Anxiety is a common mental health issue that affects millions of people worldwide – including me! I’ve been working hard to control my symptoms of anxiety, which were hugely exacerbated by COVID-19 pandemic stressors, but also work stress, life stress, and everything in between. Anxiety symptoms span from nervousness, those dreadful cold sweats in the night, to gastrointestinal issues.
We know that anxiety is characterized by feelings of worry, fear, and apprehension about future events, and these feelings can significantly impact your quality of life. While there are various treatment options available for anxiety, including medication and therapy, I want to talk about how I found relief through dietary changes, specifically by adopting a ketogenic diet.
Keto diet 101
A ketogenic diet is a high-fat, moderate-protein, and low-carbohydrate diet that aims to put the body into a state of ketosis. This means that the body is using fat as its primary source of energy, instead of glucose (which is typically derived from carbohydrates). When the body is in ketosis, it produces ketones, which are molecules that can cross the blood-brain barrier and provide an alternative source of energy for the brain.
Riding the emotional blood glucose roller-coaster
Blood glucose levels are tightly regulated by the body, and fluctuations in blood glucose levels can have a significant impact on overall health and well-being as well as your mental state.
When blood glucose levels are low, it can lead to feelings of anxiety, irritability, and nervousness. This is because glucose is the primary source of energy for the brain, and when glucose levels are low, the brain may not have enough energy to function properly. Low blood glucose levels can also trigger the release of stress hormones such as cortisol and adrenaline, which can further contribute to feelings of anxiety.
On the other hand, when blood glucose levels are too high, it can also trigger anxiety. High blood glucose levels can cause inflammation and oxidative stress in the body, which can lead to changes in brain chemistry that may increase the risk of anxiety and other mood disorders.
Insulin is a hormone produced by the pancreas that helps to regulate blood sugar levels by facilitating the uptake of glucose from the bloodstream into cells for energy production. When insulin resistance occurs, the cells in the body are less responsive to insulin, which leads to elevated blood sugar levels and a host of other health problems.
The ketogenic diet has been shown to be effective in reversing insulin resistance by forcing the body to switch from using glucose as its primary fuel source to using ketones, which are produced by the liver from fat stores. By reducing carbohydrate intake, the ketogenic diet helps to reduce blood sugar levels and improve insulin sensitivity.
Keto diet and inflammation
One of the main ways in which a ketogenic diet may help reduce anxiety is by reducing inflammation in the body. Chronic inflammation has been linked to various mental health issues, including anxiety and depression. The ketogenic diet has anti-inflammatory effects, pretty much because you are eliminating inflammatory refined sugars from your diet. By reducing inflammation, a ketogenic diet may also help alleviate some of the symptoms of anxiety.
Keto diet and GABA
Another way in which a ketogenic diet may help reduce anxiety is by regulating neurotransmitters in the brain. Neurotransmitters are chemicals that transmit signals between neurons, and imbalances in neurotransmitter levels have been linked to anxiety and other mental health issues. A ketogenic diet has been shown to increase levels of GABA (gamma-aminobutyric acid) – a neurotransmitter that helps to calm the brain and reduce anxiety.
Keto diet and cognitive function
A ketogenic diet may also improve overall brain function, which can have a positive impact on anxiety. Studies have found that a ketogenic diet improved cognitive function and reduced symptoms of anxiety in adults with mild cognitive impairment. The researchers suggested that the improvements in cognitive function may have contributed to the reduction in anxiety symptoms.
In addition to its effects on blood sugar and insulin sensitivity, the ketogenic diet has been shown to have other health benefits, including:
- Weight loss: The ketogenic diet is often used as a weight loss tool, as it can lead to significant reductions in body fat. Fat cells (adiocytes) release inflammatory chemicals into the blood stream causing systemic inflammation. The less adipose tissue you have will decrease inflammation.
- Improved cardiovascular health: The ketogenic diet has been shown to improve cholesterol levels and reduce the risk of heart disease. Coupled with exercise (another great mood booster), overall you are likely to see gains.
A ketogenic diet may have benefits for individuals with anxiety. By reducing inflammation, regulating neurotransmitters, and improving overall brain function, a ketogenic diet may help alleviate some of the symptoms of anxiety. More research is needed to fully understand the relationship between diet and mental health. A ketogenic diet may not be suitable for everyone, so it is best to speak with a professional about diet changes.
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