Can a Ketogenic Diet Help Treat Bipolar Disorder?

Bipolar disorder is a brain disorder that causes rare shifts in mood, energy, activity levels, and the ability to carry out daily activities. Bipolar disorder can disrupt your job, relationships, and other parts of your life.

Medicine and talk therapy can help control the severe high and low mood swings, depression, and mania symptoms.

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A change in diet won’t cure bipolar disorder, but there is some evidence that the ketogenic diet has the potential to help people with this condition.

What Is the Ketogenic Diet?

The ketogenic diet is a high-fat, low-carbohydrate diet that mimics the state your body would go into if you were fasting.

Usually, carbohydrates supply your body and brain with energy, with glucose being the brain’s preferred source of fuel. When you cut carbs from your diet, fat takes over as your body’s main source of energy. The liver breaks down fats into substances called ketones, which are naturally higher in energy than carbohydrates. Ketones travel through your bloodstream to fuel your brain.

There are two variations of the diet:

  • Classic ketogenic diet: For this diet, you eat a ratio of 3:1 to 5:1 fats to protein plus carbohydrates. That is, you eat three to five times the amount of fat compared to protein and carbs joined together. The bulk of your diet consists of fats from foods like fish, such as salmon and sardines, eggs, avocado, butter, red meat, chicken, cheese, coconut milk, seeds, and nuts. Most of your carbs come from vegetables.
  • Medium-chain triglyceride (MCT) diet: In this diet, you get about 60 percent of your total calories from a type of coconut oil. You can eat more protein and carbs on the MCT diet than you would be able to on the classic ketogenic diet.

How the Ketogenic Diet May Help the Brain

Ketogenic diet has been around since the 1920s and over the years has found that the ketogenic diet is useful for certain brain conditions. According to a 2015 study, keto diet can dramatically reduce the number of seizures in children with epilepsy, including those who don’t respond to medications. According to research, keto diet may help reduce symptoms of neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s, with some evidence suggesting it could help with bipolar disorder too.

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Ketogenic Diet for Bipolar Disorder

The medications used to treat epileptic patients, anti-seizure medicines, are fixtures of bipolar disorder treatment. This made researchers to wonder if a diet that helps with epilepsy symptoms could also help people with bipolar disorder.

During a depressed or manic episode, energy production slows in the brain. Eating a ketogenic diet can increase energy in the brain.

People with bipolar disorder have higher amounts of sodium inside their cells. Lithium and other mood-stabilizing drugs used to treat bipolar disorder work by lowering sodium levels in cells. The ketogenic diet has the same type of effect.

Can Ketogenic Diet Help with Bipolar Disorder?

The ketogenic diet might help with bipolar disorder, though it’s difficult to tell whether this diet can really ease bipolar symptoms since very little research has been conducted on the subject.

According to a 2013 study which examined two women with type II bipolar disorder, which includes a pattern of depressive episodes followed by relatively mild episodes of mania. One of the women was on the ketogenic diet for two years, while the other was on the diet for three years. Both women experienced greater improvements in mood while on the ketogenic diet and experienced no side effects, than they did on medication.

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Although the results were promising, the study was really small. Much larger studies need to be done to confirm whether the ketogenic diet has any benefit for the greater bipolar disorder.

The diet is very limited, so it can lead to deficiencies in certain nutrients, such as vitamins B, C, and D, as well as magnesium, calcium, and iron. Some people on keto diet also develop a change in energy levels, breath odor, and unpleasant digestive symptoms, like nausea, vomiting, and constipation.

In rare cases, the diet has led to weakened bones, kidney stones and abnormal heart rhythms.

Ensure you consult with your doctor or dietitian first if you’re interested in trying this diet for proper advice.


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