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  7. Can a Keto Diet Ease Depression?

Can a Keto Diet Ease Depression?


Written By: Kelley Herring

You already know that the foods you eat can impact your physical health. But you might not realize the profound impact your food choices can have on your mood, emotions and mental health.

Of course, we’ve all experienced the feeling of being “hangry” (so darn hungry that we become short and ill-tempered). Conversely, most of us can relate to feeling euphoric during and after a delicious or long-awaited meal.

In today’s article, you’ll discover:

  • The “chemical imbalance” myth of depression

  • The link between inflammation and mood; and

  • The promising research linking the keto diet to a sunnier disposition

Depression is Not a Chemical Imbalance

You’ve no doubt seen pharmaceutical commercials, peddling pills that promise to straighten out the “chemical imbalance” that’s making you blue.

Selling antidepressant drugs based on the “chemical imbalance theory” has certainly boosted Big Pharma’s profits. In fact, antidepressants are a $12 billion dollar annual market in the U.S. alone! But research shows that depression is actually not caused by a mythical chemical imbalance.

Consider these facts:

  • Simply reducing levels of norepinephrine, serotonin and dopamine does not produce depression in humans.i

  • While some depressed patients do have low levels of serotonin and norepinephrine, the majority of depressed patients do not.ii

  • Some depressed patients have very high levels of serotonin and norepinephrine (while others with no history of depression have low levels).iii

  • Reviews of studies show no link between depression and “chemical imbalances” in the brain.iv, v

So if depression is not the result of a chemical imbalance, what is it?

Depression as a Symptom, Not a Disease

Recent research on depression points to a theory called The Immune-Cytokine Model of Depression (ICMD). In this model, depression is not considered a disease, but rather a symptom of inflammation and immune system

In an inflammatory state, tiny inflammatory chemicals called cytokines are produced, notably including interferon (IFN-g), tumor necrosis factor (TNF-a) and interleukins (IL-1) and (IL-10).

Nearly 40 years ago, scientists found that cytokines are capable of producing a wide variety of psychiatric and neurological symptoms – the very same symptoms that are characteristic of “depression”!vii, viii

Let’s take a look at the research between inflammation and depression:

  • Depressed patients have statistically higher levels of IL-6 and TNF-a.ix

  • Higher inflammation (as measured by C-reactive protein) is an independent risk factor for major depression in women.x

  • When inflammatory endotoxins are given to healthy patients, they display symptoms of depression.xi

  • Twenty-five percent of patients who take Interferon (an inflammatory medication used to treat hepatitis C) develop major depression.xii

  • When depression is diagnosed as “in remission”, blood tests often show a concurrent drop in inflammatory markers.xiii

But what is the root cause of the inflammation that can affect our brain in the first place?

depression, ketogenic, keto

Diet and Depression: The Inflammation Connection

As you know, what you eat can have a big impact on your levels of inflammation.

In fact, we’ve long known that healthy fats – especially the vital omega-3’s in wild seafood, conjugated linoleic acid (CLA) in grass-fed meats, and monounsaturated fats in olives, olive oil, avocados and pastured lard (yes, this is a superb source of MUFAs) – are important anti-inflammatory foods.xiv, xv, xvi

Of course, science has also shown that unhealthy foods like hydrogenated “trans” fats, seed and vegetable oils, and sugar can dramatically increase levels of inflammation and set the stage for chronic diseases.xvii

And when it comes to sugar, the link between consuming the sweet stuff and suffering from a depressed mood – is becoming more and more clear.

In fact, a study published in the Journal of Affective Disorders, found that diabetics with poor glycemic control experienced more severe depressive symptoms than those with better control of blood sugar.xviii Another study found that drugs which help to stabilize blood sugar also function as anti-depressants.xix

And research published in Scientific Reports found that men who ate 67 grams of sugar or more per day were 23% more likely to have depression after 5 years. Men who kept their daily sugar to 40 grams or less had much lower risk of depression.xx

Considering the connections between sugar and chronic inflammation, it is no surprise that a ketogenic diet could play a therapeutic role to ease the symptoms of depression.

keto diet


How the Keto Diet Can Ease Depression

Ketogenic diets have been used for the last 100 years to treat stubborn neurological conditions, like epilepsy. In recent years, it has been used with success to treat Parkinson’s Disease, traumatic brain injury, Alzheimer’s and more.xxi, xxii

In fact, many proponents of the keto diet believe that its sugar-slashing, inflammation-reducing benefits are at the core of its ability to heal the brain. Dr. Georgia Ede, a Harvard University-trained psychiatrist who studies the relationship between mental health and nutrition, says:

“…when refined carbs and sugar serve as the brain’s primary food source, the neural pathways are overwhelmed with free radicals and glucose, depleting our natural internal antioxidants and leading to excess oxidation and inflammation. When the brain draws its energy from ketones, fewer free radicals are produced, allowing our natural antioxidants to easily neutralize them without becoming depleted. Mitochondria, the “engines” of cells, function more effectively, and neurotransmitters’ journeys across synapses may be eased.”

In addition, the keto diet appears to help the body produce optimal amounts of GABA, the brain’s main inhibitory neurotransmitter, which has also been shown to help alleviate anxiety and depression.xxiii

Less Sugar, More Happy?

Depression is a multifaceted condition. And of course, there are many circumstances and life changes that can cause us to feel blue. But research clearly shows that putting a damper on inflammation is a vital step in alleviating this mood disorder.

By choosing a low-carbohydrate or ketogenic diet, you naturally eliminate the blood sugar spikes that promote systemic inflammation. And by opting for Mother Nature’s most powerful anti-inflammatory foods – including wild fish, game, and pastured meats – we provide our bodies and brains with the ancestral building blocks for a happy mood and a healthy, disease-free body.

kelley herring


Kelley Herring is the author of the brand new book Keto Breads – which includes more information you need to know about why it is so important to avoid wheat and grains in your diet, plus how to use healthy replacements for these foods to create all the breads you love… without the gluten, carbs and health-harming effects. Click here to learn more about Keto Breads





iv Lacasse JR1, Leo J.Serotonin and depression: a disconnect between the advertisements and the scientific literature.PLoS Med. 2005 Dec;2(12):e392. Epub 2005 Nov 8.

v Blaming the Brain. The Truth About Drugs and Mental Health. Elliot Valenstein. Free Press; Original ed. edition (February 1, 2002)

vi Barnes J, Mondelli V, Pariante CM. Genetic Contributions of Inflammation to Depression. Neuropsychopharmacology. 2017;42(1):81–98. doi:10.1038/npp.2016.169


viii Michael Berk, Lana J Williams, Felice N Jacka, Adrienne O’Neil, Julie A Pasco, Steven Moylan, Nicholas B Allen, Amanda L Stuart, Amie C Hayley, Michelle L Byrne & Michael Maes. So depression is an inflammatory disease, but where does the inflammation come from? BMC Medicinevolume 11, Article number: 200 (2013)

ix Dowlati Y1, Herrmann N, Swardfager W, Liu H, Sham L, Reim EK, Lanctôt KL.A meta-analysis of cytokines in major depression.Biol Psychiatry. 2010 Mar 1;67(5):446-57. doi: 10.1016/j.biopsych.2009.09.033. Epub 2009 Dec 16.

x Pasco JA1, Nicholson GC, Williams LJ, Jacka FN, Henry MJ, Kotowicz MA, Schneider HG, Leonard BE, Berk M.Association of high-sensitivity C-reactive protein with de novo major depression.Br J Psychiatry. 2010 Nov;197(5):372-7. doi: 10.1192/bjp.bp.109.076430.

xi Reichenberg A1, Yirmiya R, Schuld A, Kraus T, Haack M, Morag A, Pollmächer T.Cytokine-associated emotional and cognitive disturbances in humans.Arch Gen Psychiatry. 2001 May;58(5):445-52.

xii Udina M1, Castellví P, Moreno-España J, Navinés R, Valdés M, Forns X, Langohr K, Solà R, Vieta E, Martín-Santos R.Interferon-induced depression in chronic hepatitis C: a systematic review and meta-analysis.J Clin Psychiatry. 2012 Aug;73(8):1128-38. doi: 10.4088/JCP.12r07694.

xiii Hannestad J1, DellaGioia N, Bloch M.The effect of antidepressant medication treatment on serum levels of inflammatory cytokines: a meta-analysis.Neuropsychopharmacology. 2011 Nov;36(12):2452-9. doi: 10.1038/npp.2011.132. Epub 2011 Jul 27.

xiv Darwesh AM1, Sosnowski DK1, Lee TY1, Keshavarz-Bahaghighat H1, Seubert JM2.Insights into the cardioprotective properties of n-3 PUFAs against ischemic heart disease via modulation of the innate immune system.Chem Biol Interact. 2019 Aug 1;308:20-44. doi: 10.1016/j.cbi.2019.04.037. Epub 2019 May 5.

xv Miguel Ángel Martínez-GonzálezAlmudena Sánchez-Villegas. Review: The emerging role of Mediterranean diets in cardiovascular epidemiology: Monounsaturated fats, olive oil, red wine or the whole pattern?January 2004, Volume 19, Issue 1, pp 9–13

xvi Cigliano L1, Spagnuolo MS2, Boscaino F3, Ferrandino I1, Monaco A1, Capriello T1, Cocca E4, Iannotta L1, Treppiccione L3, Luongo D3, Maurano F3, Rossi M3, Bergamo P3.Dietary Supplementation with Fish Oil or Conjugated Linoleic Acid Relieves Depression Markers in Mice by Modulation of the Nrf2 Pathway.Mol Nutr Food Res. 2019 Aug 9:e1900243. doi: 10.1002/mnfr.201900243.

xvii Valentina Remig, Barry Franklin, Simeon Margolis, Georgia Kostas, Theresa Nece, James C. Street,Trans Fats in America: A Review of Their Use, Consumption, Health Implications, and Regulation,Journal of the American Dietetic Association,Volume 110, Issue 4,2010,Pages 585-592,ISSN 0002-8223,

xviii Belvederi Murri M1, Mamberto S2, Briatore L3, Mazzucchelli C4, Amore M5, Cordera R2.The interplay between diabetes, depression and affective temperaments: A structural equation model.J Affect Disord. 2017 Sep;219:64-71. doi: 10.1016/j.jad.2017.05.018. Epub 2017 May 11.

xix Grigolon RB1, Brietzke E2, Mansur RB3, Idzikowski MA4, Gerchman F5, De Felice FG6, McIntyre RS7.Association between diabetes and mood disorders and the potential use of anti-hyperglycemic agents as antidepressants.Prog Neuropsychopharmacol Biol Psychiatry. 2019 Jul 25;95:109720. doi: 10.1016/j.pnpbp.2019.109720.

xx Anika Knüppel, Martin J. Shipley, Clare H. Llewellyn & Eric J. Brunner. Sugar intake from sweet food and beverages, common mental disorder and depression: prospective findings from the Whitehall II study. Scientific Reports volume 7, Article number: 6287 (2017)

xxi Yang H1,2, Shan W1,2,3,4, Zhu F1,2, Wu J1,2,4, Wang Q1,2,3,4. Ketone Bodies in Neurological Diseases: Focus on Neuroprotection and Underlying Mechanisms.Front Neurol. 2019 Jun 12;10:585. doi: 10.3389/fneur.2019.00585. eCollection 2019.

xxii Murphy, Patricia et al.The antidepressant properties of the ketogenic diet. Biological Psychiatry, Volume 56, Issue 12, 981 – 983

xxiii Hartman AL, Gasior M, Vining EP, Rogawski MA. The neuropharmacology of the ketogenic diet. Pediatr Neurol. 2007;36(5):281–292. doi:10.1016/j.pediatrneurol.2007.02.008