This well-known diet could act against certain mental illnesses


It is popular for weight loss and has proven effective against epilepsy. It also has hitherto unsuspected benefits for mental health, according to a new study.

In certain psychiatric pathologies, such as schizophrenia or bipolarity , drug treatments have a metabolic downside: side effects on metabolism (insulin resistance, obesity) which can make you want to stop taking your medications. The scientific and medical community is also on the lookout for anything that could help patients continue their treatment while limiting its impact on their metabolic health.

Helping people with schizophrenia or bipolar disorder

A new study, published in the journal Psychiatry Research (source 1) reveals that a diet, now well known to the general public, could help people with schizophrenia or bipolar disorder to continue their treatments while maintaining good metabolic health . This is the ketogenic diet , also called “keto”. Continuing such a diet, accompanied by professionals, could also improve mental health.

Incidentally, the potential of the ketogenic diet became apparent to researcher and first author of the study Shebani Sethi when she saw a patient with schizophrenia see his auditory hallucinations reduced while following a ketogenic diet. An observation which pushed the scientist to continue the investigations.

Here, the pilot, or preliminary, trial was conducted over 4 months with 21 adult participants who had received a clinical diagnosis of schizophrenia or bipolar disorder, were taking antipsychotics and had a metabolic abnormality (weight gain, resistance to insulin, impaired glucose tolerance or even abnormal levels of certain lipids). Everyone had to follow a ketogenic diet as follows:

  • 10% of the caloric intake provided by carbohydrates,
  • 30% by proteins,
  • and 60% from fats.

However, the participants did not have to count their calories, but received help (recipes, health coach) to successfully follow such a diet. Proper adherence to the diet was monitored using weekly measurements of ketone levels (product of the breakdown of fats) in the blood.

At the end of the trial, 14 patients were fully adherent to the diet, six were semi-adherent, and only one was not adherent at all.

Huge changes observed both metabolic and psychiatric

Before the trial, 29% of participants met criteria for metabolic syndrome , compared to none at the end of the 4 months of the ketogenic diet.

Metabolic changes

On average, the participants lost 10% of their body weight at the start of the experiment, reduced their waist size by 11%, and reduced several health variables ( BMI , triglyceride levels in the blood, blood sugar, blood pressure, etc.) .

“We are seeing huge changes ,” Dr. Sethi said in a statement (source 2). “ Even if you take antipsychotics, we can still reverse obesity, metabolic syndrome, insulin resistance. I think it’s very encouraging for patients ,” she stressed.

Psychiatric changes

On the psychiatric side, participants improved their mental illness assessment by a psychiatrist by 31%, with three-quarters showing clinically significant improvement . They also reported better sleep, better mood, and greater life satisfaction.

A diet that would improve brain metabolism,

Although this remains a hypothesis to be proven, the ketogenic diet would work by improving the metabolism of the brain, as it would for the rest of the body. As certain psychiatric pathologies could arise from metabolic deficits in the brain, the “keto diet” would then provide an alternative fuel (ketones rather than glucose) to a brain exhibiting energy dysfunction.

For the moment, we can only recommend that people suffering from psychiatric pathologies and who would like to try the ketogenic diet talk to their referring doctor before starting, as such a diet has side effects and contraindications to consider.