Is a Ketogenic Diet Effective in Treating Bipolar Disorder?

bipolar disorder

Some patients with bipolar disorder are reluctant to take medications and may consider alternative therapies such as changing their diets. One diet that has attracted some attention in this field is a ketogenic diet.


What Is A Ketogenic Diet?

A ketogenic diet is a diet comprised of foods that are:

  • high-fat
  • low-protein
  • low-carbohydrate


Example of foods that could be consumed on such a diet are:

  • range of meats including chicken, red meat
  • seafood such as salmon and prawns
  • full-fat dairy products
  • eggs
  • fats and oils such as olive oil and coconut oil, butter
  • nuts and seeds
  • avocado
  • green vegetables



By consuming this diet, our body produces what are known as ketone bodies and levels of blood glucose drops. The preferred fuel for our cells is glucose. However, in the absence of glucose, most cells have the ability to adopt, and use  ketone bodies as an alternative fuel.



Can A Ketogenic Diet Treat Bipolar Disorder?

Since the 1920s ketogenic diet has been used for the treatment of epilepsy to control seizures. More recently, consumption of a ketogenic diet has been assessed in a variety of mental disorders including depression and bipolar disorder.


At the moment there are no high-quality studies that prove the effectiveness of ketogenic diets for the treatment of bipolar disorders. However, some, but not all  individuals who have been placed on a ketogenic diet have reported significant mood stabilization.


It is argued that those who have not experienced mood stabilization on a ketogenic diet, have failed to achieve ketosis- a state in which blood ketone bodies rise and blood pH is reduced- perhaps due to their inability to adhere to the diet. The rise in the level of ketone bodies, and the subsequent reduction in blood pH, may be critical to bringing about the therapeutic effects of a ketogenic diet in the treatment of bipolar disorder.


It is worth mentioning that a patient who experienced significant mood stabilization on a ketogenic diet, supplemented her diet with vitamin D and omega-3 fatty acids, and probiotics. It could be argued that it was  the combination of a ketogenic diet together with the aforementioned supplements that led to the observed  clinical improvements in this patient.


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How could a ketogenic diet help with bipolar disorder?


Raised Levels Of “Happiness Hormone

In children with epilepsy, a ketogenic diet has been shown to raise the levels of the “happiness neurotransmitter,” serotonin.” As such it could be hypothesised that a ketogenic diet helps with depressive episodes through elevating levels of the happiness neurotransmitters.


Improving Sleep

Disturbed sleep pattern is a well-recognised feature of mental disorders. Ketogenic diet has been shown to influence sleep quality and as such it is believed that, at least some of its therapeutic effects, could be attributed to changes in sleep quality.


Are There Any Risks Involved?

It is important to note that ketogenic diet is not considered a balanced diet and may lead to nutritional deficiencies if not managed well. It may also lead to potential side effects including:


  • elevated blood lipid level
  • constipation
  • menstrual irregularities
  • formation of kidney stones
  • bone abnormalities



Ultimately, it all comes down to individual preference, and current health status. The biggest challenge for patients is often adhering to this diet, particularly over long-term. However, if you do wish to try it, we do recommend you consult a medical professional before initiating a ketogenic diet.


At EmotionMatters, our experienced team of therapists can help you through stabilising  your mood. If you are interested in trying a ketogenic diet as an adjunct to your talking therapy,  our Clinical Dietician can provide you with a suitable diet plan.  


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