Bipolar disorder is a challenging illness, with various clinical presentations. In "type one" people struggle with alternating symptoms of mania and depression. In "type two," depression is the primary state, with the occasional rare bit of hypomania. By mania, I mean increased energy, increased sexuality, religion, insomnia, and spending money. It feels great right up until reality comes knocking on the door. Medication has been proven to be helpful in decreasing the number of manic and depressive episodes. Typically, the medications are anti- seizure medicines also, such as depakote, lamotrigine, and carbamazepine.
Most low-carb followers will know that ketogenic (extremely low carb) diets have been used to treat epilepsy for a hundred years. Would the same diets be useful in bipolar disorder (1)?
Now is the time to add a special disclaimer. No ketogenic diet has ever been systematically studied with respect to bipolar disorder. If you have bipolar disorder, please discuss any thoughts you might have from reading this article with your personal physician. The one case study I could find in the literature showed *no* benefit from a ketogenic diet. (4:1:1 fat:protein: carb) Bipolar disorder is an illness I wouldn't want to face alone.
In the literature for epilepsy, patients were encouraged to fast for 12-36 hours to promote ketosis, and then to follow a dietary plan with less than 20 g carbohydrate daily (or even lower, in most research ketogenic diets). In doing so their brains would be flooded with ketones, and most importantly, promote extracellular acidosis. There are several seizure medicines (such as gabapentin) that are no good for bipolar disorder. When scientists look closely, they find that only the seizure medicines that promote a reduced extracellular sodium concentration are helpful in bipolar disorder. Ketosis does exactly that.
It all looks great on paper, but as I mentioned earlier, when well- intentioned doctors tried to use a ketogenic diet to treat resistant bipolar symptoms, they came up with a big zero (2). And while ketogenic diets are definitely safe short term, when ever we begin to talk about treating epilepsy or bipolar disorder, we are talking about long-term strict compliance. No cookies. No bread. One would need to work with a knowledgeable nutritionist, and there are reports of patients on ketogenic diets for epilepsy dying of selenium deficiency (3). (my paleo perspective - you are eschewing your vegetables, eat your organ meats!).
In the next post I will review the case studies above more closely, and delve more deeply into the biochemistry of sodium ions and the NMDA receptor. I know you can hardly wait! (It's here - be sure to check out Ketogenic Diets and Bipolar Disorder 2)