Can You Get Keto Mood Swings from the Keto Diet?

keto mood swings

It’s common knowledge by now that physical and mental health are related. Your diet can affect your mental health just as much as stress, tedium, and pressure from relationships can. The keto diet, such as it is, forbids a high intake of carbohydrates which are the default energy source for most people. While this doesn’t mean you should eliminate the entire food group from your diet, it does mean restriction. Does this mean you can get keto mood swings?

This change in your diet can affect several chemicals in the body that relate to the brain. On top of that, tracking calories and nutrient intake can actually take a toll on mental health. Your diet shouldn’t just be to reach a goal weight. It should primarily benefit your mental and physical health conditions simultaneously.

A group of researchers at the University College London found that dieting can depress you even if you do lose weight. The experience of restricting yourself from certain foods and the resulting withdrawal can take a toll despite the loss in inches.

The willpower exhausted while dieting can involve missing out on special meals and the joy of participating in special dinners. This doesn’t have to do with your emotional resilience, it’s a physical toll that anyone can find hard to adjust to.

However, besides the misery from avoiding carbs for energy, does the keto diet translate into mood swings or depression? The answer isn’t as cut and dry as you may think. Let’s find out.

Does the Keto Diet Cause Depression or Depressive-Like Behavior?

keto diet mood swings

The answer is not definite, and carries a lot of nuance. Yes, there are certain conditions under which the keto diet can cause depression and mood swings. At times, the body can experience difficult to manage symptoms like sleep disturbances, headaches, fatigue. This physical toll can translate into mental problems as well.

Other physical problems stemming from the keto diet like nutrient deficiencies or the kidney or liver problems can translate into mental problems. Hence, it’s important to measure and adjust to the keto diet instead of rushing into it.

However, these symptoms almost always manifest themselves through the addition of a social component. This can be losing out on dinners or meals you share with friends and family which include high carb foods. The lack of participating in these social gatherings can cause isolation or a lack of enjoyment. This can translate into loneliness or a lack of connection.

What to Do If You Get Keto Mood Swings and Depression

How to combat depression from the keto diet

If the keto diet has resulted in mood swings or depression, you should consider altering it to fit your body. After all, everyone’s body is a little different.Here are 3 tips to help you deal with keto mood swings

1. Add High-Quality Proteins and Fats to Your Diet

There are several mood supporting fats and proteins that you can add to your keto diet to supplement the nutrients that you’re not getting. These include a fat sources like dry fruits like avocados and almonds. These foods are high in magnesium content which can help alleviate depressive symptoms.

You can even try adding in low-sugar dark chocolate. Chocolate has been known to stimulate endorphins, nicknamed happy hormones. These can help you feel incredibly light and peppy when you’re feeling down. Just make sure to not overdo it, otherwise you’ll stop ketosis.

2. Drink Lots of Water

The keto diet is known for its dehydrating effects and water weight loss. For one, the absence of enough grams of carbohydrates for energy in the body can lead to low water content in itself. However, the keto diet also results in the body burning fat for energy. Hence, lots of water content may be lost in the process.

This can take a physical toll on the body which can result in chronic inflammation, and hence, pain and anxiety. Drinking water to compensate the change in your diet can actually help you transition or adjust. Taking an electrolyte solution mixed with water can also help.

3. Try the Cyclical Keto Diet

This is a technique that can ease you into the keto diet to offset the severity of symptoms from the effects of keto mood swings. The cyclical keto diet or carb cycling allows a single high carbohydrate day in a week. In layman’s terms, this is a cheat day.

This makes it easier for you to stick to the keto diet over the long term without the need to sacrifice your favorite foods for too long. It will also result in a small spike in blood glucose levels every once in a while. This can help the body adjust and also keep your mental health intact by reducing any carbohydrate withdrawal symptoms or adverse effects of the shifting diet.

4. Eat Anti-Inflammatory Foods

Try to eat as many anti-inflammatory foods as possible during the keto diet. These include leafy greens like spinach, kale, etc. or fatty fish like salmon. You can even try certain fruits like strawberries, cherries, or blueberries. However, always keep your fruit intake in check, since that can offset the gains you’ve made with the keto diet.

You can look up the best foods to eat on your keto diet in our article here.

How the Keto Diet Can Combat Depression

How the keto diet can alleviate depression

Lets look at the flip side of the argument. The keto diet can actually combat depression.

Increasing GABA

GABA (Gamma-aminobutyric acid) is a key neurotransmitter for managing mood, anxiety and stress. Low GABA levels often link to clinically diagnosed depression as well. The keto diet has been found to circulate GABA in the body, which can lead to improvement in depressive symptoms. While more research is required in this area, the results are promising.

Decreasing Oxidative Stress

Oxidative stress results from free radicals which are unstable compounds that you’re exposed to. They can damage cells if they build up in your body. High stress levels have a clear link to people dealing with depression as well.

The keto diet can reduce this stress and improve antioxidant status. This can reverse the damage that is caused by free radicals. This can help reduce depression.

Decreasing Inflammation

Depression is closely linked to chronic inflammation. It’s an immune response which can result in several other problems including oxidative stress and GABA suppression. The keto diet has anti-inflammatory properties which can remedy these problems. For one, it uses ketones as fuel for the body. That reduces the need for glucose, and thus reduces inflammation.

Regulating Insulin Sensitivity

Following a keto diet obviously limits sugar and starch intake. This can help keep blood glucose levels under control. This can improve your insulin sensitivity as well. Since insulin also helps regulate mood and depression according to certain studies, this is a major plus when it comes to the keto diet.

Improving Mitochondrial Function

The powerhouse of the cell, the mitochondria is a component which generates energy that the cell needs to function. Dysfunction in the mitochondria produces inadequate energy for the cell to function and has been linked to depression.

Lower levels of ATP (adenosine triphosphate), the energy providing compound for the mitochondria, have been found in the brains of depressives.

The Keto diet has been shown to increase the production of ATP in people suffering with mitochondrial dysfunction. This can potentially alleviate depressive symptoms.

How the Keto Diet Combats Mood Swings and Mood Disorders

How the keto diet combats mood swings and depression

While the keto diet is still undergoing research and experimentation, scholars agree that it affects your metabolic rate. These effects translate into decreasing neuronal excitability and neuro-protection. Hence, there has been research on how mood swings and mood disorders can be affected by the ketogenic diet.

The beneficial effects of the ketogenic diet on mood disorders are based on observational evidence and range from anecdotes to hypothesis.

The Effects of a Low Carbohydrate Diet on Mental Health

How low carb diets can affect mental health

The effects of a low-carb diet on mental health have been carried out for almost 40 years now. This means that there’s a wealth of literature on the subject beyond the inconclusive, or sparse studies that are found in food science.

While low-carb diets are known primarily for their popularity for weight gain treatment or obesity treatments, they are still less studied than other weight loss methods. In 2016, eight of these studies were collected in a survey study published in the Journal “Nutrients”.

The findings commented on the short and long term psycho-social effects of a low carbohydrate diet on the human body.

Short-Term Effects of a Low Carb Diet

  • A 1982 study by Rosen et al. regarding 6 weeks of carbohydrate restriction showed that there was no mood elevation associated with the diet. There was also no change in rates of depression and anxiety, and no difference in psychological effects.
  • A 1985 study by the same group as above revised those results. It showed that a low carbohydrate diet showed a reduced appetite as well as an elevated psychological wellbeing in the first 2 weeks. Beyond that time, these effects didn’t last and returned to baseline levels.
  • A 2007 study by Halyburton et al. compared a high-fat, low-carb diet with a conventional low fat, high-carb diet. Both groups showed improvement in psychological wellbeing, but the greatest effects were during the first 2 weeks. At the end of the study, there was no difference in the psychological wellbeing of both groups.
  • A 2014 study compared a very low-carb, high fat diet and a moderate-carbohydrate, low fat diet. The result didn’t demonstrate any significant differences in psychological outcomes.

Long-Term Effects of a Low Carb Diet

  • A 2009 study by Brinkworth et al. assessed the effects for a high-fat, low-carb diet for over a year. The patients ranged from 24 to 64 years of age. No significant difference in weights was observed. However, the high-carbohydrate, low-fat diet group showed greater improvements in anxiety, depression, anger-hostility, and total mood disturbance.
  • A 2013 study by Dalle Grave et al. compared the effects of a high-carb, low-protein diet and a low-carb, high-protein diet. This was for patients undergoing cognitive behavioral therapy. After one year of treatment, all psychosocial measures showed great improvement in both groups with no significant difference.
  • A 2016 study by Brinkworth et al. examined the psychological effects of a very low carbohydrate diet on adults aged 35 to 68. They combined the diet with a supervised exercise program. After a year, the research subjects showed great improvements in all psychosocial measures. However, the authors observed that a macro-nutrient composition didn’t affect these metrics.

These studies showed that any short or long term improvements in psychosocial outcomes in patients didn’t depend on macronutrient factors.

You can use this information to shape your keto diet to benefit your mental health and physical health simultaneously.

Founder, Certified Ketogenic Diet and Ketosis Health Coach.

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