Keto Diet And Depression

Keto Diet and Depression

Going keto seems to become more fashionable every year, but living a low-carb, high-fat life isn’t without controversy. For example, some say ketosis can trigger depression. Others claim that a ketogenic diet promotes mental health. This article reviews how the keto diet can alleviate or cause depression, and the steps you should take if you’re taking keto and feeling depressed.

How Keto May Affect Mood and Relieve Depression

The keto diet has had some positive effects on the brain and nervous system. It appears to have benefits not only for epilepsy, but also for migraines, other seizure disorders and Alzheimer’s dementia.

What’s more, some scientific evidence supports the use of a keto diet to help treat mood disorders, including depression, as this diet may positively affect your brain and nervous system in several ways.

Here are some of the ways in which a ketogenic diet may improve depression. Note, however, that many of the supporting studies have been conducted in animals and more human studies are needed.

1. Increases GABA production

Gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) is a neurotransmitter (a brain messaging chemical) that affects how your brain experiences stress and anxiety.

A study review in 2011 suggested that low GABA levels may cause or exacerbate depression. More recently, a 2020 small study suggests that stimulating GABA production may alleviate depressive symptoms.

So, what stimulates GABA production? Obviously, it’s yoga. But there’s also ketosis.

Scientists are actively studying whether a keto diet could help the 30 percent of people with major depression whose condition is resistant to medication-based treatments.

2. May improve mitochondrial function

Mitochondria are the cellular components that produce the energy needed for cellular functioning. Mitochondrial dysfunction – such as not producing enough energy for cells to function properly – has been implicated in depression.

Depressed patients have lower levels of adenosine triphosphate (ATP) – a compound that provides energy – in their brains than non-depressed patients.

However, a ketogenic diet may make ATP production easier in people with mitochondrial dysfunction.

3. Decrease oxidative stress

The unstable compounds you are exposed to every day are called free radicals, and they can damage your cells. This is called oxidative stress, and it can lead to several diseases. People with depression have high levels of oxidative stress. A ketogenic diet can increase your body’s antioxidant activity and help reverse some of the damage caused by free radicals in your cells.

4. Might regulate insulin

You probably know that insulin is the blood sugar patrolman, but it can also mess with your mood. And ketones may help keep your levels in a safe zone.

Insulin resistance plays a role in the development of major depression, especially in people with type 2 diabetes.

There’s growing evidence that keto restriction of sugar and starches can help with insulin resistance. Of course, we need more research to show that the effects of ketones on insulin can improve depressive symptoms – but it’s a promising link.

5. Decrease inflammation 

Chronic inflammation has been linked to a number of health problems, including depression. Inflammation may also increase your risk of insulin resistance, oxidative stress and mitochondrial dysfunction. It even has a negative impact on the production of mood regulators like our good friend GABA.

How Keto May Cause Depression

On the other hand, the keto diet may cause depressive symptoms or exacerbate depression in some people.

Keto can be difficult to adjust to, and some of the common early symptoms of your body switching to ketosis – known as “keto flu” – can be difficult to manage. The keto flu may involve headaches, sleep disturbances, cramps and fatigue.

However, symptoms occasionally resolve if fluid and electrolyte intake is increased. Regardless, dealing with these symptoms may be frustrating for you.

In addition, this diet is extremely restrictive for most people, requiring you to avoid sugar, starches, legumes, and carbohydrate-rich fruits and vegetables.

This excessive restriction may make you feel depressed – whether it’s because of avoiding “comfort” foods, making major, sudden changes to your regular diet, or even nutrient deficiencies.

Not getting enough zinc, magnesium or selenium in your diet can lead to depression. In addition, a study of more than 90,000 people found that excluding any food group from the diet was associated with depression.

There may also be an element of social isolation, especially if many of your social gatherings revolve around food. If you’re cooking at home more often in order to stick to your keto diet, you may experience some episodes of depression if you’re more socially isolated as a result.

How to Deal with the Keto Blues

Keto doesn’t cause depression, but it can affect your energy levels and mood. If you’ve got a case of the keto blues, you’ve got options.

  • Stop the diet. If eating keto makes you feel super sad, lethargic, or irritable, stop eating keto. If your doctor has prescribed this diet, discuss alternatives with them. If you started it voluntarily, you can stop. Ketosis is not the only way to lose weight.
  • Try cyclical keto dieting (carb cycling). This technique allows you to carve out one day a week that is high in carbohydrates. It makes it easier for you to stick to the diet over time without sacrificing your favorite foods or eliminating carbohydrates.
  • Wait out the keto flu. If you have only recently transitioned to a keto diet, your symptoms may be related to the keto flu. Waiting the first few days and making sure to drink plenty of fluids and replenish electrolytes will make the transition easier.
  • Focus on high quality protein and veggies. If you’re not getting enough mood-supporting nutrients, try including more high-quality whole foods in your diet. Magnesium-rich foods such as avocados, almonds and low-sugar dark chocolate may help alleviate depressive symptoms.
  • Make it fun. Any restrictive diet can make you feel low. Cutting out entire food groups (bye bye, carbs) can lead to nutrient deficiencies. So go all in on your favorite vegetables, meats and healthy fats. Studies show that learning to cook can also help lift the slump.
  • Pick a different plan. Consider other, less restrictive diets, such as the Mediterranean diet. It’s also good for your gut and brain.

The Bottom Line

Keto doesn’t cause depression, but it can still disrupt your mood.

Emerging evidence suggests that keto may be helpful for depression in several ways. However, the restrictive nature of this diet may make some people feel depressed.

If you are concerned that you may be depressed, you should seek help from a qualified mental healthcare provider. Also, if you want to try the keto diet to see if it might help with depressive symptoms, talk to your healthcare provider first.

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