Can you get depressed on low carb?

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Can you get depressed on a low-carb diet? Can it worsen the symptoms – or do symptoms of depression usually get better on low carb?

We asked some of the top low-carb doctors in the world to give their quick and spontaneous answers, and made the video above (transcript).

Here are the doctors in the video:

  0:16  Dr. Jason Fung
  0:37  Dr. Peter Brukner
  1:13  Dr. Sarah Hallberg
  2:15  Dr. Rangan Chatterjee

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30 comments

  1. Jesse
    As someone who suffers from depression I do want to share my own experience with this. It is true that once adapted to low carb my symptoms dramatically decrease, however, I do want to point out that any time I have to go through the induction phase again I always have an episode of depression. I try not to drop out of ketosis very often (I've only done it once this year for a family vacation) but I know the first few days eating right again are going to be tough. Now my depression is mild enough that I don't take medication for it and it doesn't effect my personal life, much. But I think it is important to mention that the first week or two can be very hard for someone who has depression but then it gets much much better.

    Just my 2 cents

    Reply: #3
  2. Bex
    Exactly the same experience. I know that when I go off the wagon and eat carbs, especially sugary, wheat-containing carbs, it is difficult to get back into LCHF, b/c I experience a depressed, moody, low energy transition back. Also, like clockwork, I get withdrawal migraines (usually the 4th day after going back to LCHF) during the transition period. Overall, when I stick to LCHF, my moods and energy levels are more consistent and I do not get migraines.
  3. Margaret
    I have lived in Africa many years as a medical missionary, and the past few years I’d found myself going through spells of depression. This was not normal for me. Then in October 2015 I “crashed,” and in February 2016 I came home to the USA in part to attend a burnout recovery program. I learned much there, and it really helped, but over the summer, I found myself succumbing to the depression once again. Because I was on a sabbatical, I had almost no control over how I ate, as I stayed in other people’s homes. My type 2 diabetes was totally out the top and I was worried about having to start insulin.
    But in September I found Dr. Jason Fung on line when researching the dawn phenomenon. I was also staying in a home at that time where I was able to do my own shopping and cooking. Through researching LCHF I discovered Diet Doctor, and I started the 2 week beginner’s LCHF eating plan. By the 2nd day my depression was gone and has never returned. My mind also cleared. And my blood sugars returned to normal and I stopped my meds. And I have lost 35 pounds.
    Something I discovered by accident as well had to do with yawning. I have always yawned a lot, especially when traveling in a car. It was not until I ate some carbs one day and realized on the 50-mile drive home that day that I was yawning my head off. I didn’t realize until then that I had stopped yawning on the LCHF diet as well.
    I have not read anyone else mentioning this. Do you know why carbs would make me yawn like that?
    Reply: #6
  4. 1 comment removed
  5. Nero
    Yawning due to carbs? Margaret, chances are you wont read my comment by now, but still if anybody else does it might help them out:

    Carbs made me depressed for years, but it was not until my late teens (I am in my mid thirties now) when a doctor noticed how much carbs made me yawn as well as tired, turned out it was diabetes all along.

    Diabetes type-2 for who know how many years before that, then I began noticing this is not as unusual as it might seem, so it might be worth at least mentioning here.

    (Note: The comment editor does not seem to work, so I deleted my comment and posted it back with edits here and there included)

    Thank You.

  6. Erdem
    Hi Margaret,

    I would like to learn more about your experience.
    I went to doctor several times with symptoms like dizziness and each time i was diagnosed with mild insulin resistance and after each time i experienced anxiety disorder/depression.
    I started to believe that there is a pattern like i eat a lot and get fat around my belly then get depressed and take medicine and recover and get fat and depressed again.

    I would be glad if you could provide more details.

  7. Sarah
    I googled this because I have now experienced sudden downturns in my emotions multiple times while on a low carb diet. Anecdotally, they've seen the opposite... There are plenty of folks online who disagree. I have also NEVER had the 'extra/amazing energy' other folks get on a low carb diet, so perhaps there is something hormonally incompatible with low-carb for me.
    Replies: #8, #14
  8. Crystal
    Sarah, I feelnthe same way. Low carb makes me depressed and tired. I’ve been playing around with Keto and fasting for over a year now, but find it extremely difficult to stick to. I’ve just finished the first week of Diet Dr 2 week Keto Challenge, and for the first time since trying keto that I’ve not been hungry like everyone says happens, but I find myself staring off into space all the time, I don’t want to do anything, and I find no joy in the things I usually love. I don’t know how long I should stick it out to see if it improves like the comments above say.
  9. Shannon
    Crystal - I am currently feeling exactly as you described. I actually thought to myself today, that my light has gone out and I cannot find joy. This is the second time I’ve started Keto. The first time was an amazing life changing experience. Then I went through a divorce and fell off the wagon hard. I’ve been keto 10 days and am having depression and lethargy. I’m thinking they’re tied to my strict keto.
  10. Paige
    I thought perhaps I was just being dramatic when I thought I was feeling depressed and pessimistic, more and more each day since I have been trying Keto (about 7-10 days). Finally the migraines have stopped but now I don’t want to do anything, I’ve been tearing myself down, and I feel very upset. I am hoping to stick it out another week but if this continues, it is not worth it to me to lose weight but compromise my mental/emotional state. I was really hoping this would work, I don’t know where else to turn to get healthier.
  11. Sharon
    In my opinion these doctors are overlooking the period when starting Ketogenics of the Keto flu. I have found myself seriously depressed twice in the last few days (since restarting Keto after being off for several months) and the only thing that has changed is my diet. I assume that once I get past the "flu" symptoms (nausea, lack of energy, lack of motivation) the depression will disappear. But it is a very real thing.
  12. Dawn
    I've been on the keto diet for 1.5 months. The only time I broke this diet was three weeks ago when I gave in and had a margarita. I believe I passed through the keto flu phase but I am still overly tired. These past two weeks have been full of anxiety and depression. I've lost interest in the things I usually love. And my temper has been out of sorts. Today I cried for no reason. It was an overwhelming and scary feeling. The only change in my life I can think of that might be attributing to these hard feelings is the keto diet. And before anyone suggests I eat healthier fats or add more electrolytes to my diet, you should know my diet has been very healthy. I love and eat all sorts of vegetables, I only eat seafood for meat, and I only eat the high-fat healthy foods mentioned in the keto diet such as avocado, nuts, and a small amount of dairy. I also drink lots of water. And because I have low blood pressure, I have a reasonable amount of sea salt in my diet. I've lost weight but if I don't reach that 'amazing' phase soon, I will have to give this up.
    Reply: #13
  13. Kristin Parker Team Diet Doctor

    I've been on the keto diet for 1.5 months. The only time I broke this diet was three weeks ago when I gave in and had a margarita. I believe I passed through the keto flu phase but I am still overly tired. These past two weeks have been full of anxiety and depression. I've lost interest in the things I usually love. And my temper has been out of sorts. Today I cried for no reason. It was an overwhelming and scary feeling. The only change in my life I can think of that might be attributing to these hard feelings is the keto diet. And before anyone suggests I eat healthier fats or add more electrolytes to my diet, you should know my diet has been very healthy. I love and eat all sorts of vegetables, I only eat seafood for meat, and I only eat the high-fat healthy foods mentioned in the keto diet such as avocado, nuts, and a small amount of dairy. I also drink lots of water. And because I have low blood pressure, I have a reasonable amount of sea salt in my diet. I've lost weight but if I don't reach that 'amazing' phase soon, I will have to give this up.

    I was going to suggest electrolytes. Since you are already on top of those, I hope you are feeling better soon.

  14. Andreea
    I agree with you. My depression started after I started a low carb diet. I since then stopped the diet, but not because I thought it was the cause, but because I was not feeling alright. Anyway, a month after my depression started I googled "how to boost serotonin leveles" and I realised that you need carbs to make serotonin in the first place! Which is crazy because they don't mention that when they advertise this fad diet. You can even see it in the video, they are kind of off topic. The professionals keep saying that cutting refined carbs helps boost your mood, which I can agree with, but that doesn't mean that all carbs are bad. YOU NEED HEALTHY CARBS to produce serotonin. I'm going to eat whole grains such as oats from now on and see if my mood improves.
  15. Stacey
    I too have experienced depression since starting Keto. I am on week 8 and noticed it creeping in around week 3 or 4. At times the depression is significant, I am tearful and oversleeping and crying. One comment I read said to try 5 HTP to improve serotonin levels, so I just purchased some at the health food store and will give it a go. I am fairly consistent with taking electrolite supplements, drinking water and eating healthy so if this does not do the trick, I will also have to drop off of the Keto bus. Depression is awful.
    Replies: #16, #20
  16. Kristin Parker Team Diet Doctor

    I too have experienced depression since starting Keto. I am on week 8 and noticed it creeping in around week 3 or 4. At times the depression is significant, I am tearful and oversleeping and crying. One comment I read said to try 5 HTP to improve serotonin levels, so I just purchased some at the health food store and will give it a go. I am fairly consistent with taking electrolite supplements, drinking water and eating healthy so if this does not do the trick, I will also have to drop off of the Keto bus. Depression is awful.

    I am sorry that you are experiencing this. I hope that it alleviates soon.

  17. Rob
    Do you think Dr. Fung will revisit this issue of depression and low carb? He states he's never seen it, but here are people claiming just the opposite (including me). This is my second go round of LCHF and although I was able to maintain it this time for 4 months, it was a supreme struggle, including depression and extended "keto flu". Yes, I've had a few days of energy and clarity, but it is not worth the tradeoff of being depressed or angry. BTW, yes to salt, under 20 carbs, IF, EF (4 @ 5 days water only), read the books, blogs, watched videos etc. etc. etc.
    Reply: #18
  18. Kristin Parker Team Diet Doctor

    Do you think Dr. Fung will revisit this issue of depression and low carb? He states he's never seen it, but here are people claiming just the opposite (including me). This is my second go round of LCHF and although I was able to maintain it this time for 4 months, it was a supreme struggle, including depression and extended "keto flu". Yes, I've had a few days of energy and clarity, but it is not worth the tradeoff of being depressed or angry. BTW, yes to salt, under 20 carbs, IF, EF (4 @ 5 days water only), read the books, blogs, watched videos etc. etc. etc.

    You may find that incorporating the extended fasting is not a good option. Eating to hunger instead may help improve your symptoms.

  19. Jake
    My cortisol went through the roof on Lchf, was on it for 6 months. Mood also down, energy down.

    I incorporated carbs again, and was able to relax and feel a bit happier.

    This is not for me.
    Peace!

  20. Ralph
    If you are taking an antidepressant medication, especially an SSRT (such as Zoloft) you should probably check with your doctor before taking 5-htp. I take sertraline (Zoloft) and my doctor warned me about something called Serotonin Syndrome, which is too much serotonin, and can be dangerous. Best wishes.
  21. Anniston
    I am glad to see others are experiencing similar symptoms. I recently had my second child, so naturally I began the Keto diet to drop the extra baby weight. First I experienced headaches, & then I had absolutely no appetite whatsoever. (Like 48 hours with no food because the mere thought made me nauseous. I would only eat when I would get "the shakes") I was not sure if I was experiencing PPD, feeling the effects of the garcinia cambogia supplements I take, or if my dramatic decrease in carbs was causing my severe depression. The reason I believe it is the Keto diet is because the depression turned manic after my husband bought me a sprite (not thinking to check the carbs since dieting is new to me hence knocking me out of ketosis) & my depression spiraled completely out of control. Almost instantly. After that episode, I am confident that the change in my carb intake was the source of my insanity - since I am beginning to feel like myself again. I wish there were more studies on it because I did manage to drop some pounds & inches. I don't believe it was in a healthy manner, though. Idk how, why, or what exactly caused it.. but I will stick to my low cal & exercise from now on.
  22. Luke
    I'm on Day 5 of Keto for the first time, and definitely starting to feel depressed. Depression is a thing with me, so I know its signs very well. Not going to entertain this if it keeps going, I need to feel better. Even though I've already lost four pounds…
  23. James
    I’m at day 20 or so and the depression that started about 10 days ago (After the traditional keto flu came and went) is really turning into one of the worst I’ve ever had. Don’t know what to do.
  24. Tibor
    I lift weights 3 times a week and do HIIT once in a while.I experience the exact opposite when I decrease my carb intake.My depression worsens and have suicidal thoughts.On my rest days I completely avoid carbs and consume 120 gramms of flaxseed oil.I eat 220 gramms of protein every day.Thats 2.2 pounds of chicken breast.When I train, I try not to eat more then 350 gramms of carbohydrates.My bodyfat percentage is around 15%.I wish I could manage to completely transition to ketogenic diet because I am hungry all the time no matter how much I eat.Sometimes I just cannot take it anymore and fall off the wagon and overeat.Luckily, I do not crave junkfood.When I do cheat, I cook 1500-2000 gramms of basmati rice (thats almost 1500 gramms of carbohydrates) and could eat the half of that in one sitting.
  25. Ellie
    I was on keto for 5 months last year and I had become fully adapted. Health issues like bloating and cramping were gone, I had lost 12 kilos slowly and my bloods were very good. I felt I had to stop, because I had become sad. I missed sitting down to lunch happy about what I was about to eat. Many foods I was raised on are off the table on keto....for me of course, but not for the rest of my family, for whom I cook. I wasn't craving the food any more, but I had also stopped smiling. Going out to dinner was no longer a happy occasion, it was a constant reminder of my self imposed food prison. All those things on the menu that sounded great, but I simply couldn't have. I was blue. Everyone noticed. I was supposed to be happier, but I was sad. I'm not saying the diet doesn't work...it really does, but if hear another person say "nothing tastes as good as skinny feels" I want to spit in their eye!! Skinny and healthy isn't making me happy at all. I simply feel deprived.
  26. Ang
    This is my second time trying keto. I lost 15kgs in 2 months but had to stop due to my depression getting worse. Even with my medication at maximum dose I still struggled to a point where I had to give up work.
    I stopped keto 6 months ago, gained the weight back and some but my depression was under control and I started working again.
    I thought I'd give keto another go, but unfortunately my depression is coming back. I've only been on keto for 3 weeks but if I don't improve I will have to stop. So frustrating when the weight comes off but the mind goes crazy. 😭
  27. Alainna johnson
    I started this woe 6 weeks ago. I did it initially to stop bloating, constant tummy ache and burping acid. Which it has. I was hoping to lose weight like everyone else too as I am 4 stone overweight. Anyway that’s not happening (only 8 lbs in the first two weeks) but besides this I also am not very happy on this diet. I feel sad most of the time and find myself crying almost every day. I’ve suffered with depression all my life but in January I came off my meds because I was taking cbd oil and felt great. Best I’ve felt for years until this diet. I don’t know what to do. I don’t want to go back to eating more carbs because I don’t want tummy ache all the time but then I don’t want to keep crying and feeling so sad. I will admit that at the end of April my daughters boyfriend who lived with us killed himself so I am grieving but before the diet I was just starting to handle it. I just don’t know what to do 😐
    Replies: #28, #29
  28. Kristin Parker Team Diet Doctor

    I started this woe 6 weeks ago. I did it initially to stop bloating, constant tummy ache and burping acid. Which it has. I was hoping to lose weight like everyone else too as I am 4 stone overweight. Anyway that’s not happening (only 8 lbs in the first two weeks) but besides this I also am not very happy on this diet. I feel sad most of the time and find myself crying almost every day. I’ve suffered with depression all my life but in January I came off my meds because I was taking cbd oil and felt great. Best I’ve felt for years until this diet. I don’t know what to do. I don’t want to go back to eating more carbs because I don’t want tummy ache all the time but then I don’t want to keep crying and feeling so sad. I will admit that at the end of April my daughters boyfriend who lived with us killed himself so I am grieving but before the diet I was just starting to handle it. I just don’t know what to do 😐

    My sincere condolences Alainna. I am sorry for your loss and that you're struggling. I would recommend checking in with your mental health professional and discussing ways to combat your depression before returning to carbs.

  29. Alainna Johnson
    Thank you for your reply. I didn’t want to go back to doctors because all they do is stick me on antidepressants and I find that all they do is put a plaster on your depression and I found cbd oil helped me immensely. I up my carbs from 20 to 30 on Saturday and ever since I feel a whole lot better. No more tears, clearer head and more energy. I did this once before in the beginning of this woe because someone suggested it because they felt the same way on this woe (and they never had depression before) and it worked so I really don’t know why I went back down to 20. Anyway I do believe that some of us do need that little bit more carbs than other keto users. If my weight loss is slowe than so be it. Mental health is more important 😊 thank you
  30. Drew
    Same story here. Actually found I felt high after eating some fruit, followed by SEVERE depression and anxiety, and I started keto because people say keto cured these problems?
  31. Jonas
    I started going the keto route after I had already transitioned to low carb and intermittent fasting. I lift weights, I make sure to take extra salt, and I do some intermittent fasting and occasionally longer fasts. I also have a history of depression and low energy. I was really hoping to get the mental clarity and energy people affiliate with keto but it didn't happen (although it did stop me from getting hangry). I know I am in ketosis based on my meter but no clarity. Also, I never quite feel satiated without eating some carbs (very disapointing). Personally I think intermittent fasting is great but going full on keto might end up being more of a seasonal thing just to shock my system.

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