High fat/low carb diet could help treat schizophrenia

Scientists at James Cook University have discovered that the type of diet favoured by body builders – high fat/low carb – could in fact also be effective in treating schizophrenia.

The research group based at JCU’s Australian Institute of Tropical Health and Medicine (AITHM) have discovered that feeding mice a ketogenic diet, which is high on fat but very low on carbohydrates (sugars), leads to fewer animal behaviours that resemble schizophrenia. 

The ketogenic diet has been used since the 1920s to manage epilepsy in children and has more recently been used by body builders for weight loss and muscle building.

Schizophrenia is a chronic mental health condition, which affects one percent of the population worldwide and has no cure. It is currently treated with a medication, which has side effects for the patient such as weight gain, movement disorder and cardiovascular disease.

Associate Professor Zoltan Sarnyai believes that the diet works by providing alternative energy sources (products of fat breakdown) and which help to circumvent the abnormally functioning cellular pathways in the brains of schizophrenics.  The research has also revealed that the mice on a ketogenic diet weigh less and have lower blood glucose levels.

Dr Sarnyai is hopeful that the diet will be an effective tool in the management of schizophrenia in humans, and will have other benefits for patients: “It’s another advantage that it works against the weight gain, cardiovascular issues and type-two diabetes that we see as common side-effects of the drugs given to control schizophrenia”.

The JCU team will now be testing their findings in other animals as they work towards setting up a clinical trial.

If you would like to find out more about research degrees at James Cook University, contact Study Options.

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