Relieving depression with the ketogenic diet?

woman ketogenic diet depression

Perhaps those suffering from treatment-resistant depression could find some relief with the ketogenic diet? Any attempt to try this MUST be medically supervised because there are both psychiatric and metabolic dangers in this dietary intervention when it is used for people with depression or other mental disorders.

Some background information on the scope of depression:

  • Depression is now the leading cause of disability in the world! (1)
  • Over 300 million people throughout the world have clinical depression (ibid)
  • 12.7% of U.S. population over 12 years old took an antidepressant in the past month (2)
  • Anecdotal reports of improved mental clarity, energy, and mood are reported on the ketogenic diet. (3)

As you can see, depression affects many and is a cause of widespread suffering the world over.

Ketogenic diet to treat depression?

There are some data points that can help our understanding of the potential of a dietary intervention for depression.  These include:

  • Weight loss alone is associated with improvement in depression (4), this illustrates that altering metabolism can positively affect depression.
  • Numerous studies in epilepsy literature show improvement in depressive symptoms when people are on a therapeutic ketogenic diet. They find improvements in mental clarity, alertness, increased energy, and improved sleep.
  • In rats, the ketogenic diet showed antidepressant effects in a Porsolt test based study (5). This test is often done to examine the animal’s susceptibility to negative mood. For example, it is a test regularly used regularly in anti-depressant drug trials.
  • A clinical trial of Ketogenic Diet vs Low-fat diet for 24 weeks for weight loss (6) demonstrated that the ketogenic diet group showed improvement in Mental Health Subscales and Mental Component Summary. That means that this group had improved “vitality” and “mental health”

Clinical trials for major depression are needed!

These studies give us some preliminary information indicating that the ketogenic diet as a dietary intervention is worthy of further study.

Respected clinician’s perspectives on treating depression with the ketogenic diet

This article is based extensively on Psychiatrist Chris Palmer, MD’s presentations. He’s spoken extensively about using the medical ketogenic to treat treatment resistant mental illness. Hear it in his own words!

In contrast, Psychiatrist Ignacio Cuaranta, MD uses the ketogenic diet to treat recent onset illnesses. He did a great podcast on Diet Doctor in English and his website is in Spanish.

My thanks to Nurse Christie for her medical review, fact checking and extensive edits.

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Sources & Footnotes
  1. World Health Organization. Depression fact sheet. 22 March 2018 [June 2019][]
  2. Pratt LA, Brody DJ, Gu Q. Antidepressant use among persons aged 12 and over: United States, 2011–2014.NCHS data brief, no 283. Hyattsville, MD: National Center for Health Statistics. 2017.[]
  3. For example books such as Keto Clarity and sites such as Ketovangelist.[]
  4. Jantaratnotai N, Mosikanon K, Lee Y, McIntyre RS. The interface of depression and obesity. Obesity Research & Clinical Practice Volume 11, Issue 1, January–February 2017, Pages 1-10[]
  5. Murphy P, Lihodii S, Nylen K, Burnham WH. The antidepressant properties of the ketogenic diet. Biological Psychiatry. 56(12):981-3 January 2005. DOI: 10.1016/j.biopsych.2004.09.019  [PubMed][]
  6. Yancy W, Olsen M, Guyton J, Bakst R, Westman E. A Low-Carbohydrate, Ketogenic Diet versus a Low-Fat Diet To Treat Obesity and Hyperlipidemia: A Randomized, Controlled Trial.Ann Intern Med. 2004;140(10):769-777. DOI: 10.7326/0003-4819-140-10-200405180-00006[]

Cecile Seth

Cecile Seth, MBA. STEM Journalist. Co-Founder. Harvard Business School. Wellesley College. Bain & Company. Ms. Seth's award-winning blog, STEMshoots, helps her suburb with community planning and strengthening its schools. Keto since 2017. Mom to 3 kids from 17 to 21.

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  1. July 15, 2020

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