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Cutting out carbs found to improve severe mental illness

CUTTING out carbs could be a crucial tool in fighting a mental illness suffered by hundreds of thousands of Brits.

The trendy keto diet — loved by celebs like Halle Berry and Kourtney Kardashian — is normally followed as a means of losing weight.

The keto diet helps reduce schizophrenia and bipolar symptomsCredit: Getty

It involves cutting carbohydrates to 50g or less per day – the equivalent of around two bananas or slices of bread.

US researchers found it can help reduce schizophrenia symptoms – and may also help patients with mental health conditions including bipolar disorder.

Dr Shebani Sethi, of Stanford University, said: “It’s very promising and very encouraging that you can take back control of your illness in some way, aside from the usual standard of care.

“The participants reported improvements in their energy, sleep, mood and quality of life.

“They feel healthier and more hopeful.”

The ketogenic diet is an eating protocol that involves swapping out carb-heavy foods like potatoes and pasta for higher fat ones like fish, eggs and avocados.

This leads to ketosis — a metabolic state where the body burns fat for fuel instead of carbohydrates.

While the keto diet is not recommended for everyone, previous research has suggested it could have benefits including to help delay the onset of Alzheimer’s disease.

The latest study, published in Psychiatry Research, looked at whether the diet could help fix issues caused by antipsychotic drugs – and what effect it has on mental health issues as well.

Dr Sethi said: “The ketogenic diet has been proven to be effective for treatment-resistant epileptic seizures by reducing the excitability of neurons in the brain.

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“We thought it would be worth exploring this treatment in psychiatric conditions.”

What did the study find?

Researchers tracked 21 adults with schizophrenia or bipolar disorder who were taking antipsychotic drugs and were suffering issues like insulin resistance or weight gain.

They were asked to follow a ketogenic diet, with 10 per cent of calories coming from carbs, 30 per cent from protein and the rest fat.

On average, they lost 10 per cent of their body weight and reduced their waist circumference by 11 per cent.

It’s very promising and very encouraging that you can take back control of your illness in some way, aside from the usual standard of care

Dr Shebani SethiStanford University

They also had lower blood pressure, body mass index, triglycerides, blood sugar levels and insulin resistance.

They improved 31 per cent on a psychiatrist rating of mental illnesses, felt happier and slept better as well.

Dr Sethi said: “We’re seeing huge changes.

“Even if you’re on antipsychotic drugs, we can still reverse the obesity, the metabolic syndrome, the insulin resistance. I think that’s very encouraging for patients.

“Anything that improves metabolic health in general is probably going to improve brain health anyway. 

“But the ketogenic diet can provide ketones as an alternative fuel to glucose for a brain with energy dysfunction.”

A day eating keto

BREAKFAST: 2 eggs, half an avocado and 1-2 tbsp olive oil

LUNCH: Baked chicken served with fried bacon, shredded lettuce and grated Parmesan cheese

DINNER: Chicken fajita bowl served with onion, green peppers, lettuce, Mexican cheese, half an avocado, cherry tomatoes and sour cream

Is the keto diet safe?

Ketones are produced by the body when there is a lack of glucose from carbohydrates and it is using stored fat as fuel instead.

They are a way for people on the keto diet to measure that it is working.

However, too many ketones can make the blood acidic and toxic, which is especially dangerous for people in diabetes.

Diabetes-related ketoacidosis (DKA) is life-threatening without treatment straight away.

Other side effects associated with the keto diet include called “keto flu” and bad breath.

And experts say while it may cause weight loss, it is dangerous to cut out a food group that provides fibre and variety in the long term.

Keto is not recommended for everyone because it can cause low blood pressure, kidney stones, constipation, nutrient deficiencies and an increased risk of heart disease.

Experts warn people with pancreas, liver, thyroid or gallbladder conditions should steer clear of it.

What is schizophrenia?

Around 685,000 Brits are currently diagnosed with schizophrenia, according to the Royal College of Psychiatrists.

The condition can cause hallucinations, disorganised thinking and fixed beliefs that something is true, despite evidence to the contrary.

Some 1.3million Brits have bipolar — which causes extreme mood swings and changes in energy levels — according to Bipolar UK.

Patients with either condition are often prescribed antipsychotic drugs that help ease symptoms but can cause issues like obesity and insulin resistance.

Help for mental health

If you, or anyone you know, needs help dealing with mental health problems, the following organisations provide support.

The following are free to contact and confidential:

Mind,, provide information about types of mental health problems and where to get help for them. Email or call the infoline on 0300 123 3393 (UK landline calls are charged at local rates, and charges from mobile phones will vary).

YoungMinds run a free, confidential parents helpline on 0808 802 5544 for parents or carers worried about how a child or young person is feeling or behaving. The website has a chat option too.

Rethink Mental Illness,, gives advice and information service offers practical advice on a wide range of topics such as The Mental Health Act, social care, welfare benefits, and carers rights. Use its website or call 0300 5000 927 (calls are charged at your local rate).

Heads Together,, is the a mental health initiative spearheaded by The Royal Foundation of The Prince and Princess of Wales.

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