Nearly everyone has at least heard of the ketogenic diet by now and its weight loss properties. The word "diet" alone should give that much away, and the fact that almost everyone knows someone who is praising the ketogenic way of eating.
Making its way into mainstream media, the origin for the ketogenic diet was actually to serve pediatric epilepsy patients refractory to medications.
Mental health issues have steadily been on the rise. Depression and anxiety are more prevalent now than ever. More and more cases of bipolar disorder and schizoaffective disorder are being treated as well.
While many limit the mental health field to psychiatry, there are also neurological components to many mental health disorders. The brain is a very powerful tool and it needs food to carry out its many functions.
Fun Fact: The human brain only amounts to 2% of total body weight yet uses approximately 20% of the energy supply.
What is the Connection?
The honest answer is nobody really knows for sure. There have been studies of course, but researchers are vastly under-funded and the data isn't completely reliable.
Either the ketones and state of ketosis was not verified, there is no control group, people dropped out of the study, or mental health care providers are relaying a few success stories on their own clients but lack an official study.
The studies needed to prove any correlation in the ketogenic diet and reduced or eliminated mental health issues would take years and tons of money. And people. People who can stick to the ketogenic diet.
From the information that has been gathered to date leads researchers to believe the fuel type could be responsible for the decreased mental health problems in those following the ketogenic diet.
It helped in seizures, that's proven. Both mental health issues and seizures have neurological factors. Logical thinking would lead us to believe the same could be true.
Ketogenic Diet vs American Standard Diet
In case no one has explained it yet, the ketogenic diet restricts carbohydrates (20-50 g daily) and uses a higher fat content with adequate protein strategy. Limiting carbs forces the body to switch from being a glucose-burning machine to a fat-burning machine.
This is called the ketogenic state. It takes less than 48 hours to get into a ketogenic state and somewhere around a month to be fully adapted.
The American Standard Diet (ASD) doesn't limit carbs and it's not unheard-of to consume 200 carbs in a single day.
In any Italian restaurant it's entirely possible to eat that amount of carbs in a single meal; Bruschetta appetizer, spaghetti and meatballs for the main dish and of course the tiny loaves of bread to nosh on while waiting to be served.
The Brain: Glucose Fuel or Fat Fuel?
This is where science should be giving the answers, but as noted above, researchers are basically winging it on what is known to date. There are several changes when fat-burning takes over and glucose is no longer the main fuel source: the presence of ketones, lower blood sugar and less insulin production.
Is it one of these or the combination that creates a happy brain? And it might be years before anyone really has a definitive, scientifically based answer.
The general consensus is the brain may prefer ketone fuel due to it's anti-inflammatory properties regarding neurotransmitters. Think of it this way... a plate of pizza rolls or a plate of cream cheese spread on slices of ham and wrapped around dill pickles?
Which snack is going to leave someone feeling bloated, groggy, braindead and feel like a nap is in the future? And which snack is going to actually provide clean fuel until the next mealtime?
Not only can the ketogenic diet be beneficial for weight loss, the studies are showing promising results for mental health issues as well! When one loses weight, it feels good on the inside and outside. Fueling the body with the right ratio of macronutrients (proteins, fats and carbohydrates) is like using premium gas for vehicles.
As the inside is working much more efficiently and weight loss begins, body image is also much more positive. The ketogenic diet could be an alternative to those who are unable to afford psychiatric medications or who just want to try a more holistic approach.
Maybe medications haven't been as successful as expected. The reasons to try it are endless and the reasons not to is a much, much shorter list.
As with any big dietary changes, it should be discussed with medical professionals prior to starting. The ketogenic diet is appropriate for most people, but there are certain individuals who should not attempt this way of eating.