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Wed, 27 Jul 2022

Keto therapy clinical trials

Keto diet
Image: Toa Heftiba

James Cook University researchers will undertake clinical trials to determine whether a diet high in fat and low in carbohydrates could be used to treat schizophrenia and bipolar disorder.

Professor Zoltan Sarnyai is a neuroscientist with JCU’s Australian Institute of Tropical Health and Medicine. He said the research team has received backing from a large US philanthropic fund to examine the mental health benefits of ketogenic therapy (a high fat/low carb diet).

“Typically, it’s 75 per cent fat, 20 per cent protein and 5 per cent carbs per day. The focus is on foods like eggs, meats, dairy, healthy fats such as avocado, nuts, salmon and low-carb vegetables and fruits, as well as sugar-free drinks. It restricts highly processed items and unhealthy fats,” said Professor Sarnyai.

Professor Sarnyai’s work, along with that of another four research teams, is now being backed by a grant from the US-based Baszucki Brain Research Fund – the first clinical pilot trials of ketogenic metabolic interventions for mental health conditions since a single promising study into schizophrenia in 1965.

Professor Sarnyai said patients with bipolar disorder and schizophrenia suffer greatly.

“A person with bipolar disorder will switch between extreme excitement or mania and depression. Schizophrenia is more severe, often involving seeing, hearing, tasting, smelling, or feeling things that aren’t there. People with schizophrenia may also experience disorganised thinking, which can render them unable to care for themselves,” he said.

He said the JCU team was the first to demonstrate the effectiveness of ketogenic therapy in a preclinical animal model for schizophrenia.

“Our results are being translated to a therapy that directly benefit the patient,” said Professor Sarnyai. (Link to paper here).

Research teams from JCU, Stanford University, University of California San Francisco, Edinburgh University and Ohio State University met in May to form a working group to study the effect of a ketogenic diet on bipolar disorder, schizophrenia and major depressive disorders.

“The way ketogenic therapy works is to provide alternative energy sources in the form of so-called ketone bodies (products of fat breakdown) and by helping to circumvent abnormally functioning cellular energy pathways in these mental disorders,” said Associate Professor Carlo Longhitano, Head of Psychiatry at JCU and a co-investigator in the study.

He said only well-designed and controlled clinical trials such as those now underway can allow conclusions that support evidence-based medicine.

“Without them it is just anecdotes and hearsay,” said Dr Longhitano.


Professor Zoltan Sarnyai
E: zoltan.sarnyai@jcu.edu.au