I promised to report back and here I am!
I apologize for this post being so long, and I hope with all my heart you’ll read it anyway. 😝
The resources contain some fascinating, helpful ways to learn about the ketogenic diet for bipolar disorder and I promise they will fire you up! 🔥🔥🔥
First, some backstory…💤
For most of my life (except for two pregnancies and my e🕷e🕷e🕷 “Seroquel Spider Belly”e🕷e🕷e🕷 phase) I had a fairly flat stomach. Then menopause hit me last year at age 51.
I suddenly developed a big belly, and I looked like I was a pregnant gal who liked to down a case of Sierra Nevada Pale Ale every night!
I HATED this unfamiliar body. I felt gross. My clothes didn’t fit anymore. I was also eating tons of sugar: up to an entire pint of double chocolate vegan ice cream every night. 😱
To top things off, I had begun night binging, which was something I had never done before.
Yes, my diet was crappy, so it’s no surprise I felt crappy too.
Exercise, which had been such a huge part of my life, was non-existent.
A few months ago, I was visiting my friend Christine and she mentioned she had just begun a basic ketogenic diet for weight loss. She was indeed losing her unwanted adipose tissue, a.k.a. fat.
I felt wistful because I wanted try keto too, but I thought it was a diet exclusively for meat eaters. (I’m a vegan.)
However, after I left Christine’s house, I decided to do a little Google searching and I discovered:
You can do a vegan ketogenic diet!
I could reap physical and mental benefits from a carefully managed ketogenic metabolic therapeutic diet (which is very different than a regular ketogenic diet) for bipolar disorder!
I was in.
What I’m about to share with you is the teeny tip of the iceberg of what I’ve learned and experienced over the past few months, so please bear with me.
There is an amazing field called metabolic psychiatry which includes ketogenic diets specifically for mental illnesses. As you’ve gathered, I don’t proclaim to be in expert in ANY way! (I’l be taking Harvard psychiatrist Dr. Georgia Ede’s Keto for Mental Health Clinician Training course next January to augment my knowledge base.)
Ketogenic diets for bipolar disorder (and other mental illnesses) are currently being studied by psychiatrists and researchers at the world’s top universities such as Harvard, Stanford, The University of Edinburgh and James Cook University in Australia. This research is very exciting and groundbreaking as well.
Ketogenic therapeutic diets have been used to treat epilepsy for a whopping 100 years and they have been successful in actually curing children and adults. As epilepsy and bipolar disorder share some of the same medications, that has been reason enough to explore ketogenic diets for bipolar disorder.
There are numerous online anecdotes of people using ketogenic diets to help with their bipolar disorder, but clinical trials needed to happen as well, and as you’ll read below, they are now happening!
Stanford University has the world’s first Metabolic Psychiatry Clinic and its website states it is the “world’s first academic specialty clinic which provides evaluation and treatment for patients struggling with psychiatric illness and metabolic abnormalities. Metabolic abnormalities include insulin resistance, pre-diabetes, or unhealthy excess body weight.
The clinic aims to help treat patients with the disease of obesity, metabolic syndrome and its associated co-morbidities to reduce cardiovascular risk and improve brain function, while simultaneously addressing mental health. In patients with psychiatric illness, diseases such as obesity, diabetes, and heart disease occur in much greater proportions than the general population.
Metabolic dysfunction is often found in a wide range of illnesses including depression, bipolar illness, schizophrenia or psychosis, eating disorders, such as binge eating and bulimia nervosa, and in patients with metabolic side effects from psychotropic medications. The clinic serves as a time-limited consultation clinic and collaborates closely with the Eating Disorder, Bipolar, Women’s Wellness, and Lifestyle Psychiatry Clinic. The clinic also serves as a flagship teaching and training site for medical students and residents interested in Metabolic Psychiatry.”
The Clinic’s founding director is metabolic psychiatry expert Dr. Shebani Sethi (check out her interview with Dr. Lucia Aronica “How Keto Heals the Brain” and I urge you to visit the Clinic link for more info!
As I mentioned above, clinical trails for the ketogenic diet and bipolar disorder are now in progress (one just ended at Stanford led by Dr. Sethi, one clinical trial is underway at the University of Edinburgh where there are a few spots left; but you need to live in Scotland, and there is a study currently recruiting at UC San Francisco.)
What I’m writing about here is not your regular keto diet that you hear about all the time!
When I first considered doing this diet, I contacted my psychiatrist and he gave me the go-ahead, although he didn’t know much about ketogenic diets. If you can afford it, I strongly suggest consulting with a professional who is experienced in medical ketogenic diets. (Please see The Charlie Foundation resource list for referrals. Potter Dietician Consulting and Beth Zupec-Kania of Ketogenic Therapies come highly recommended by Julie Fast, who you will read about below. Julie says, “Beth and Denise answered many of my questions about how keto affects the brain and body.”
Anyway, that meant I was going to have to research my butt off. That was fine with me.
Since embarking on a vegan ketogenic diet, I’ve remained on my bipolar meds lithium and the MAOI tranylcypromine that have been life-changing. I’m not messing with them! Virtually all the experts I’ve listened to emphasize the importance of remaining on your meds if you embark on keto and be under a skilled psychiatrist’s care.
Also, if you take lithium and you decide to try the ketogenic diet, please discuss this element (!) with your psychiatrist.
Lithium looks so pretty, but at the start of keto it can be pretty nasty if you don’t do your homework!
Harvard psychiatrist Dr. Georgia Ede wrote in her Psychology Today article: “Ketogenic Diets and Psychiatric Medications“
Lithium and Ketogenic Diets
During the first few days of a ketogenic diet, most people will lose a few pounds of excess water weight through urination because ketogenic diets change the way the body processes fluid and electrolytes (salts), including lithium, which is a salt. Lithium levels can be affected by ketogenic diets, so lithium levels should be measured before embarking on a ketogenic diet and monitored carefully along the way, to see if the dosage needs to be adjusted. It is very important to consume plenty of salt and pay attention to electrolytes like magnesium and potassium as well, particularly during the early phase of this diet.”
Here are just some of the awesome ketogenic benefits I’ve experienced:
1) My appetite has diminished a huge amount. I do get hungry, though, and I eat three small meals a day and I really enjoy what I eat. I no longer eat dessert because of #2.
2) My sugar cravings: gone. This is nothing short of miraculous for this lifelong chocoholic/ sugarholic!
3) No more desire to binge at night!!! (Another miracle!)
4) Much higher energy so that I’ve been able to take beautiful, long hikes almost daily
5) My big belly is almost gone.
6) I feel empowered and much happier with my body; life is still very stressful, I’m not going to lie, but I feel way better since I’ve started my a vegan ketogenic diet.
7) I can think more clearly and creatively! I can also remember kooky things like bank account numbers that I couldn’t remember before embarking on the ketogenic diet.
This is not a “perfect” NOR easy diet by any means and it’s one to take very seriously if you have bipolar disorder. There is a lot to learn about ketosis, which is the state you need to be in order for the metabolic effects to occur.
At the beginning most everyone also experience side effects ranging from minor (thirst) to serious (hypomania/mania).
In the early days you need to be on top of your moods far more than usual, and work closely with your psychiatrist if you notice any ramping up of mood.
Here are some side effects I’ve personally experience which went away after a week or two:
1) Increased thirst
2) Eveyone’s favorite: constipation
3) Nasty keto breath (Although my dog Lucy loved it)
4) Mild hypomania for the first 3-4 days – my sleep was not affected, thank God.
You can get something called Keto Flu ,but I didn’t get it. From what I’ve read, it’s not a dealbreaker though, and it can range from mild to moderate. There are also things you can do to ease Keto Flu and the reputable keto sites such as Keto Mojo (listed in the Resources below) explain that.
Luckily keto flu is temporary. 😀
I’d like to close this novella with an absolutely wonderful free resource for you if you’re interested in learning many of the nuts and bolts of the ketogenic diet for bipolar and you’d like to be part of a free online support /research group guided by someone I’ve admired from afar for over a decade.
Please visit the bestselling author/advocate Julie Fast’s Keto Bipolar (“The Bipolar Belly”) Instagram live account. Be sure to watch Julie’s informative, inspiring videos – as of today there are only three.
The Bipolar Belly is Julie’s brand-new support/research group for people who want to learn more about the ketogenic diets and how they may affect bipolar disorder.
GREAT RESOURCES —Part 1
The Charlie Foundation while this foundation was founded due to a young boy’s epilepsy and treatment with the medical ketogenic diet, it is an incredibly helpful way to learn about the different kinds of ketogenic diets. Check out the “Therapies” video – while there is no bipolar section, I highly recommend visiting this site. (Strangely enough, their office is a few blocks away from my beloved late grandmother’s apartment. I believe in signs!)
Vegan Keto by Liz MacDowell – I love her recipes and her opening explanations of ketogenic diets.
Keto Mojo website for general information. Also, this is a great article on bipolar & keto by Nicole Laurent LMHC who appears on Bipolarcast -#13 it’s a fascinating, informative episode.
Dr. Chris Palmer’s website – here’s another excellent article about bipolar and keto
Harvard professor Dr. Chris Palmer’s highly antcipated book Brain Energy is out November 15th.
Dr. Palmer is one of the world’s experts on using ketogenic diets for mental illness and this book is getting tons of buzz. He says while it is very scientific, he includes many anecdotes and metaphors to explain his concepts for everyone. I can’t wait to read it. (Watch his wonderful Bipolarcast episode -#9 you will learn so much and be inspired!)
Carb Manager app for keto and carb tracking.
Bipolarcast on YouTube This podcast is hosted by the University of Edinburgh’s Dr. Iain Campbell and advocate Matt Baszucki who has used the keto diet for bipolar disorder with incredible results. They feature pioneering doctors, nutritionists, and people with lived experience of bipolar disorder and their success with using ketogenic diets.
And I’ll be their guest in late November!
Have a wonderful weekend, I’ll be back to tell you more on my favorite day of the year: Halloween! 🎃🎃🎃🎃
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