Recently, depression has hit the world hard. There has been a lot of talk about what people can do to fight depression. One method that could catch on is using a ketogenic diet to help fight depression. How can the keto diet help you regulate your mood? Let’s take a closer look.
According to the National Institute of Mental Health, depression is ” a mood disorder that causes distressing symptoms that affect how you feel, think, and handle daily activities, such as sleeping, eating, or working.” It can be caused by a combination of several factors including genetics, biology, environmental factors, and psychological factors.
If depression can be caused by a variety of factors, why would the ketogenic diet help? There are actually several mechanisms in the body that give cause to try keto to help relieve symptoms of depression. But first, let’s explore what the ketogenic diet actually is.
The Ketogenic Diet
If you eat a standard American diet, you are likely getting a lot of carbohydrates in your diet due to the high sugar intake. Food that is high in carbs produces both glucose (a simple sugar that gets used for energy) and causes insulin (a hormone made in the pancreas that regulates blood sugar levels) levels to rise.
If your body is being supplied with plenty of glucose, it will use that as it’s a primary source of energy. However, if you lower your carb consumption to 20 grams of net carbs and increase your fat intake, your body enters a state of ketosis. This natural state allows your liver to produce ketones (which your brain and body can use for energy) through the breaking down of fat.
The ketogenic (or “keto” for short) diet is sometimes referred to as the low-carb high-fat (LCHF) diet. This diet forces your body into ketosis. So, instead of depriving your body of fat, you can gain energy from consuming healthy fats and healthy low-carb veggies.
How the Keto Diet Helps Stabilize Moods
Scientists have been studying the effects of a keto diet on the mood for years. It is becoming a popular treatment method for people (especially children) with refractory epilepsy and bipolar disorder, as well as for those with various types of autoimmune disorders. Researchers have noted that the anticonvulsant aspects of the keto diet seem to have a positive impact on mood disorders by working to stabilize them.
Additionally, since there are more ketones generated while the body is in ketosis, the amount of energy in the brain increases. Many people with mood disorders suffer from global cerebral hypometabolism, which means that their brains do not utilize glucose for energy like they are supposed to. When the body enters ketosis, however, the brain can switch over to using these ketones as its primary fuel source. This can effectively stabilize moods.
Furthermore, there are extracellular alterations that happen when the body is in ketosis that can help to stabilize moods. This happens due to the decreased levels of sodium that are found within the body’s cells during ketosis. Sodium is an important electrolyte that needs to be balanced within the cell against the cell’s water ratio in order to keep cells healthy.
How the Keto Diet Helps Depression
GABA vs Glutamate
The central nervous system (CNS) is composed of both “upper” and “downer” neurotransmitters. GABA is an example of a downer, and it counteracts the “upper” glutamate, which stimulates brain activity. Too much glutamate results in neurotoxicity, which has been linked with epilepsy and depression. Acetoacetate and beta-hydroxybutyrate are two ketones that circumvent the cellular deaths caused by neurotoxicity. In other words, these ketones control glutamate levels, keeping depression at bay and stopping the deaths of neurons.
Depression and Leaky Gut
Depression is also seemingly inextricably linked with bodily inflammation, which is connected with increased gut permeability (also known as “leaky gut“). When your gut is overridden with harmful microbiota, not enough essential nutrients make it into your bloodstream, but the nastier stuff that causes inflammation is able to get out. Of course, this leads to impacts on your physical and mental health.
Inflammatory Cytokines in the Brain
Cytokines (which act as messengers for your immune system) work to regulate inflammation. Some cytokines reduce inflammation while others trigger it. Inflammatory cytokines in the brain can cause changes in cognitive functions and destroy precious tissues. It appears that ketosis is able to reduce the activity of pro-inflammatory cytokines and, therefore, decrease depression.
Following the ketogenic diet is not easy to follow, but it can potentially have a positive impact on your mental health. Allowing your body into ketosis produces the ketones that your brain needs to function at an optimal and energized level. If you are struggling with a mood disorder, speak with your doctor or nutritionist about the ketogenic diet and how it can help you achieve your physical and mental health goals. Starting a ketogenic diet can be difficult, but following a meal plan can make the process smooth and alleviate any questions on how to cook.
About The Author:
Janine Einhellig is owner and author at KetoDomain.com, a website focused on helping people achieve success on the ketogenic diet through information, meal plans, and coaching. Janine enjoys writing and operating Keto Domain because of the great impacts the ketogenic diet can have on the quality of life.