The keto diet may help relieve depression due to its positive effects on the brain. However, someone may initially experience adverse effects from this diet, which may affect their mood.

The ketogenic or keto diet generally comprises high fats, moderate proteins, and very low carbohydrates. Research suggests that this eating plan may affect the brain and mood, and scientists are researching its potential uses for mental health conditions, such as depression.

This article explores how the keto diet affects mood and may relieve depression, explaining the physiological mechanisms. It also discusses how the diet may cause depression and gives tips for managing this mental health condition.

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The keto diet saw its introduction in 1921 as a potential treatment option for children with epilepsy. Due to the purported effects of the keto diet on this condition, scientists have explored this nutritional approach for other neurological disorders. These conditions include Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, and multiple sclerosis.

These studies have found that the keto diet improves depression scores in some people with these conditions. In addition, other research investigates a keto approach specifically for depression.

Therefore, this eating plan may affect a person’s mood and depression in various ways.

Learn more about the keto diet.

Increases GABA

Gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) is a neurotransmitter that works with another neurotransmitter called glutamate to balance the brain’s chemistry and allow it to function correctly. GABA inhibits excitability in neurons in the brain due to glutamate, so they balance each other.

Too much glutamate can cause anxiety, which may occur when there is insufficient GABA to balance it. A decreased concentration of GABA can produce a feeling of anxiousness and may have links to major depressive disorder.

Research into animal models and humans indicates that the keto diet alters cell-to-cell communication in the brain and may increase GABA and reduce hyperexcitability.

Improves mitochondrial function

A 2022 review explains that a wide range of mechanisms relating to the keto diet may be beneficial for neurological conditions. One of these is the positive effects on the mitochondria.

The mitochondria are the powerhouses of human cells — the brain is particularly dependent on them due to its large energy requirement.

The above 2022 review indicates that in the state of ketosis, scientists observed an increase in mitochondrial metabolism and energy production. The keto diet can potentially form new mitochondria and improve their function, reducing oxidative stress and inflammation and increasing energy production in the brain.

Mitochondrial dysfunction plays a key role in how depression presents, so the keto diet may be beneficial.

Decreases oxidative stress

A 2022 review explains that inflammation in the brain can be partly due to dysfunctional mitochondria producing reactive oxygen species (ROS). ROS causes oxidative stress, which has links to depression.

According to the review, damaged mitochondria, ROS excess, and atypical glucose metabolism have a close interrelationship. The ketogenic diet can influence these processes and be beneficial for depression.

Regulates insulin function

The keto diet may help depression by regulating insulin, the hormone that controls the amount of sugar in the blood (glucose).

Some studies indicate that excess insulin can disrupt signaling systems in the brain leading to symptoms of depression. Because of its low carbohydrate ratio, the keto diet can reduce glucose and insulin concentrations. Research suggests this may regulate insulin and have an antidepressant effect.

Decreases inflammation

Studies indicate that chronic inflammation can trigger changes in the brain that may contribute to depression. Long-term inflammation may result in the hormonal and immune systems damaging the networks in the brain and causing dysfunction.

The low-glycemic nature of the keto diet may help reduce inflammation.

The keto diet may have positive effects on multiple targets implicated in mood disorders, including inflammation. This may be partly due to its low-glycemic nature due to reduced carbohydrate content.

While these studies have shown that the keto diet may reduce inflammation, which can play a role in the development of depression, more research is necessary.

While there is no evidence that the keto diet causes depression, people may experience some initial adverse effects that could affect their mood. These effects include:

However, these symptoms, which some people refer to as “keto flu,” typically resolve in a few days to a few weeks.

Additionally, any diet that limits certain foods may cause nutrient deficiencies. A 2017 review indicates that micronutrient deficiencies adversely affect the brain and may aggravate mental health conditions. Neurotransmitters need nutrients, such as protein, vitamins, and minerals, to function. A lack of these could change the pattern of brain chemical neurotransmitter production, leading to conditions such as depression.

Learn more about the side effects of keto.

People adhering to a keto diet need to ensure they consume essential nutrients such as vitamins and minerals. Some may wish to take a multivitamin and mineral supplement in addition to their diets. They can speak with a qualified healthcare professional to ensure their diet meets their nutritional needs.

Long-term adherence to a restricted diet may cause adverse effects physically and mentally. Therefore, experts advise that someone needs to follow a keto diet for a maximum of 12 months. In addition, those with an existing health condition need to check with a doctor before starting this eating plan.

A keto diet may help relieve depression through several mechanisms, including reducing oxidative stress, increasing GABA, and regulating insulin. However, more research is necessary to confirm this.

Initially, someone may experience adverse effects on a keto diet, affecting their mood, sleep, and energy levels. A person needs to ensure a keto diet is suitable for them and that they consume essential nutrients to support their mental and physical health.

It is a suitable idea to speak with a healthcare professional before beginning a new diet plan, such as keto.