A specialized weight loss diet preferred by some bodybuilders may be effective in treating schizophrenia, according to research published in Schizophrenia Research.

Researchers from James Cook University in Australia have found that a ketogenic diet helped reduce behaviors resembling schizophrenia in mice.

They believe that this high fat, low carbohydrate diet provides alternative energy sources from ketone bodies, products of fat breakdown, thereby helping to circumvent abnormally functioning cellular energy pathways in the brains of those with schizophrenia.

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The ketogenic diet has also been used since the 1920s to manage epilepsy in children until anti-seizure medications were introduced in the 1940s.

“Most of a person’s energy would come from fat. So the diet would consist of butter, cheese, salmon, etc,” said Zoltan Sarnyai, MD, PhD, from James Cook University in a statement. “Initially it would be used in addition to medication in an in-patient setting where the patient’s diet could be controlled.”

To see whether this high fat, low carbohydrate diet could reduce schizophrenic behaviors, the researchers fed mice a ketogenic diet for 3 weeks and induced acute NMCA receptor hypofunction by administering MK-801 (dizocilpine) to model the hypo-glutamatergic state that has been hypothesized to contribute to schizophrenia. They measured the mice’s psychomotor hyperactivity and behavior, their social withdrawal, and their memory deficits.

“The social interaction and spatial working memory impairment induced by MK-801 were normalized by [the ketogenic diet],” the researchers wrote.

Compared with a control group of mice on a normal diet, they found the mice on a ketogenic diet also had lower blood glucose levels and weighed less.

“It’s another advantage that it works against the weight gain, cardiovascular issues and type 2 diabetes we see as common side-effects of drugs given to control schizophrenia,” Dr Sarnyai said in a statement.

Although further studies using other animal models are needed to confirm these findings, the authors wrote that “as [a ketogenic diet] has been safely and effectively administered to humans in different pathological conditions, [this treatment] has the potential to be swiftly translated into a novel, safe and effective management of schizophrenia.”


Kraeuter AK, Loxton H, Lima BC, Rudd D, Sarnyai Z. Ketogenic diet reverses behavioral abnormalities in an acute NMDA receptor hypofunction model of schizophrenia. Schizophr Res. 2015; doi:10.1016/j.schres.2015.10.041.