Can Ketogenic Diet Relieve Depression?

There is no denying that the Keto diet is known to help with weight loss. But did you know that it is also believed to help alleviate depression?

The Keto diet is a low-carb, high-fat, and moderate-protein diet. This diet is commonly recommended among people who suffer from seizures and epilepsy.

Such, diet allows you to reach a state of Ketosis, wherein the body burns fat as body fuel instead of carbohydrates. This explains why the Keto diet has become popular among those who want to lose weight fast.

But because the diet can influence the brain and nervous system, it is also believed to affect someone’s mood.

This article reviews whether the Keto diet may alleviate or worsen depression. Read on to know what the science says and how you can leverage the Keto diet if you’re feeling down. 

Depression and Keto: What Science Says?

The Keto diet has been around for a long time. It was first introduced in the 1920s to help people with epilepsy.

Researchers discovered that higher levels of blood Ketones cause fewer epileptic seizures in patients. Thus, the Keto can reshape and change the chemistry of the brain.

Since depression and the brain are connected, researchers have examined the possibility of using Keto as a treatment for depression. And the outcomes are promising.

In one research, rats put on a Keto diet ran around more than a control group. The latter shows low physical activity, which is used as a marker of depression). Thus, the researchers concluded that rats on the Keto diet are less likely to show “behavioral despair,” akin to rats dosed with antidepressants.

In another research, 8-week-old mice exposed to the Keto diet in the womb but who ate a regular diet once born were less likely to be depressed or anxious. They are also more physically active than those who were fed a usual diet in utero and postnatally.

The brain volume of mice on Keto also differed from that of the mice fed a regular diet. The decisions suggest that the Keto diet can adjust the brain’s size, at least before birth.

Other research also shows that Keto affects brain structure. In one report, Keto raised the thickness of blood vessels in the brain. In another study, it was revealed that Ketones protect brain cells from injury.

How Keto May Affect Mood and Relieve Depression

The Keto diet exerts some positive impacts on the brain and nervous system. It seems to have beneficial effects for epilepsy and migraine, other seizure strikes, and Alzheimer’s dementia.

What’s more, some scientific proof supports using the Keto diet to help treat mood disorders. This includes depression, as the diet may positively influence your brain and nervous system in many ways.

Below are some of how a Ketogenic diet may lessen depression. However, note that much of the supporting study has been conducted in animals, and more human studies are required.

Stabilizes Energy Levels

If you’re used to eating oatmeal for breakfast and a sandwich for lunch, then you’re probably accustomed to energy highs and lows.

High-carb foods create rapid spikes in blood sugar and just as rapid declines. Energy crashes alter your mood and make you feel anxious and depressed (it’s described as being “hangry” for a reason).

When your blood sugar starts to fall, your brain panics, thinking it won’t get more fuel to operate. This stress response can create depression or anxiety.

One research found that diabetic patients with fluctuating blood sugar levels exhibited higher rates of depression than patients with more constant blood sugar levels.

Ketones provide a critical source of energy for your brain since they’re metabolized quicker than glucose. Ketones give a longer-lasting, more stable source of energy.

And since your body knows it can also move into your fat stores for fuel, your brain doesn’t panic, thinking you’re running out of food.

Lowers Inflammation

When you turn to Keto, you’re turning your back on inflammatory, treated foods. This includes bread, cereal, and pasta that can harm the gut. 

Instead, you’re loading your plate with decent sources of protein, nourishing fats, and fresh vegetables. And this food can restore gut health and lower inflammation.

In one research, middle-aged people who ate a whole-food diet were less likely to be diagnosed with depression than those who don’t.

Consuming anti-inflammatory food is going to have a direct impact on your mood. Research reveals a connection between inflammation and depression:

  • Depressed people have immense levels of proinflammatory cytokines. These are molecules that the body discharges in response to inflammation.
  • People with cancer or autoimmune diseases show more excellent rates of depression. While it’s true that being sick can cause one to feel depressed, scientists think that the likely culprit is inflammation.

Keto Promotes Neurogenesis

The Keto diet can improve your rate of neurogenesis (how frequently you make new brain cells).

Why is this necessary for mood?

A profound rate of neurogenesis is linked to mood difficulties, including depression. A higher percentage, on the other hand, increases your emotional resilience. 

Diet is a crucial player in managing your rate of neurogenesis. Some foods reduce it down, while others speed it up.

A high-sugar diet (i.e., as a contrast to Keto) decreases your neurogenesis rate by spiking the insulin levels in your blood. Too much insulin diminishes all your organs, including your brain.

In one study, rats who ate a diet high in sugar and oxidized (damaged) fats exhibited diminished cognitive function after just two months. The section of the brain that was most involved was the hippocampus, where neurogenesis takes place.

Fat Feeds Your Brain

All that healthy fat that you intake on Keto feeds your brain, keeping your moods steady. Your brain is made up of approximately 60 percent fat, and it requires plenty of good fats to keep it running. 

Numerous researches confirm that omega-3 fatty acids can help overcome depression. You can find omega-3 in wild fish, grass-fed beef, and fish oils.

In one study, two varieties of omega-3 fatty acids called EPA and DHA helped serotonin’s secretion. It is a neurotransmitter (a chemical messenger) that helps improve your mood. Low serotonin levels are connected to depression.

May Increase GABA

Gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) is another neurotransmitter that plays a vital role in managing stress, anxiety, and mood.

Low GABA levels have been connected to clinical depression.

Animal studies have discovered that following a Ketogenic diet may improve circulating levels of GABA. However, more research is required.

May Improve Mitochondrial Function

Mitochondria are cellular components that create the energy cells need to operate. Like producing small amounts of energy for the cell to function correctly, mitochondrial dysfunction has been involved in depression.

People with depression have lesser adenosine triphosphate levels (ATP). It is an energy-giving compound in the brain.

However, Ketogenic diets may make it easier to provide ATP in people with mitochondrial dysfunction.

May Decrease Oxidative Stress

Oxidative stress pertains to cellular damage induced by free radicals. These are volatile compounds you’re exposed to in your everyday life, and they can harm cells if they build up in your body.

Oxidative stress is linked to numerous diseases and health conditions. Greater levels of this stress have also been seen in people with depression.

However, following a Ketogenic diet may increase oxidative stress markers, develop your antioxidant status, and help reverse some of the damage caused by free radicals. This can lead to enhanced depressive symptoms.

May Regulate Insulin Function

Insulin, a hormone that helps regulate your blood sugar levels, may also play a role in depression and mood.

Some people, particularly those who follow a carb-laden diet, can develop insulin resistance. This occurs when the body doesn’t react to insulin as well as it should.

Insulin resistance is connected to weight gain, type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and depression.

However, following a Ketogenic diet, which restricts sugar and starch, can help you keep your blood sugar levels stable. This may also develop your insulin sensitivity.

How Keto may Cause Depression

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

Keto can be hard to adjust to, and some general early symptoms of your body turning into Ketosis — identified as the “Keto flu” — can be challenging to control. Keto flu can include headaches, sleep disturbances, cramping, and fatigue.

However, signs occasionally manage if fluid and electrolyte intake is increased.

Although dealing with these symptoms may make you feel depressed.

You’re Not Eating Enough Nutrient-Dense Foods

It’s possible to catch Keto and still be living off junk food. It’s identified as “dirty Keto.” You follow the same analysis of fats, proteins, and carbs as regular Keto, but without being strict about counting your macros.

This means you can have a bunless bacon cheeseburger and zero-net carb soda for lunch.

Eating foods less in vitamins, minerals, and enzymes won’t do your mood any favors. Your body relies on nutrient-dense foods, especially high-quality protein and healthy fats. Doing so enables the body to produce neurotransmitters like serotonin and dopamine, which help support mood. 

If you don’t eat sufficient of these foods, your brain cells can’t interact with each other as effectively and may transfer the wrong signals. The outcome? Your performance sanctions, and you may feel anxious and depressed.

Inflammatory foods can also tilt the balance of good and bad bacteria in your gut. 

Your gut and brain are constantly interacting with one another (it’s known as the gut-brain axis). And studies show that a gut imbalance can lead to depression and a host of other diseases and conditions.

You Have Low Levels of Electrolytes

When you first start Keto, your kidneys begin to urinate more water as your body switches from burning glucose to Ketones for energy.

This flush of water estimates the climactic weight loss people often experience when they first go on a diet. However, the downside is that your body wastes valuable electrolytes like magnesium, potassium, and salt.

Low levels of electrolytes have been connected to depression. It’s relatively simple to hack your electrolyte levels. Make sure you’re taking 2 to 2 ½ teaspoons of salt a day (Himalayan pink salt is best), and think of supplementing it with potassium (200-800 g a day) and magnesium.

Depression and Keto: A Sense of Isolation

Any diet that limits certain food groups can probably leave you feeling socially isolated, leading to depression.

When you meet your friends at an Italian restaurant and saw them all ordering pizza, you may feel left out. This sense of isolation can influence your mood.

Keto can have an impact on your socialization. And we all know how spending time with friends and family is crucial to our mental health.

5 Things to Do When Feeling Depressed Following the Keto Diet

It’s crucial to remember that there’s a difference between “feeling depressed” and having a depressive disorder.

It’s natural to feel sad sometimes, but if it’s affecting your capability to live your life normally, you should seek professional help.

If you feel that the diet itself makes you feel depressed because it’s excessively limiting, has unpleasant side effects, or is adding to social isolation, you should discontinue it.

Keto is not the only successful weight loss diet, and you can still lose weight by following other less-restrictive diets. But if you’re using the diet to control your blood sugar or epilepsy, you should discuss it with your healthcare provider for further guidance.

If you want to continue the diet, here are some approaches you can consider:

Get Support

Here’s the number one thing to consider about mental health: It’s not a field you want to navigate alone.

If you’ve begun feeling depressed while following a low-carb diet, it’s crucial to reach out for support. It can be from any of your trusted family members or a close friend, or a therapist.

A lot can trigger depression, and talking to someone can assist you in sifting through possible causes and drawing up a game plan.

Eat Low-toxin, Anti-inflammatory Foods

You want to concentrate on high-quality proteins, healthy fats, and lots of vegetables to boost your mood.

Perform Cyclically Ketosis

Cyclical Ketosis (aka carb cycling) requires carbo-loading one day of the week. The other six days, you stick with the regular low-carb Keto diet plan.

Supplementing healthy carbs like sweet potatoes and white rice once a week carries lots of perks, including improved mood. It’s easier to follow Keto when you can systematically satisfy your carb cravings and enjoy the occasional meal out.

Certain carbs, notably resistant starch, feed your good bacteria, and a balanced gut equals a balanced mood. 

Reap Mood-Boosting Supplements

Consider using mood-boosting supplements like zinc, glutathione, and l-tyrosine. An exceptionally potent supplement called 5-HTP (5-hydroxytryptophan) improves the production of serotonin in the brain. This can help balance your mood and enhance sleep.

Wait Out the Keto Flu

If you’ve only newly transitioned to the Keto diet, your symptoms may be tied to the Keto flu. Setting out the first few days and making sure to drink plenty of fluids and supplement electrolytes will make the shift easier.

Final Thoughts

Keto is a recommended diet for weight loss and blood sugar management, but it was intended to treat epilepsy. It can also have other powerful impacts on the brain and may influence mood disorders.

There is an increase in evidence suggesting that the Keto may help with depression in specific ways. However, the limiting nature of the diet may leave some people feeling depressed.

If you’re diagnosed with depression, you should seek help from a qualified mental healthcare provider. The same thing goes when you’re considering following the Keto to help alleviate depression.