Health Impact News
This summer, I was fortunate to participate in the groundbreaking International Society for Nutritional Psychiatry Research (ISNPR) conference held in Bethesda, Maryland.
The meeting was truly inspiring and exciting to those of us who believe that nutritional approaches are the way forward in the treatment of mental health disorders.
While the majority of the presentations at this conference were focused on omega-3 fatty acids, microbiome research, micronutrients, and the Mediterranean diet, there were a few small breakout sessions exploring the potential benefits of ketogenic diets.
Ketogenic diets are special low-carbohydrate diets that have been used to treat epilepsy for almost 100 years and show great promise in the management of a wide variety of other brain disorders.
One of the presentations I attended was by Dr. Chris Palmer, a psychiatrist from Harvard’s McLean Hospital in Belmont, Massachusetts.
In a small room packed with curious doctors, scientists and nutritionists from around the world, Dr. Palmer described the experiences of two adults in his practice with schizoaffective disorder who had tried a ketogenic diet.
Whereas schizophrenia is characterized primarily by psychotic symptoms, people with schizoaffective disorder have to cope not only with psychosis but also with overlapping periods of severe mood symptoms.
Signs of psychosis include paranoia, auditory hallucinations, visual hallucinations, intrusive thoughts/images, and/or disorganized thinking. Mood episodes may include depression, euphoria, irritability, rage, suicidal thoughts, and/or mood swings.
As a practicing psychiatrist for more than 15 years, I can tell you that schizoaffective disorder is a particularly challenging diagnosis for people to live with and for psychiatrists to treat. Even the most potent antipsychotic and mood stabilizing medications available often don’t bring sufficient relief, and those medications come with a significant risk of side effects.
I’ve summarized the cases Dr. Palmer presented. More details of each story, along with Dr. Palmer’s commentary are published in the journal Schizophrenia Research .
Case Number One: A Woman Finds Natural Relief
The first story is of a 31-year-old woman who was diagnosed with schizoaffective disorder eight years ago.
Trials of TWELVE different medications, including Clozapine, a powerful antipsychotic agent considered by many psychiatrists to be the medication  of last resort due to its risk of serious side effects, were unsatisfactory.
She had also undergone 23 rounds of electroconvulsive therapy  (ECT or what used to be called “electric shock treatments”), yet remained troubled by serious symptoms.
She decided to try a ketogenic diet with the hope of losing some weight. After four weeks on the diet, her delusions had resolved and she’d lost ten pounds. At four months’ time, she’d lost 30 pounds and her score on a clinical questionnaire called the PANSS (Positive and Negative Symptom Scale), which ranks symptoms on a scale from 30 (best) to 210 (worst), had come down from 107 to 70.
Case Number Two: A Man Comes to Life
The second story is of a 33-year-old single man diagnosed with schizoaffective disorder fourteen years ago. Over the years he had tried SEVENTEEN different psychiatric medications with limited success, including Clozapine. Weighing 322 pounds, he decided to embark on a ketogenic diet for weight loss.
Within three weeks, he reported “dramatic” reduction in auditory hallucinations and delusions, as well as better mood, energy, and concentration . Over the course of a year, he lost a total of 104 pounds. When in ketosis, his PANSS scores improved significantly—falling from 98 to only 49. His daily function and quality of life also improved dramatically; he moved out of his father’s home, began dating , and started taking college courses.
Interestingly, in both cases, each time either of these individuals went off of the ketogenic diet, their symptoms worsened, and when they went back on the diet, their symptoms improved again, suggesting it was the diet and not some other factor that was responsible.
Continue reading at Psychology Today .