Low-carb diets, like Paleo and Caveman, are often praised for their ability to lead to weight loss and improved mental health. The idea that eating less carbs can improve mood is often touted as a fact by weight-loss coaches, but there’s more to it than just that.
The food we eat is more than just fuel for our bodies. It’s a big part of our overall health. In fact, research suggests that the foods we eat may be as important to our mental health as they are to our physical health.
Low carb diets have been around for decades. In recent years, the field has been heavily dominated by ketogenic diets, which get their name from ketosis, a process in which the body burns fat for fuel instead of carbohydrates. Low carb diets are popular as a weight loss diet, but the idea that eating less carbs will make you healthier has been challenged by research.
A low-carbohydrate, whole-grain diet seems to be a beneficial approach for addressing a variety of health issues.
Could the brain benefit from the same dietary approach? Science is progressing, and clinical experience suggests that the answer may be yes.
Denial: The relationship between low-carb diets and mental illness is a unique one with little study and experience. Despite the fact that this recommendation passed our evidence assessment, we acknowledge that most of the data is of poor quality or even anecdotal. We must depend on the clinical knowledge of specialists in the field in areas where there is little scientific study. As additional research becomes available, we aim to update this guide in the future.
Many people conceive of mental illnesses like melancholy, anxiety, and ADHD as a chemical imbalance that requires medication, but how often do we consider what causes that chemical imbalance? While medicines may be beneficial and essential for certain individuals, the most effective method to alter brain chemistry is likely via nutrition, since brain chemistry can be influenced by the nutrients we consume.
This logical concept has spawned a fascinating new discipline called nutritional psychiatry, which studies how food influences our emotions, thinking, and behavior. New scientific findings and practical experience point to a promising new concept: good brain nutrition may help individuals avoid and cure the symptoms of mental illnesses, and in some instances, decrease or even eliminate the need for psychiatric medications.
Many other so-called civilizational illnesses have followed the industrialization of the human diet, and the significant rise in mental health issues in the globe in recent decades is strongly linked to them. Despite the fact that many public health studies blame animal proteins and fats for our predicament, meat is a full, ancient, and nutritious meal that has been around since the dawn of humanity.
While we don’t know how much meat ancient humans ate in different parts of the globe, we do know that no human could have lived without animal nourishment. Plant diets are deficient in some nutrients that humans need, such as vitamin B12, and B12 supplements were not accessible until the 1950s.
The prevalence of processed carbohydrates, such as sugar and wheat, and refined oils (also known as vegetable oils), such as soy and sunflower oil, distinguishes today’s so-called Western diet from all previous diets. The real characteristics of the contemporary diet are these two chemicals, which can be found in most processed and prepared meals on the market.
Excessive quantities of refined carbs and oils from seeds may possibly lead to inflammation, oxidation, hormonal imbalances, and insulin resistance, all of which studies indicates can substantially contribute to a variety of physical and mental health issues.
Of course, these aren’t the only factors at work, and poor diet isn’t the only one that influences the risk of mental illness. However, since diet quality has been related to disease processes, it is sense to emphasize natural foods while avoiding refined carbs and contemporary highly processed components. But how can what we eat have an impact on our metabolism?
In recent years, academic interest in the ketogenic diet as a therapy for mental illness has grown considerably. Indeed, decades of scientific study has shown that a ketogenic diet may repair many of the biochemical abnormalities of the brain that appear in neuropsychiatric diseases like B. It is possible to treat neuroinflammation, excessive oxidative stress, neurotransmitter imbalance, and delayed brain metabolism.
Although the scientific study of ketogenic diets for the treatment of particular mental illnesses is still in its early stages, increasing clinical and research evidence suggests that ketogenic diets may provide new, interesting, and distinctive therapeutic options for a variety of mental diseases.
Mental disorders and low-carb diets
Anxiety disorders are a kind of anxiety condition.
Generalized anxiety disorder (excessive anxiety), panic disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder, and social phobia are examples of anxiety disorders. Although no clinical trials of the ketogenic diet for the treatment of anxiety disorders have yet been performed, recent research have looked at the ketogenic diet’s ability to address some of the molecular processes that underpin anxiety.
One of the most frequent advantages of the LCHF diet, in my clinical experience, is anxiety reduction.
A 31-year-old Mexican-American Harvard graduate student came to see me because he often had panic episodes, irritability, continuous cravings, emotional overeating, and drowsiness two hours after eating. She was worried about her health and wanted to avoid taking any medications. I informed her that her problems were most likely due to a carbohydrate intolerance and suggested a whole food LCHF diet. Then she altered her eating habits:
- Toast with peanut butter or Nutella for breakfast, coffee with skimmed milk
- Salad with tuna or cheese and a piece of toast for lunch
- Pasta and cheese for dinner
- Bananas and yoghurt as an appetizer
- Two eggs with butter and guacamole for breakfast
- Meat and non-starchy veggies for lunch
- Meat and non-starchy veggies for dinner
- Nuts and cheese as appetizers
When asked how the new regimen has impacted her problems, she said, “I’m not sure how I dealt with them since they were all extremely bothersome, but I’d say the symptoms are 90% gone.”
Possibility of negative pressure
Depressive symptoms may be successfully treated with drugs that decrease inflammation and improve insulin resistance, indicating that inflammation and insulin resistance may play a role in the development or severity of depressive disorders.
A small controlled clinical study published in 2017 showed that individuals with depressive illness who moved from a very low-quality contemporary diet to a Mediterranean diet had, on average, more alleviation from depressed symptoms than those who did not alter their diet. A second research found advantages from a similar diet supplemented with fish oil.
These studies demonstrate that dietary quality has a significant impact on mental health. They can’t tell us whether the Mediterranean diet is healthier for the brain than the standard contemporary diet, just that it is better. While it’s tempting to believe that adding more items like olive oil and nuts to your diet would help you feel better, these diets are also intended to be low in processed carbs and seed oils. Sugar intake is currently being studied to see whether it contributes to the risk of depression. Inflammation, oxidative stress, insulin resistance, imbalanced bacterial populations in the gut, and altered dopamine signaling in the reward circuits of the brain are among them. More study is required to figure out how and why various diets influence depressive symptoms.
Although no human studies on low-carb diets and depression have been published, I have seen numerous instances in my practice where ketosis has helped patients with persistent depression, like this one:
He’s a 46-year-old artist and entrepreneur who’s been in the music industry since he was 11 years old. This guy, who had severe depression at the age of 18 and had tiredness, brain fog, anxiety, and frequent suicidal thoughts, among other symptoms, came to me because despite taking lamotrigine for depression and trazodone for sleep, he continued to have all of these symptoms and was unable to work. He ate a typical contemporary diet rich in sugar and processed foods throughout the first intake. He felt more confident, optimistic, energetic, creative, and productive after converting to the ketogenic diet. He flourishes in ketosis, his suicidal ideas go away, and he believes life is worth living. He is now working full-time and has begun the process of weaning himself off his medication. He considers ketosis to be a cure-all.
Bipolar disorder is a mental illness that affects people in
Manic depression was the old name for bipolar disorder. They occur in a variety of shapes and sizes, including bipolar type 1, bipolar type 2, and milder versions that don’t fit into any of the categories. All of these illnesses are marked by unpredictable emotions marked by bouts of mania, irritability, or acute anxiety, which are typically alternated with periods of sadness. Bipolar illness and epilepsy have a lot of parallels, including comparable neurotransmitter and electrolyte abnormalities.
Given that the same medications are used to treat both illnesses, it’s reasonable to wonder whether the ketogenic diet, which has been used to treat epilepsy for over a century, might be helpful in the treatment of bipolar disorder as well.
- In a study of 121 individuals with bipolar affective disorder, those who also had insulin resistance or type 2 diabetes had greater issues than those who didn’t. Chronic and transitory mood issues were more common in people with insulin resistance or type 2 diabetes, and lithium-based mood-stabilizing medicine worked less effectively for them.
- Two women with bipolar disorder 2 stated in a published case study that the ketogenic diet was superior to the anticonvulsant/ mood stabilizer lamotrigine (Lamictal) in managing their mood symptoms and that they were able to stop using it.
- Here’s a real-life example from my practice: A bipolar 2 disordered 26-year-old woman who had suffered from bulimia and regular migraine attacks for years converted to the LCHF diet and totally eliminated her nausea episodes, headaches, and premenstrual symptoms. Furthermore, his highs have shifted from rage to pleasure, and his lows have dwindled. We used a modest dosage of lamotrigine (a mood-stabilizing antidepressant) and psychotherapy to address the residual depressed symptoms.
People with schizophrenia are not the only ones who experience psychotic symptoms. They may also show up in a variety of different mental disorders, including. Depression, bipolar illness, drug abuse problems, and dementia are just a few examples.
Paranoia, auditory hallucinations (hearing voices), visual hallucinations (seeing things that aren’t there), intrusive thoughts/images, and/or disordered thinking are all symptoms of psychosis. Even if they have never used antipsychotics, which are known to increase the risk of developing these metabolic issues, people diagnosed with schizophrenia are more likely to have difficulties with glucose control and insulin resistance.
We don’t currently have enough evidence to say if insulin resistance is a causative factor in the development of schizophrenia; we do know that the two illnesses often coexist.
A ketogenic diet has been demonstrated in animal experiments to reverse some of the signal abnormalities in the brain that are responsible for the development of some psychotic symptoms including hallucinations.
A limited but increasing number of published studies indicate that a low-carbohydrate diet reduces psychosis symptoms in some individuals, enables full cessation of antipsychotic medicines in two instances, and improves bodily functioning in others.
The tale of a 70-year-old lady who has suffered from auditory and visual hallucinations since the age of seven is told in one of the most famous instances, originally published in 2009 by Drs. Eric Westman and Brian Kraft. Her symptoms improved dramatically eight days after she switched to a low-carb diet, and she was eventually able to quit using the antipsychotic medication. She was still on a low-carb diet, had dropped 150 pounds, and was off anti-psychotic medicine 12 years later, at the age of 83.
In this article from 2017, you may learn more about some of these cases: Ketogenic diets for mental disorders: a fresh review.
It’s worth noting that it’s impossible to say how often these improvements occur or what causes them.
ASD (autism spectrum disease) is a (ASD)
A ketogenic diet has been found to help certain children with the symptoms of autism spectrum disorders in three short clinical trials and two case reports.
In a six-month pilot trial, 18 of 30 autistic youngsters (60 percent) were able to stick to a ketogenic diet with MCT oil supplementation. All 18 of these children benefited in some way, and two of them improved to the point where they were able to join a normal school.
A modified Atkins diet was shown to be more successful than a gluten-free, dairy-free diet in treating autistic symptoms in a six-month randomized controlled study of 45 children with autism spectrum disorders.
Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is a condition in which a (ADHD)
Although evidence indicates that a simple, allergen-free diet consisting mostly of natural foods may benefit children with ADHD, no study has yet looked into the connection between refined carbs and ADHD. There have also been no research on low-carb diets in children or people with ADHD.
However, increased mental clarity is one of the most frequently reported advantages of a low-carb diet in my clinical experience, and I’ve even seen severe instances of ADHD react to nutritional intervention, as in this case:
I met a 40-year-old lady a few years ago who had always struggled with symptoms including procrastination, tardiness, demotivation, lack of energy, distractibility, and disorganization, all of which had a major influence on her ability to be productive at work and at home. She was diagnosed with inattentive ADHD, and she began taking Adderall (a mixture of amphetamine salts). Adderall eased symptoms considerably, although it had uneven effects throughout the day and had some unpleasant side effects. She has progressively improved the quality of her diet in recent years by removing grains, legumes, dairy, and the majority of processed foods, which has helped her mood and physical health but not her ADHD symptoms. Her symptoms began to heal after just a few days when she started a ketogenic diet a few months ago. She has now quit using Adderall and claims that she operates even better in ketosis than she did while she was on it, with no adverse effects.
Alzheimer’s disease is a kind of dementia.
Although research into the connection between metabolism and most mental illnesses is still in its early stages, we now have sufficient evidence that insulin resistance in the brain is not only a crucial characteristic of Alzheimer’s disease, but also a major driver of the disease’s progression. Because of the significant connection between insulin resistance and Alzheimer’s disease, many scientists now classify Alzheimer’s disease as type 3 diabetes.
Insulin resistance limits the supply of insulin to the brain, which leads to impaired brain function in Alzheimer’s disease.
Because brain cells need insulin to effectively utilize glucose, decreased insulin levels in the brain may result in delayed glucose processing and brain cell activity. This decrease in brain capacity may start decades before cognitive symptoms appear, and it has been seen in women aged 24 and above. As a result, it’s never too early to begin lowering your risk.
It’s nearly never too late, after all. A increasing number of studies indicate that a ketogenic diet and/or ketone supplementation may help individuals with moderate cognitive impairment (pre- Alzheimer’s) and early Alzheimer’s disease enhance their thinking and memory. The LCHF diet combined with MCT oil supplementation (which raise blood ketone levels) improved cognitive test scores in individuals with moderate Alzheimer’s disease, somewhat better than any current Alzheimer’s medication, according to a 2018 research. This meal plan was shown to be safe, well tolerated, and easy to execute with the assistance of a nurse.
People who followed the modified Atkins diet achieved significantly higher scores on memory tests after only six weeks than those who followed the National Institute on Aging-recommended diet, which is essentially a low-calorie Mediterranean diet, according to preliminary results from a randomized controlled trial conducted at Johns Hopkins University.
Maintaining ketosis, whether through a ketogenic diet, ketone supplementation, or MCT supplementation, appears promising for improving short- and long-term cognition in patients with Alzheimer’s disease or mild cognitive impairment, according to a systematic review of randomized controlled trials published in 2020. They also discovered that individuals who did not have the ApoE4 gene had a stronger beneficial impact.
New Zealand researchers released the findings of the most thorough trial of the ketogenic diet for Alzheimer’s disease to date in February 2021. A 12-week randomized crossover trial comparing a modified ketogenic diet to a low-fat diet was conducted on twenty-one of the 26 people diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease. Beta-hydroxybutyrate (ketones in the blood) levels in the blood averaged 0.95 mM, which is much higher than prior research. Although cognitive tests showed no significant change, measures of everyday functioning and quality of life showed considerable improvement.
These trials provide optimism for individuals with Alzheimer’s disease-related memory difficulties, although the findings are small, and most experts emphasize that changing one’s diet may be especially challenging for those with cognitive problems.
In my clinical practice, I’ve discovered that, in addition to full family and caregiver support and cooperation, frequent contact with the physician for ongoing education, close monitoring of clinical progress, and dietary modification recommendations are critical to helping people achieve and maintain the level of nutritional ketosis required to significantly improve mental clarity.
Alzheimer’s disease and the ketogenic diet
Alzheimer’s disease and other degenerative illnesses that impair memory, behavior, and decision-making have spread across Western society like a plague. Is there any evidence that the ketogenic diet may help prevent and cure Alzheimer’s disease?
Learn more about Alzheimer’s disease and what you can do about it by watching this video:
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In my therapeutic practice, patients with obesity and bulimia who follow a low-carb diet generally see a substantial change in their eating patterns because their cravings are reduced.
Carbohydrate restriction may be a highly helpful approach for bulimia patients who are ready to alter their diet since overeating increases the desire to purge. However, for some individuals, carbohydrate restriction is insufficient to regulate their appetite since other foods may also induce overeating, with dairy, nuts, and sweets being the most frequent offenders. Identifying the items that are causing it and eliminating them from your diet may assist in some instances.
Despite the lack of randomized controlled studies, a published study on three individuals with eating disorders and binge eating found that limiting carbohydrate consumption to 30 grams per day resulted in substantial improvement in symptoms. This modest strategy decreased binge eating from once or twice a day to almost non-existent once a week, and the effects lasted for six months. These findings are promising for future study since they represent many people’s clinical experiences.
A low-carb diet, on the other hand, may not be appropriate for you if you’ve ever been malnourished, have had or considered anorexia, or have trouble consuming fatty foods. When you significantly decrease your carb intake, you must replace those calories with healthy fat calories. A low-carb diet may be fatal if you can’t substantially boost your fat intake, particularly if you’re already underweight or malnourished. If you’re thinking about changing your diet to a low-carb one, talk to your doctor and psychiatrist about the risks and advantages depending on your particular history and objectives.
Although research on the relationship between diet and mood is still in its early stages, many of us may enhance our mental health by altering our diet and avoiding processed foods.
Check out our post on How sugar may harm the brain to discover more about the function of sugar in mental health and why reducing sugar and carbohydrate consumption can help you feel better.
But where do you begin with a low-carbohydrate diet? What role do psychiatric medications have in this? If you’re taking medication for mental health issues, check out our guide on switching to a low-carb diet.
Also, don’t miss our FAQ, which answers the most common questions regarding low-carb diets for mental health.
/ Georgia Ede, M.D. / Dr. Georgia Ede, M.D.
You came for weight reduction, and you’re staying for mental health?
There is growing evidence that a low carbohydrate diet – or a ketogenic diet for short – may be beneficial to your mental health. This is the case for people with bipolar disorder, depression, schizophrenia, autism, and a host of other conditions. In this article, we will look at a correlation between carbohydrates and mental health, and we will look at some of the research supporting the use of ketogenic diets and the foods that are best for you if you are following this type of diet.. Read more about mental side effects of keto diet and let us know what you think.
Frequently Asked Questions
Can low-carb diet affect your mood?
Yes, a low-carb diet can be very beneficial for your mood. It is because carbs are the most important source of energy in the body and when you cut them out, it can cause a drop in serotonin levels which can lead to depression.
What effect would a low-carbohydrate diet have on mental health and emotional wellness?
A low-carbohydrate diet is not recommended for people with mental health conditions. It can cause a wide range of symptoms including depression, anxiety, and fatigue.
Is a low-carb diet good for mental health?
Yes, a low-carb diet can be good for mental health.
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