Most “normal” people would assume cutting carbs is one surefire way to jump in the fast lane toward a bad mood. In fact, research even supports that withdrawals from things like sugar can drastically impact your mood in a negative way. And with that knowledge, it seems odd to suggest that cutting carbs almost entirely would be one way to battle diagnosed depression, wouldn’t it?
In the last century, researchers found that the now popular ketogenic diet was an effective way to treat people with epilepsy. Higher levels of blood ketones produced by the low-carb diet led to fewer seizures, proving that keto can have a drastic impact on brain chemistry. Knowing that, researchers are now turning their attention to the link between that brain chemistry, depression, and a ketogenic diet.
For example, one study simply observed rats became more physically active when they were put on a keto diet, and of course, low activity is a common sign and symptom of depression. Researchers from that study concluded that cutting carbs for these rats acted like many antidepressants, making them less likely to experience what they called “behavioral despair.” A similar study with 8-week old mice found that brain volume could be impacted by being exposed to ketogenic diets in utero. Blood vessels have also been found to increase in thickness through keto, while another proved that ketones protect brain cells.
So what does this all have to do with depression? First off, a ketogenic diet is mostly defined by keeping carbohydrate intake at an absolute minimum. usually limited to between 25 and 35 grams a day. Since high-carb foods can easily spike blood sugar levels, followed by drastic crashes, energy is often compromised on the typical diet. And when blood sugar drops, your brain goes into a panicked state, anxious for more fuel in order to function at the level it’s become used to. And this exact stress response can be a trigger to anxiety and depression for many. Keto, on the other hand, evens out those energy levels and keeps your brain away from that panic-stricken state of blood sugar spikes and crashes.
On top of this, inflammation is reduced by staying away from most of the processed foods like bread and pasta on a common diet. Studies have also found significant links between the occurrence of inflammation and depression. Depressed people have higher levels of proinflammatory cytokines — molecules that the body releases in response to inflammation. And people with cancer or autoimmune diseases show higher rates of depression as well. While it’s true that being sick can make one feel depressed, researchers believe it’s the connection between depression and inflammation that’s to blame.
And finally, all the healthy fats in a ketogenic diet are amazing fuel for your brain. Since your brain is made mostly of fat, this is a surefire way to fuel it. Many studies have found that omega-3 fatty acids, found in wild fish, grass-fed beef, and fish oils, can potentially reduce depression, which are all foods you’ll be eating plenty of if you’re following a true ketogenic diet.