Keto diet shows promise for brain health: Researchers explore its impact on mental disorders

Credit: DALL.E.

Autism, Alzheimer’s, and bipolar disorder—can these mental health conditions be influenced by the ketogenic diet?

Increasingly, research suggests they might. “For those it helps, it can be life-changing,” says neuroscientist Eline Dekeyster.

The popularity of this topic was evident at Dekeyster’s lecture on nutrition and the brain, which drew over 700 attendees.

“Many people struggle with mental health issues, and more research shows that nutrition plays a significant role,” she explains. Dekeyster heads the Lifestyle Brain Interaction lab, studying how nutrition affects conditions like Alzheimer’s and autism.

Dekeyster and her team investigate how ketogenic interventions impact mental health.

“A ketogenic intervention brings the body into ketosis, where ketones are produced. Ketones fuel the body, regulate DNA expression, reduce inflammation, and protect brain cells,” she explains.

How do we achieve ketosis? Dekeyster outlines three methods:

  1. Fasting: When you don’t eat for a while, your body first uses up its glycogen stores. Then, it starts burning fat, converting it into ketones in the liver.
  2. Supplements: Ketones can be taken in liquid or powder form.
  3. Ketogenic Diet: A low-carb, high-fat diet can induce ketosis.

Entering ketosis isn’t easy without conscious effort. “Unlike in hunter-gatherer times, we no longer go long periods without food.

The Western diet is high in bread, grains, potatoes, and rice, which prevents the body from switching to fat burning and ketosis,” says Dekeyster.

Is Keto Safe for Everyone?

While Dekeyster sees potential benefits, she cautions that the keto diet isn’t for everyone.

“Keto can be dangerous for those with uncontrolled diabetes, excessive alcohol consumption, certain metabolic disorders, kidney diseases, heart rhythm issues, and for those taking certain medications. Always consult your doctor first.”

Keto interventions aren’t new. “Hippocrates suggested fasting as a therapy around 500 BC,” says Dekeyster. “Since 1921, the ketogenic diet has been used to treat epilepsy, reducing seizures significantly.”

Dekeyster’s research indicates ketogenic interventions might prevent autism. “People with autism often suffer from anxiety and depression. Current treatments focus on managing symptoms, but we aim to address underlying mechanisms.”

In studies, mice with genetic markers for autism showed reduced symptoms when fed ketogenic diets. Human studies also show promise, though they are still small.

Research suggests ketogenic interventions might also prevent Alzheimer’s and reduce symptoms of bipolar disorder. Dekeyster’s team aims to further explore these benefits and safely integrate ketogenic interventions into mainstream healthcare.

“Keto works for some people but not for others. But for those it works for, it can be life-changing. And especially if there are no other treatment options, that’s hopeful,” concludes Dekeyster.

If you care about brain health, please read studies about Vitamin B9 deficiency linked to higher dementia risk, and cranberries could help boost memory.

For more information about brain health, please see recent studies about heartburn drugs that could increase risk of dementia, and results showing this MIND diet may protect your cognitive function, prevent dementia.