Bodybuilders take on a very specialised type of diet to produce extra muscle mass and strength without ballooning in weight, and now researchers in Australia have found an interesting alternative use for this very specific eating regime: treating people who have been diagnosed with schizophrenia.
As well as being favoured by bodybuilders, the so-called ketogenic diet – essentially, one that’s high on fat but low on carbohydrates – has been used for decades to manage epilepsy in children. It basically forces the body to burn ketone bodies (the products of fat breakdown) for fuel, rather than carbohydrates. Researchers from James Cook University (JCU) worked with mice that were fed with a ketogenic diet to see how this would affect behaviours linked to schizophrenia.
They found that the mice sustained by a ketogenic diet exhibited fewer behaviours resembling schizophrenia than those eating a normal diet, with behaviours including hyperactivity, social withdrawal, and memory deficits cropping up less frequently.
Lead researcher Zoltan Sarnyai and his colleagues hypoethesise that this same process of providing an alternative energy source for the body could be circumventing pathways in the brain – in particular, the abnormally functioning cellular energy pathways that are suspected to cause the mental health problems that characterise schizophrenia, including hallucinations, delusions, and muddled thoughts.