depressed woman
© unknown
They say you are what eat, and we all know the difference a better diet makes to our complexion and our waistlines. But what about our heads?

An increasing number of scientists are pointing to the Ketogenic diet - similar in nature to the low-carb, high-protein Atkins and Caveman meal plans, which have shown promising results in the treatment of depression and bipolar disorder.

'It's a very new field; the first papers only came out a few years ago,' Michael Berk, a professor of psychiatry at the Deakin University School of Medicine in Australia tells The Washington Post. 'But the results are unusually consistent, and they show a link between diet quality and mental health.'

A Ketogenic diet typically restricts the intake of carbs to no more than 50g a day. A good rule of thumb is to follow the 60/35/5 rule in which 60 per cent of calories come from fat, 35 per cent from protein, and five per cent from carbs. Grass-fed meat, fish, dairy, nuts and avocado are top of the list in terms of foods that comply.

Jodi Corbit, a 47-year-old mother from Catonsville, Maryland, had been battling depression for decades before adopting the Ketogenic diet in a bid to lose weight. To her surprise, she not only shifted several pounds, but also her lifelong depression.

'It was like a veil lifted and I could see life more clearly,' she explains. 'It changed everything.'
raw meat
© unknownChow down: Although research on the mental benefits is still its early days, the Ketogenic diet has already been shown to drastically improve the symptoms of epilepsy, Alzheimer's and even cancer

Dr El-Mallakh, a professor of psychiatry at the University of Louisville, believes there is a 'strong link' between Ketogenic eating and mental health. He authored a book on the subject, Bipolar Depression, and last year published two case studies to support his findings.

One 32-year-old woman from San Fransisco, suffering from bipolar, who declined to be named, tried the Atkins diet three years ago. 'I noticed within a day or two the marked difference in my head,' she recalls. 'It felt clear for the first time in years and years.'

She contacted Dr El-Mallakh in an attempt to spread the word. 'It surprised me how little information was out there, because for me it was life-changing,' she said, adding that she had been symptom-free ever since adopting the diet.

The Ketogenic diet has long been used, as far back as 500 BC in fact, to treat seizures, and widely-published research has shown that it can result in an up to 90 per cent decrease in seizures for patients with epilepsy.

It's also been shown to help with Alzheimer's, Parkinson's and even cancer. Scientists admit they aren't entirely sure why this is, and it's still more of an association than a direct cause and effect.

Dr Mallakh has pointed out that many of the drugs proven to help with bipolar depression have anti-seizure properties, which has established a link between the high-fat, low-carb diet and its effects on the brain, if nothing else.

It's not just health experts who have been singing the praises of the Atkins and Ketogenic diets. A number of celebrities including Jennifer Aniston and Demi Moore count themselves as fans, and Kim Kardashian famously credited the meal plans for helping her shift 50 pounds of baby weight in just five months.

But there are skeptics, particularly when it comes to how the diet may affect the body long term.

Just last month, we reported that nutritionist Dr T Campbell was hitting back against the low-carb craze with his new book, The Low-Carb Fraud.

Ignoring its apparent mental benefits, he argues that the standard American diet is already too high in protein and fat, an imbalance that is merely worsened with this sort of diet. 'Low-carb, high-protein, high-fat diets cause high cholesterol - a major indicator of heart disease and cancer risks,' he suggests.

Dr Volek, a dietician and professor at the University of Connecticut disagrees. 'It was nothing short of an epiphany when I changed to a Ketogenic diet 20 years ago,' he told The Examiner. 'There are very few people that a Ketogenic diet could not help.'