Is the Ketogenic Diet a Metabolic Therapy for Neurological Issues?
From fast fat loss to alleviating seizures, and from sharpened cognitive function to increased physical energy, the ketogenic diet is infamous for an abundance of reasons.
However, the ketogenic diet can also support our mental health by balancing out our moods. This is primarily because the ketones that you produce and utilise on a ketogenic diet offer neuroprotective properties: they protect your brain from oxidative stress and inflammation. Furthermore, ketones stabilise blood sugar levels which reduces insulin release and hunger. Ketones provide a sustainable and clean burning form of energy for the body and brain.
Why Keto Now?
Did you know that the ketogenic diet was actually invented as a cure for paediatric epilepsy in the 1920s?
It was in fact a need to alleviate epilepsy which inspired the Keto Supplements story. This high fat therapeutic diet has been around for almost a century and yet has only hit the mainstream (in the US) since 2017—one could say this is predominantly due to Dom D’Agostino’s incredible research on the ketogenic diet and the avid keto promoters: Tim Ferriss, Joe Rogan and Diet Doctor. The high fat, low carb approach is beginning to make headway in Europe but is still very niche…let’s see what happens over the course of the year…
The ketogenic diet can quite closely resemble the Palaeolithic diet for our northern hemisphere ancestors. Despite the controversy that surrounds the diet and the criticisms that the diet is ‘unnatural’ and ‘extreme’. In fact, it is actually a far more natural human diet than the typical western diet that includes highly processed sugars and industrially degraded fats.
Find out what happens to your body in ketosis here.
Back to the topic of anxiety…
On Stabilising Blood Sugar Levels
Before going into the link between high sugar and anxiety, you’ll need to understand the relationship between sugar consumption, hormone production and fluctuating blood sugar levels.
Carbohydrate and sugar consumption result in increased insulin released into the blood stream. Insulin—in a nutshell—shuttles energy around the body and transports energy to where it’s needed. For example: insulin carries glucose to replenish glycogen stores, lipids to fat cells or to be converted into ketones by the liver and amino acids from protein for muscle and tissue synthesis and repair. Insulin insures that excess macronutrients are stored as fat. Sugars and carbohydrates also trigger the hunger hormone…explaining one of the reasons why sugary foods are so addictive!
On the other hand, fat has a stabilising effect on blood sugar levels as it does not cause spikes in blood sugar and the resulting insulin release, which then decreases blood sugar causing blood sugar fluctuations. Therefore, on a high fat low carb diet, you won’t need to products as much insulin and your blood sugar levels should stay relatively stable. This is also the reason why many people on a keto diet report reduced hunger and can more easily follow intermittent fasting protocol.
Protein and Fats are far more satiating than carbohydrates and trigger leptin—the hormone that signals to your brain that you’re full up. This is why it’s hard to overconsume lean protein.
Rethinking your relationship with food: Since you went keto, when was the last time you felt ‘hangry’?
The stabilising effect ketones have on blood sugar means that you won’t have fluctuating blood sugar levels which can cause the brain to think you are starving.
Ever experienced being ‘hangry’? This is literally when your metabolism is so reliant on glucose that the brain thinks it is starving. It is because when insulin levels rise, following the glucose spike caused by a carbohydrate heavy meal, the resulting drop in blood sugar makes you feel weak, dizzy, shaky and irritable…AKA ‘Hangry’!
Cognitive Inflammation = Headaches, Migraines, Seizures & Anxiety
Ketones reduce inflammation in the brain. Neuro inflammation can be experienced as brain fog or headaches. In some extreme cases,neuro inflammation and neural oxidation are expressed as anxiety, depression, severe migraines and seizures. This oxidation can also be linked to cancer too which is why the ketogenic diet and hyperbaric oxygen therapy can be effective cancer treatments when combined with traditional medical cancer treatments. And The Migraine Miracle is a great book on curing migraines with a low sugar diet.
“Many mental health disorders are very strongly linked to inflammation and oxidation, just like many physical illnesses are.” –Dr. Georgia Ede
Dr. Ede, a US psychiatrist argues that there is a direct correlation between inflammation caused by the Standard American Diet (SAD) and mental distress and the obesity and diabetes epidemics. This is due to the fact that:
“these ingredients (refined carbohydrates and refined industrial oils) are very powerful promoters of inflammation and oxidation…”
As we know, industrially processed, degraded vegetables oils and highly processed sugars form a large part of SAD which explains the depressing obesity and diabetes epidemic in the US. We are actually quite lucky in Europe—to the extent that we have far more access to healthy, fresh, affordable foods than the average inland American. I personally feel that Europe has a much healthier eating culture and a more refined appreciation of freshly prepared, locally sourced foods. In addition, European legislation requires that nutritional labels detail all of the ingredients in a food product— which is not the case in the US.
The Research on the Ketogenic Diet reducing Anxiety
“Definitely bipolar, depression, anxiety, OCD, are all much, much better on a low-carb diet,” –Ted Naiman.
Dr Ted Naiman has described how his own obsessive compulsive disorder was resolved almost instantly — never returning — on a low-carb high-fat diet. Over the years, he has seen dramatic mental health improvements in his patients who follow a low carb ketogenic diet.
One 2016 study on rats from the University of South Florida at Tampa found that ketone supplementation caused a reduction in anxious behaviour compared to their non-ketone supplementing counterparts. This led the researchers to believe that nutritional ketosis can have alleviating effects on anxiety in humans.2
Another study from 2009 published in “Epilepsy & Behavior” found that rats who subsisted on a low-calorie ketogenic diet displayed less anxiety than rats on a normal (high carbohydrate) diet.3
Anecdotal reports from humans demonstrate that the ketogenic diet can have positivel effects on anxiety, depression and bi-polar disorders: Ole Jørgen Hessen of Norway only began to follow a ketogenic diet to lose weight. He had been diagnosed with Bipolar II disorder, rapidly shifting between hypomania and depression almost weekly and on the ketogenic diet, he shifted from weekly episodes to a maximum of 5 a year.
Hessen reports: “I am always really careful not to raise any false expectations. The diet is by no means a cure for the chronic illness that bipolar is. However, the diet is a great tool to help manage it.”
Is the Ketogenic Diet A Natural Mood Stabiliser?
Mood stabilisers are often medically prescribed to people suffering from anxiety. Mood Stabilisers are psychiatric drugs which help reduce intense mood shifts in patience. Sadly, like many pharmaceutical drugs, the negative side effects often outweigh the supposed benefits, including: weight gain, trouble breathing, slurred speech and depression.
It appears that ketosis, ketone supplementation and the ketogenic diet may have mood-stabilizing properties. The state of ketosis changes the brain on a cellular level that decreases “intracellular sodium concentrations”, which is a common property in all effective mood stabilizers.5
Furthermore, ketones not only stabilise moods, many people on a ketogenic or high fat diet often experience heightened cognitive function, resulting in a positive nootropic effect on the brain.
How would you feel on a keto diet? Ketosis demonstrates evolution at its best.
Harking back to our hunter gather days, we would have been in ketosis when food was scarce—a time at which all of our senses needed to be optimised, enabling us to become stealthier, sharper and more efficient hunters—with more alertness and increased endurance.
It’s no wonder that endurance athletes and biohackers are tapping into this ancestral and innate nootropic.
Dealing with the symptom or the cause?
The root cause of many ‘neurological’ issues actually stem from the dysfunctional metabolisms or inadequate energy supplies for the brain. The seizure, migraine or anxiety are actually symptoms of metabolic illnesses that are neurologically expressed. For example, the principal department for Epilepsy in the UK can be found at The Metabolic Diseases Unit.
Therefore, one can surmise that treating epilepsy, bi-polar, migraines and anxiety with medication that adjusts chemicals in the brain is simply a way of ‘band-aiding up’ the symptoms, rather than treating the root metabolic cause. The issues is that the brain cannot use glucose for energy but can use ketones which is why the ketogenic diet is more likely to alleviate episodes.
Are Neurological Issues actually expressions of Metabolic Diseases?
Furthermore, research demonstrates that Alzheimer’s and Dementia develop because as brain cells age they can no longer utilise glucose for energy—but can efficiently use ketones—and therefore patients on a high carbohydrate diet will cognitively deteriorate more quickly than their ketogenic counterparts. Sadly, tea with skimmed milk and sugary biscuits are a staple at old people’s homes…a literal recipe for Alzheimer’s.
If you experience anxiety, it might be time to talk to your general practitioner or a mental health professional about starting a high fat or ketogenic diet. There really is nothing like the ketogenic diet for healthy cognitive function. However, the ketogenic diet is not for everyone—a good genetics test will show you if you are primed for digesting fats.
Remember that there is never only one answer to a problem…there are ALWAYS multiple factors and the whole spectrum of options should be considered.
Other ways to diminish feelings of anxiety can include: coaching, exercise, meditation, spending time outdoors and socialising with people you love and who love you…community is key; don’t suffer in silence and always seek professional help.
Find out more about following a ketogenic diet here.
And, as always, if you have any questions or feedback at all, feel free to leave your thoughts below.
In peace, love & ketosis,
Sara & Francisco