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The ketogenic diet has been recognized for its potential physical and mental health benefits. A new study suggests that following a ketogenic diet may also be associated with better mood and mental well-being in the general population. For those new to keto, experts recommend starting this dietary pattern under the guidance of a nutrition professional, such as a dietitian. Other dietary patterns, such as the Mediterranean or DASH diets, have more robust evidence for improving mental health. The ketogenic diet is characterized by high fat, low carbohydrate, and moderate protein intake, which has been acknowledged for its potential metabolic and psychological benefits. A recent pilot study from Stanford Medicine also reported improved symptoms in patients with severe mental illness after a 4-month ketogenic regimen and standard treatment, which led to further exploration of the diet’s potential psychological benefits for the general population.

A new study investigated how the keto diet affects different aspects of mental health in the general global population. The findings, published in Nutrition, suggest that following a ketogenic diet may be linked with better mental and emotional health in the general population, with benefits increasing over time. Researchers at Northumbria University in Newcastle-upon-Tyne, England, aimed to find out how the ketogenic diet could affect various aspects of mental health, including mood, cognitive and emotional stress, depression and anxiety symptoms, and feelings of loneliness. Participants following a ketogenic diet reported better psychological well-being, including superior mood states, reduced anxiety and depression, and fewer feelings of stress and loneliness. These psychological benefits appeared regardless of ketone levels, suggesting that sustained dietary habits might contribute to mental well-being regardless of metabolic changes.

The study recruited participants through social media for two cohorts, with a total of 423 participants. All participants were 18 or older and free from clinically diagnosed mood, anxiety, neurodevelopmental, and neurodegenerative disorders. The surveys included various scales to measure mental health outcomes, demographics, socioeconomic factors, and dietary habits. Foods were categorized based on compatibility with the ketogenic diet, and participants were asked about their reasons for following a ketogenic diet, if they monitored their ketone levels, and their last reading. Participants following the ketogenic diet reported better psychological well-being, including superior mood states, reduced anxiety and depression, and fewer feelings of stress and loneliness. However, reported loneliness was not statistically significant after adjusting for group disparities.

The study authors noted that longer adherence to the ketogenic diet correlated with better mood, which contradicts previous research findings. Medical experts explain that a ketogenic diet might improve psychological well-being by increasing gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) levels, influencing neurotransmitters like dopamine and serotonin, and affecting the gut microbiome, which can impact behavior and stress response. However, future studies should incorporate biological markers to complement self-reported data, especially regarding neurotransmitter levels, stress hormones, and gut microbiome composition. Further research is needed to explore the long-term mental health effects of a ketogenic diet, as some studies show no long-term benefits on mood or cognition. Before attempting the ketogenic diet, individuals should consult healthcare providers, especially for those with complex health conditions or considering major dietary changes.

While the ketogenic diet shows evidence of benefits for mental health, experts recommend a balanced, whole-food, plant-forward diet as a safer option for improving mental health. Diets such as the Mediterranean or DASH diets have more documented mental health benefits and fewer associated risks. For individuals with mental health conditions, these diets may be recommended in conjunction with traditional psychiatric treatments. Limiting certain ultra-processed foods and consuming healthy carbohydrates and omega-3 fatty acids can further benefit mood and support mental health. Future research is needed to fully understand the psychological benefits of a ketogenic diet and determine the best dietary approach for supporting overall mental well-being.

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