Atkins. South Beach. Whole 30. Paleo. Keto.
If you have ever struggled with weight or health issues before, chances are that you’ve heard of at least some of the diets mentioned above. Few terms are met with as much disgust as the word “diet,” because so many people associate diets with denial or exclusion.
But it’s good for us to keep an eye on what we fuel our bodies with, especially because we’re charged to be good stewards of our bodies and resources, and America can often be a tempting land of excess.
The ketogenic or keto diet has gained popularity in recent years. It focuses on lots of good fats, protein, and limited carbs.
While this focus has helped many people lose weight, some have found that it also improves their good cholesterol levels and their blood pressure. Others are now suggesting that there are quite a few potential mental health benefits as well, according to Psychology Today.
In her article, Georgia Ede, M.D., states that people with a variety of psychiatric disorders — including anxiety, ADHD, PTSD, autism and depression — could greatly benefit from stricter diets like the keto diet for eight major reasons.
1. Lower chance of cerebral glucose hypometabolism
Reducing your carb intake can help decrease levels of blood insulin, and in turn lowers the risk of “cerebral glucose hypometabolism,” which is when the brain is unable to efficiently process glucose. This hypometabolism can lead to debilitating conditions such as Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s.
2. Lower brain inflammation
Too much sugar can actually send your brain into a downward spiral of inflammation, which Ede says “is well established as a root cause of most psychiatric and neurological diseases.”
3. Reduce glucose “brain flooding”
Ede writes that you can flood your brain with too much glucose, which is toxic to neurons. Fewer carbs = less likely to damage your brain with an influx of sugar.
4. Help neurotransmitters
By now it should be no surprise that sugar can be damaging to the brain in a number of ways — it can also disrupt pathways and send the brain into glutamate toxicity, once again damaging neurons.
5. Reduce stress and adrenaline hormones
That “crash” you feel after ingesting a load of carbs also releases stress hormones and is part of a vicious cycle that leads to ingesting more carbs, crashing, ingesting… and so on. Instead, limiting your carb intake helps you maintain a more even blood sugar level that keeps you from becoming dependent on more carbs.
6. Improve response to stress
With all the stress we put on ourselves in this fast-paced world, it’s crucial that our brains be able to remain flexible and adaptable. Lots of sugar can reduce levels of a protein known as BDNF, which helps keep the brain responding well to stress. Low-carb diets raise levels of that vital protein, improving our ability to respond well to change.
7. Promote healthy mitochondria
Sugar can also harm the powerhouse of the cell. Too much sugar can mean mitochondria aren’t functioning as well as they could, affecting your overall energy level.
8. Save the cells
Just as sugar can damage mitochondria and flood the brain, Ede says it can cause a surge of free radicals — which wreak havoc on the cells around them and lower your antioxidant capacity.
Despite all these positive potential benefits, a 2017 study in the “Frontiers in Psychology” journal entitled “The Current Status of the Ketogenic Diet in Psychiatry” warns that a keto diet may not be the panacea we want it to be.
In conclusion, the study states that “despite its long history in neurology, the role of KD in mental disorders is unclear.”
But how bad can it be to give it a try? Worst-case scenario, you eat more conscientiously, improve your overall health and maybe even lose some weight along the way.
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