A ketogenic diet high in fat and extremely low in carbohydrates and sugars may be very helpful for patients with schizophrenia, according to a new mouse study by scientists at James Cook University (JCU).
The research team from JCU’s Australian Institute of Tropical Health and Medicine (AITHM) has discovered that feeding mice a ketogenic diet results in fewer animal behaviors that resemble schizophrenia.
The scientists believe that the diet may work by providing alternative energy sources in the form of ketone bodies (products of fat breakdown) and by helping to bypass abnormally functioning cellular energy pathways in the brains of patients with schizophrenia.
The ketogenic diet has been used since the 1920s to help manage epilepsy in children and more recently as a weight loss diet preferred by some body builders. The diet typically includes plenty of meat, fish, eggs, dairy products and low-carb vegetables and excludes carbohydrates such as bread, pasta, rice, and sugar.
“Most of a person’s energy would come from fat. So the diet would consist of butter, cheese, salmon, etc. Initially it would be used in addition to medication in an in-patient setting where the patient’s diet could be controlled,” said lead researcher Associate Professor Dr. Zoltan Sarnyai.
Schizophrenia is a debilitating mental illness that affects more than three million people in the U.S. It typically emerges during late adolescence and early adulthood and remains a chronic and disabling disorder for most patients.
Currently there is no cure for schizophrenia, and the drugs used to relieve symptoms often lead to very negative side effects such as movement disorder, weight gain, and cardiovascular disease.
Not only does the diet appear to reduce symptoms of schizophrenia on its own, but it may also be able to combat some of the drug-related side effects as well. For example, the findings show that mice on a ketogenic diet weigh less and have lower blood glucose levels than mice fed a normal diet.
“It’s another advantage that it works against the weight gain, cardiovascular issues and type-two diabetes we see as common side-effects of drugs given to control schizophrenia,” said Sarnyai.
The research team plans to test their findings using other animal schizophrenia models as they explore a possible clinical trial.
Their findings are published online in the journal Schizophrenia Research.
Source: James Cook University