The low-carb, high-fat ketogenic diet is known for promoting rapid weight loss, but psychiatrists say it can combat depression and bipolar disorder.
“There are a lot of people out there who call themselves depressed who aren’t actually depressed,” psychiatrist Rif El-Mallakh, a professor at the University of Louisville School of Medicine, told the Washington Post.
“I think people confuse low energy with depression, or sugar crashes with mood swings, but they probably don’t have a mental illness. And those people may do better with dietary interventions alone.”
Dr. El-Mallakh, author of Bipolar Depression, said several of his patients suffering from bipolar disorder found relief by following the ketogenic diet.
There Is a Link Between Diet and Mental Health
While El-Mallakh and other psychiatrists are reticent to say diet therapy alone can combat depression or bipolar disorder, they're convinced diet definitely impacts mood.
“[Research studying the link between mental health and diet] is a very new field,” said Michael Berk, a professor of psychiatry at the Deakin University School of Medicine in Australia. “But the results are unusually consistent, and they show a link between diet quality and mental health.”
As it is, a common dietary prescription for depression patients is to increase their intake of omega-3 fatty acids, which have been shown to enhance mood. In 2011, a 32-year-old California woman suffering from bipolar disorder said she felt immediate relief from her depression and manic mood swings after following the low-carb, high-fat Atkins diet.
“I changed my diet because I had gastrointestinal issues,” she recalled. “I noticed within a day or two the marked difference in my head. It felt clear for the first time in years and years.”
The woman has been doing well for the past three years, and no longer takes prescription drugs to treat her bipolar disorder. She said the LCHF diet has been a life-changer.
'The Brain Thrives on a Fat-Rich, Low-Carb Diet'
These results are not surprising to Dr. Jeff Volek, a registered dietitian and professor at the University of Connecticut. Dr. Volek told me the ketogenic diet dramatically boosts physical and mental health.
By drastically reducing carbs in our diet and replacing them with healthy, unprocessed fats, we enjoy better mood, experience more stable blood sugar, and experience rapid weight loss, and ward off degenerative illnesses.
"It was nothing short of an epiphany when I changed to a ketogenic diet 20 years ago," said Dr. Volek, author of the Art and Science of Low-Carbohydrate Living. "I felt better, more satiated, and had more consistent energy.
"Carbohydrate restriction is the proverbial ‘silver bullet’ for managing insulin resistance, metabolic syndrome, and type 2 diabetes. There are very few people that a ketogenic diet could not help."
Similarly, neurologist Dr. David Perlmutter told me restricting carbs and eating more unprocessed saturated fats (like those found in grass-fed beef, olive oil, pastured eggs, coconut oil, and avocados) protects the brain, makes you happier, and prevents dementia and Alzheimer's disease.
"Fat is your friend," said Dr. Perlmutter, author of Grain Brain. "The brain thrives on a fat-rich, low-carbohydrate diet."