I find the evidence that the brain prefers ketone bodies for fuel quite compelling. In addition, the fact that ketones are involved in lowering oxidative stress throughout the body begins to explain some of the remarkable improvements we see in health when folks switch to a ketogenic diet.
– Dr. Jay Wortman
The mechanisms of Parkinson’s disease are extremely similar to those of Alzheimer’s, which is why diet is also theorized to be an effective treatment for Parkinson’s. In an uncontrolled clinical study published in the February 22, 2005, issue of the journal Neurology, five patients who followed a very low-carb (2 percent of calories), very high-fat (90 percent of calories) diet for twenty-eight days showed improvement as measured by the Unified Parkinson’s Disease Rating Scale. Their balance improved, their tremors and shaking ceased, and their overall mood was much happier. The brain loves ketones, especially when it has become impaired by Alzheimer’s or Parkinson’s.
Schizophrenia, Bipolar Disorder, and Other Mental Illnesses
As a neuroscientist, I find the most interesting beneficial aspects of being in ketosis to be the cognitive benefits. The research supports a general enhancement in things like short-term memory, verbal memory, and mood. Ketones have neuroprotective properties, which mean they protect your brain cells. They provide a clean-burning energy source, increase antioxidants, and decrease inflammation.
– Bryan Barksdale
Interestingly, it is being theorized that the root cause of many mental illnesses isn’t in the brain: it’s in the gut. Poor gut health can be brought on by a high-carb, grain-based diet; an overuse of antibiotics; common over-the-counter drugs; and even the state of your mother’s gut health when you were born. A low-carb, high-fat, ketogenic diet gives you a fighting chance to improve your mental health by stabilizing your brain chemistry through the changes made in the gut.
The possible link between gluten, a substance found in grains, and schizophrenia was first suspected when researchers noticed that there were fewer hospitalizations for this condition during World War II, when grains were rationed. In 1965, an uncontrolled clinical study showed that a ketogenic diet could decrease schizophrenia symptoms.
And a more recent case study (whose researchers included my coauthor, Dr. Eric Westman) published in the February 26, 2009, issue of the journal Nutrition & Metabolism found that schizophrenic symptoms resolved after a ketogenic diet was begun for weight loss. There are also two other case studies showing that bipolar disorder similarly improves on a ketogenic diet.
Because of my interest in neuroscience, I am most impressed with the ability of a ketogenic diet to improve brain function. This is not just true for people with obvious brain disorders—it also applies to those who are quite healthy. In this complex world full of daily stresses, getting a leg up when it comes to brain function can improve your life in a multitude of ways. On the other hand, if you want to guarantee declining brain function, I suggest sticking with the Standard American Diet!
– Dr. Bill Wilson
When Hollywood actress Catherine Zeta-Jones checked herself into a clinic for help in dealing with her bipolar II disorder in 2011 and again in 2013, it shone a spotlight on this very serious mental condition. Depression and manic episodes are the hallmarks of bipolar disorder (bipolar I disorder tends to involve more obvious fits of full-blown mania, while bipolar II disorder can be milder in nature but still life-altering).
Its primary treatment tends to be the exact same anticonvulsant medications that are also used to treat epilepsy. And as you learned in the previous chapter, a ketogenic diet was traditionally used to treat epileptic seizures. Could a low-carb, moderate-protein, high-fat nutritional approach help bipolar disorder as well?
The answer to that question is not as definitive as we might hope. Fueling the brain with ketone bodies instead of glucose should, theoretically, reduce the activity of neurotransmitters, helping to stabilize mood. But in an Israeli case study published in the February 2002 issue of the medical journal Bipolar Disorders, a bipolar patient who was nonresponsive to medication was put on a ketogenic diet for one month. Doctors even added MCT oil to the diet to help boost ketone production. But the patient saw no improvement.