Ketogenic Diet for Bipolar Disorder:  My research on bipolar and keto

Ketogenic Diet for Bipolar Disorder: My research on bipolar and keto

I have thought about, and thought about, and thought about how to write this. I know this is a fitness blog, and this won’t be viewed as a professional post no matter how I go about writing this. I am just a girl who has struggled with regulating my emotions, anxiety, and bipolar disorder for as long as I can remember. I am hoping to provide my friends and readers with what I’ve learned about keto and bipolar, because it has made an enormous difference in my life. I will not be able to provide you with scientific research studies on everything, because they just haven’t been done. What I hope to share, while perhaps anecdotal, is my experience and what I have learned through my own research.

I first took an interest in the ketogenic diet when my daughter was diagnosed with epilepsy. The ketogenic diet was designed in the 1920s to treat epilepsy. I read about this treatment as an alternative to epilepsy medication or a treatment for drug-resistant epilepsy. At the time the diet seemed impractical and extreme, and since I wasn’t looking at it as a treatment for my own bipolar disorder, I didn’t really think much more about it.

Fast forward to this year. I started seeing the keto diet pop up everywhere. I started getting more and more curious about it. One of the first things I read about keto was how it improved brain function and energy. I also read some interesting articles about bipolar disorder and how the ketogenic diet could help. I decided I wanted to give it a try. At the time I felt desperate as my bipolar disorder was consuming me. I have taken nearly every single medication available for bipolar disorder and it wasn’t working. On top of that, most of the medications have terrible side effects, some of them deadly.

I am going to attempt to explain why the ketogenic diet helps bipolar disorder and include some of the things that I have learned along the way. A lot of this is scientific and I’ve done my best to explain it.

According to the Epilepsy Foundation, the ketogenic diet has been shown to reduce or prevent seizures in children whose seizures were resistant to medication. In fact, according to studies on children, 50 percent saw a reduction of seizures by 50 percent or greater and some children’s seizures were completely controlled by the diet.

What does epilepsy have to do with bipolar?

Bipolar disorder and epilepsy have some similarities, in particular, many of the medications that treat epilepsy also treat bipolar disorder. This is what really peaked my interest. As I started researching this more, I discovered some things — one, some interesting theories as to why keto works, and also, some potential commonalities between bipolar disorder and epilepsy. I am going to do my best to explain the connection between bipolar and epilepsy, and why keto helps with neurological diseases.

What is ketosis?

Our brains use carbohydrates (in the form of glucose) as fuel.  This process is called glycolysis. Glucose is our brain’s primary source of fuel. However, when carbohydrates are not available, our body will start converting fat into fuel. This happens through a process called ketosis. When the body becomes depleted of carbohydrates, the liver begins converting fat into ketones, which our brain can use as an alternate fuel source. In fact, ketones may provide a more efficient fuel for our brain, which may explain why people notice improved brain function on a ketogenic diet.

Ketones may provide a more efficient fuel for our brains

You may remember learning about the Krebs cycle in school — yeh it’s been a while for me. But the Krebs cycle is one part of a series of reactions that happen during cellular respiration (how our cells turn glucose into energy). During cellular respiration, glucose is converted into ATP (adenosine triphospate) which cells use for energy. Ketones provide an alternative to glucose and result in an increase in ATP production (thus providing the cells with more energy). This may help bipolar brain cells to function better.

Sodium ion channels and bipolar disorder

Aside from providing the brain with a more efficient fuel source, the ketogenic diet may help the electrical circuits in our brain function better. Our brain’s cells communicate through ion channels. Electrical signals in our brain are created by the transfer of ions (molecules with an electrical charge) through the cell membrane. Ions move through the cells by way of ion channels. A few important ion channels are sodium, potassium, and calcium. Malfunctioning ion channels may be at the root of several neurological disorders. According to a report in Frontiers in Genetics, “Several neurological diseases such as epilepsy, episodic ataxias, migraine, due to abnormal functioning of brain electrical circuits have been attributed to ion channel mutations.” Genetic studies from the National Institute of Mental Health support this conclusion.

So what does this have to do with keto? Researchers believe that people with bipolar disorder have elevated amounts of intracellular sodium and calcium. This is why medications like lithium carbonate, which is similar to sodium, work so well for bipolar disorder. Lithium interferes with the exchange of sodium between nerve cells. Essentially having too much sodium inside the cell causes the cells to be more excitable. Researchers think this excitability may be what causes manic episodes. Mood stabiliziers like lithium lower intracellular sodium so that the electrical signals are calmed, reducing the manic symptoms in bipolar disorder.

Keto has a similar effect on intracellular sodium. It is thought that the acidosis resulting from ketosis may cause a decrease in intracellular sodium levels. This is part of the reason why the ketogenic diet may have the same effect as mood stabilizers.

My experience with the ketogenic diet

Okay, now that I have explained the science a little. I would really like to tell you a little more about my experience with the ketogenic diet, but I’m going to need to write this in pieces because there is just so much I have learned. It has taken me some time to figure out how to follow the diet to meet my fitness needs and see improvements in my bipolar disorder. Since this is going to take some time for me to put together, I plan to write a series of posts about keto and diet/lifestyle changes I’ve made. I have seen significant improvement in my bipolar disorder and anxiety, and have been able to reduce my medication because of these changes. I hope you will continue following my blog as I work on writing about this. Eventually I plan to link all the posts together and hopefully provide some really good information for my friends, followers, and visitors to my blog about the keto lifestyle and bipolar.