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Will Ketogenic Diet Help Your Depression?

Some claim that a ketogenic diet can help depression. Others claim a keto diet doesn’t help. What’s the truth? Get a trusted answer on HealthyPlace.

If you’ve wondered if the ketogenic diet will help your depression, you’re in good company. Nutritionists and mental health professionals have wondered the very same thing. When it comes to the ketogenic (keto) diet and depression, some believe it to be a helpful diet for depression. Others believe that the ketogenic diet does nothing at best and is a diet that could cause depression at worst.

With the differing, and sometimes strong, opinions out there about the keto diet and depression, it can be hard to know if it’s something worth trying. There’s information out there, but it’s not always reliable or trustworthy. Much comes from social media groups and forums, places where anyone can make a claim for or against a keto diet. More authoritative sources, too, such as Women’s Health, aren’t always reliable when it comes to the keto diet; a 2017 article was based on someone’s commentary on Reddit.

We’ve looked at the current reliable information and research on the ketogenic diet and depression and presented it here.  Use this as a resource to inform yourself about keto.

Ketogenic Diet and Depression: The Basics

In a keto diet, the food you eat—and do not eat—forces the body to produce small fuel molecules called ketones. Ketones are the body’s alternate fuel supply when glucose (blood sugar) supply is low. When it’s producing ketones, the body is said to be in ketosis.

The purpose of a ketogenic diet is to encourage the body to burn more fat. Proponents of this diet believe that fat, not carbohydrates, should be the brain and body’s main fuel supply. Therefore, a ketogenic diet:

  • Is extremely low in carbohydrates (less than 20g/day)
  • Allows only moderate amounts of protein
  • Is high in fat

The brain needs power to function. A standard diet provides fuel in the form of glucose from carbohydrates while the keto diet provides ketones from fat for energy. Among other things, this fuel powers the production of neurotransmitters, important neurochemicals at work in our mental health. Deficiencies in neurotransmitters, such as serotonin and gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA), contribute to depression. It’s been observed that the body produces more GABA when on a keto diet. In doing so, it could help depression.

Ketogenic diets for the brain aren’t new. They’ve been used to treat epilepsy (as a last resort, when all other treatment fails) for nearly 100 years. It’s believed that a keto diet can help headaches and improve psychiatric symptoms as well. It’s theorized that ketones are cleaner and more efficient than glucose and are therefore better for the brain. The theory is still just a theory right now. Studies are being conducted to determine how effective the keto diet is for depression.

Studies Regarding the Keto Diet and Depression

Studies have shown that a ketogenic diet may help depression. In two different studies (Bostock, Kirby, & Taylor, 2017; Ede, 2017), a keto diet showed a reduction in depression-like behaviors in the subjects. The subjects, however, were rats and mice. These lab animals can yield insight, but they don’t generalize directly to humans, so conclusions aren’t supposed to be made based on how rodents respond to what’s being studied.

Other studies have been flawed (Ede, 2017). There’s not much human data, sample sizes have been small (the bigger the sample, or people studied, the more reliable the study), many studies are done with no control groups (a truly scientific study must have a control group to compare and measure changes in the test group). Also, some study conclusions haven’t been verified, so they are nothing more than claims.

This doesn’t necessarily mean that keto diets do not work at all for depression. It just means that there haven’t been reliable studies producing trustworthy information for or against ketogenic diets for depression.

“Currently, there is insufficient evidence for the use of KD [keto diets] in mental disorders, and it is not a recommended treatment option” (Bostock, Kirby, & Taylor, 2017).

If, after investigating ketogenic diets, you decide you are interested in trying this approach, begin by consulting with your doctor to ensure that you don’t do something that would be harmful to your health. It is known that, in general, diet can help depression, or diet can worsen depression. The important thing is to approach any diet safely and try to avoid the worst foods for depression.

article references

APA Reference
Peterson, T. (2018, May 15). Will Ketogenic Diet Help Your Depression?, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2019, July 19 from https://www.healthyplace.com/depression/food-and-depression/will-ketogenic-diet-help-your-depression

Last Updated: June 20, 2019

Medically reviewed by Harry Croft, MD

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