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The keto diet is a low carb, high fat, moderate protein diet that was originally used by people with epilepsy to help manage seizures.
But, does giving up carbs and sugar also affect your mood?
Today, in this article we are going to talk about how the keto diet may relieve or cause depression, and steps you should take if you’re on keto and feeling depressed.
The keto diet provides a number positive effects on the brain and nervous system.
Research suggests that it not only helps with epilepsy but also migraine, other seizure disorders, and Alzheimer’s dementia.
Moreover, there’s enough scientific evidence to prove that the use of the keto diet may help treat mood disorders, including depression, as the diet may positively affect your brain and nervous system in several ways.
Here are some of the ways in which a ketogenic diet may improve depression.
#1. Keto diet may improve GABA.
Gamma-aminobutyric acid or GABA is a neurotransmitter that plays key roles in managing stress, anxiety, and mood. Low GABA levels have been linked to clinical depression
Many studies have found that following a ketogenic diet may increase circulating levels of
GABA, which might improve depressive symptoms.
#2. Keto diet may decrease oxidative stress.
Oxidative stress refers to cellular damage caused by free radicals.
These are unstable compounds you’re exposed to in your daily life, and they can damage cells if they build up in your body.
Oxidative stress is associated with a number of diseases and health conditions. High levels of this stress have also been noted in people with depression.
However, following a ketogenic diet may help in mitigating oxidative stress, improve your antioxidant status, and help reverse some of the damage caused by free radicals — which helps in improving depressive symptoms.
#3. Healthy fats feed your brain.
All that healthy fat that you eat on keto feeds your brain, keeping your moods stable. Your brain is made up of nearly 60 percent fat, and it needs plenty of good fats to keep it running.
A number of studies have shown that omega-3 fatty acids, found in wild fish, grass-fed beef, and fish oils, can potentially reduce depression.
#4. Keto diet may regulate insulin function
Insulin is a hormone that helps manage your blood sugar levels, and it may also play a role in depression and mood.
Those who eat a diet that’s high in sugar and refined starch, can develop insulin resistance — which is when their body doesn’t respond to insulin as well as it should.
Insulin resistance is not only linked to weight gain, Type 2 diabetes, and heart disease but also depression.
However, following a ketogenic diet, which limits sugar and carbs and helps you keep your blood sugar levels stable, may improve your insulin sensitivity, helping you achieve a better mood.
#5. Keto diet may reduce inflammation.
Many researches have linked chronic inflammation to depression.
It’s a dysfunctional immune response that can make you susceptible to many other problems, including insulin resistance, oxidative stress, mitochondrial dysfunction, and GABA suppression.
However, the ketogenic diet has some anti-inflammatory properties and may improve chronic inflammation.
This may be because using ketones for energy generates fewer pro-inflammatory compounds called reactive oxygen species than using glucose for energy.
On the other hand, the keto diet may also cause depressive symptoms or worsen depression in some people.
Here are a few possible reasons why you might be feeling depressed on a Keto diet.
Why You Might be Feeling Depressed on Keto Diet
#1. Keto diet might be too restrictive for you
The keto diet can feel extremely restrictive for most people, requiring you to avoid sugar, starch, legumes, and carb-rich fruits and vegetables.
This excessive restriction may cause you to feel depressed — be it from avoiding comfort foods, making a significant, abrupt change to your regular diet, or even a nutrient deficiency.
#2. You may be suffering from keto flu.
Keto can be difficult to adjust to, and some common early symptoms of your body switching into ketosis — known as the “keto flu” — can be difficult to manage.
The keto flu can involve headaches, sleep disturbances, cramping, and fatigue. However, these symptoms generally subside after a week or two.
So it’s best to wait it out.
These symptoms can also be resolved if you start consuming more fluid and electrolytes.
#3. You may not be eating enough nutrient dense foods.
You might be indulging in what’s known as “dirty keto”, where you get your keto macros from junk food.
For example – your meal might be a bunless bacon cheeseburger and diet soda. Eating foods low in vitamins, minerals, and enzymes won’t do your mood any favors.
Your body relies on nutrient-dense foods, particularly high-quality protein and healthy fats, to make neurotransmitters like serotonin and dopamine, which help stabilize your mood.
#4. You might be feeling socially isolated
Keto diet restricts certain food groups which can potentially leave you feeling socially isolated.
Especially if many of your social gatherings revolve around food. If you’re cooking at home more often to stick to your keto diet, you may experience some depression if you’re more socially isolated as a result.
It’s important to remember that there’s a difference between feeling depressed occasionally and having a depressive disorder.
It’s normal to feel sad sometimes, but if it’s affecting your ability to live your life normally, you should seek professional help.
If you feel that the diet itself is causing you to feel depressed because it’s excessively restrictive, has unpleasant side effects, or is contributing to social isolation, you should discontinue it.
Keto is not the only successful weight loss diet, and you can find weight loss success on other, less restrictive programs.
However, If you want to continue the diet, here are some strategies you can consider:
Tips To Manage Depression on Keto
#1. Wait out the keto flu.
If you’ve only recently transitioned to the keto diet, your symptoms may be tied to the keto flu.
Waiting out the first few days and making sure to drink plenty of fluids and supplement with electrolytes, will make the transition easier.
#2. Focus on high quality protein and veggies
If you’re not getting enough mood-supporting nutrients, try including more high quality, whole foods in your diet.
Magnesium-rich foods like avocado, almonds, and low sugar dark chocolate may help with depressive symptoms.
#3. Try carb cycling
This technique allows you to load up on carbs one day per week, which may make it easier to stick to the diet over the long term without sacrificing your favorite foods or eliminating carbs.
If you’re not sure if your depression was caused or worsened by the keto diet, you should strongly consider pursuing help from a qualified mental health professional.
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