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Could mental illnesses be metabolic illnesses? Can the ketogenic diet be used as a treatment strategy for mental illnesses besides epilepsy? How do the body and mind influence one another, and how can you hack this relationship for optimizing mental health?
In this podcast episode, Joe Sanok speaks about the ketogenic diet and treatment-resistant mental health disorders with Dr. Christopher M. Palmer.
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Meet Dr. Christopher Palmer
Dr. Christopher M. Palmer is a Harvard psychiatrist and researcher working at the interface of metabolism and mental health. He is the Director of the Department of Postgraduate and Continuing Education at McLean Hospital and an Assistant Professor of Psychiatry at Harvard Medical School. For over 25 years, he has held administrative, educational, research, and clinical roles in psychiatry at Harvard. He has been pioneering the use of the medical ketogenic diet in the treatment of psychiatric disorders—conducting research in this area, treating patients, writing, and speaking around the world on this topic. Most recently, he has developed the first comprehensive theory of what causes mental illness, integrating existing theories and research into one unifying theory—the brain energy theory of mental illness.
Visit Dr. Christopher Palmer’s website and connect on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and LinkedIn.
In This Podcast
- What is the ketogenic diet?
- How keto impacts a brain
- Metabolic illness is mental illness
- Be smart about it
- Dr. Palmer’s advice to private practitioners
What is the ketogenic diet?
The ketogenic diet was developed 100 years ago by a physician for one and only one purpose, and that was to stop seizures.Dr. Palmer
The ketogenic diet is an evidence-based treatment for epilepsy. It’s highly effective for treatment-resistant epilepsy.
There are also epilepsy treatments used in classic psychiatry every day.
There are decades of neuroscience research that shows how and why it stops seizures, and it can also be effective for people suffering from other mental illnesses.
I really think about [keto] more as like a metabolic therapy, or a metabolic intervention because what we’re trying to do is profoundly change brain function and brain metabolism to improve brain health.Dr. Palmer
This diet is technically low in carbohydrates, moderate in protein, and high in fat while eliminating sugar and refined grains. It can have different variations that can be individualized depending on the person.
How keto impacts a brain
The ketogenic diet changes neurotransmitter activity, improves calcium channel regulation, decreases brain inflammation, changes the gut microbiome, and improves insulin signaling, as well as others.
It does all of these things and the way that I think about it more broadly is that it improves brain metabolism, and I believe that is fundamental to reducing symptoms or sometimes even putting [the symptoms of mental illness] into remission.Dr. Palmer
Metabolic illness is mental illness
We have evidence since the 1940s that people with mental illness have metabolic abnormalities in their brains and bodies.Dr. Palmer
Down to the cellular level, what does it mean to have a metabolic disorder?
You find that your mitochondria, the powerhouse of the cell, have a role in your mental health because they:
- Have a role in regulating your neurotransmitters
- Regulate important hormones like cortisol and estrogen
- Play a role in inflammation
- Influence epigenetics which means they play a role in deciding which genes get switched on or off
When you look into this science, you find that it’s the only way that you can connect the dots of mental illness. However, this big picture opens up entirely new ways of treating mental illnesses.
New research also shows that trauma, stress, and adverse childhood events all impact mitochondria and their function which can result in a change in brain metabolism.
This theory actually connects the bio-psycho-social model of mental illness. By no means am I saying [that] a bad diet is the cause of all mental illness, [but] all of the things that mental health clinicians already know [like] trauma, stress … looking at it from the view of metabolism and mitochondria is the way to connect all of it.Dr. Palmer
Be smart about it
Of course, if you want to offer the ketogenic diet as a treatment method, work alongside a dietician and do your research before offering this modality – and introducing it – to your clients.
If you are treating a patient with a serious mental disorder, use the ketogenic diet as a medical intervention that was usually used to stop seizures. It is not a “fad” diet meant to lose weight.
Check out the guidelines to make sure you’re working within the best practice.
- Check liver and kidney functions
- Check glucose and insulin levels
- Other prescription medications that could impact the diet
- Consider carnitine and selenium levels
Dr. Palmer’s advice to private practitioners
You are desperately needed right now in the world. Thank you for doing the work that you are doing, because there is a mental and metabolic health crisis.
Books mentioned in this episode:
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Useful links mentioned in this episode:
- Visit Dr. Christopher Palmer’s website and connect on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and LinkedIn.
- Check out the Charlie Foundation for Ketogenic Therapies
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Meet Joe Sanok
Joe Sanok helps counselors to create thriving practices that are the envy of other counselors. He has helped counselors to grow their businesses by 50-500% and is proud of all the private practice owners that are growing their income, influence, and impact on the world. Click here to explore consulting with Joe.
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