, and dyslipidemia.

The participants were prescribed a ketogenic diet, comprising approximately 10 percent of calories from carbohydrates, 30 percent from protein, and 60 percent from fat, without calorie counting instructions.

The results were promising. On average, participants demonstrated a 31 percent improvement on a psychiatric rating scale known as the clinical global impressions scale, with three-quarters of the group experiencing clinically meaningful enhancements. Additionally, participants reported improvements in sleep quality and overall life satisfaction.

“Anything that improves metabolic health in general is probably going to improve brain health anyway,” Sethi said.

“But the ketogenic diet can provide ketones as an alternative fuel to glucose for a brain with energy dysfunction.”

The study paves the way for further exploration into gut health and dietary interventions for mental health and opens the door for alternative control.