Back on the Ketogenic Diet, Modified Atkins Variety

I’m disgusted with a lot of things: my meds, my perpetual brain fog (meds?), my recent 15 pound weight gain, which, on my 5 foot tall person, is a lot and is quite demoralizing, adding to the general feeling of gloom in my environment; my lack of energy, my lithium-induced tremors and muscle weakness, and I’m sure there’s more, if I could only think of it.  Oh yes, that’s it: word-finding difficulty.

At one point in my bipolar journey, nothing was working, med-wise, and my shrink planted an idea in my brain that had consequences I don’t think he intended.  There is a great deal of similarity between bipolar illness and seizure disorder: both share the phenomenon of kindling, where a little spark gets going and if it’s not stopped, it spreads until it causes generalized dysfunction.  In Bipolar-land we usually call that a trigger, but there is functional MRI evidence that demonstrates similar changes in brain metabolism during the moments leading up to a seizure, and the moments leading up to a bipolar decompensation.  So it should be no surprise that anti-epileptic drugs also treat bipolar symptoms.

When my son was a teen going through a bipolar meltdown, his psychiatrist told me, and showed me clinical papers to back his words up (which unfortunately I do not have and am not in the mood to dig up), that if, in the young brain, bipolar disorder could be suppressed for a two-year period without a breakthrough, it could be considered cured, just in the same way as epilepsy.  The theory is that in the growing brain, suppressing the kindling effect for that long gives the brain a chance to literally “grow out of it.”  My son, now 28, recently went through a battery of neuropsychiatric testing which showed that although he does have Major Depressive Disorder, he has no remaining features of Bipolar Disorder.  Bingo.

Back in the olden days before they had anti-seizure drugs like Depakene and Tegratol and Lamictal, there was very little in the anti-epilepsy arsenal.  The ancient Greek physycians noted that if you fasted a person with epilepsy, the seizures stopped.  Eventually, over a couple of thousand years, this observation led to development of the Ketogenic Diet.  If you look at the Wikipedia article under this link, it will tell you as much as or more than you ever wanted to know about the Ketogenic Diet.

The basic idea is that the brain can function on only two kinds of fuel: glucose, which is a product of sugar and carbohydrate (and in some cases protein) breakdown, and ketone bodies, which are small molecules that result from the breakdown of fat.  Ketone bodies also have the ability to regulate blood sugar, so if the balance of glucose and ketones is correct, the body literally shifts from a glucose based metabolism to a ketone based metabolism.  This has a wide range of effects.  The Atkins Diet  works on this principle: if you stop feeding the body carbohydrates, then it has to break down fat to get ketones to feed the brain and the rest of the body.

For reasons still unknown, ketone metabolism, or ketosis, suppresses kindling in the brain and controls seizures.  It can be a miraculous thing.  If you read through the Wikipedia article you’ll be astounded at the numbers.  I was, anyway.  The only problem is, it’s a very difficult diet to do.  You have to really be committed to it, and one little slip-up can set you back weeks.

So, at the time when meds were not working to suppress my bipolar fire, I was a little overweight anyway so I decided what the heck, I’ll try the Atkins diet, and do the most extreme version just for kicks and chuckles.  It was a bitch to do.  It’s a fat and protein based diet, so you have to pretty much live on eggs and cheese and (at that time I was not religiously observant) bacon, which was my staple food, cheeseburgers (God, I miss those), mayonnaise all over everything, heavy cream (for a treat, I would whip up a carton of heavy cream and eat it), cream cheese, and lots of leafy greens.  Oh man, it’s hard.  But: my BP symptoms stabilized, and I lost 30 pounds in the bargain.  I stayed on the diet for three years, then got religious and couldn’t eat bacon or cheeseburgers anymore, and started eating challah and kugels instead.  The thirty pounds came back, and my brain went wacko again.  Hmmm.

Now my brain isn’t wacko, really, thanks to Seroquel, but the problem is, with the Seroquel I just don’t feel anything.  I’d like to feel happy, or sad, or excited.  I was just walking by the river here which is just a couple of feet from flood stage, and in fact did flood last night, and I kept thinking, jeez, I should be feeling fear, this thing is so awesomely powerful and out of control.  But all I felt was, I should feel fear but I don’t.

So I decided to go back into the land of Ketosis, just to see what will happen.  At the very least maybe I’ll drop those two pants sizes I picked up over the winter, and if I’m lucky, my brain might start working better and I might be able to drop part or all of the Seroquel so I can feel things again.  Stay tuned!

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20 Comments

  1. Good luck! I hope it works just as well for you this time. Or even easier. 🙂

    Reply
    • Amen! So far it’s kind of a drag, and I’ve been on it two weeks and lost (yawn) a whole two pounds. But then again it’s been raining and I haven’t been moving around much…damn computer….Thanks so much, DeeDee! 🙂

      Reply
  2. Good luck with that! 🙂

    Reply
  3. Thank you so much for describing why epileptic meds are given to bipolars. None of my doctors ever would.

    The best med ever given to me was Lamictal. It was so good after a few weeks I came back — I was me again!! Oh, how I thanked God!! It was good to be me again!!! I started seeing all sorts of things wonderful happening in the future: I’d get my job back — or be able to work somewhere, anywhere. I might not be able to buy my home back, but I could get another house and turn it into a home once I had my job back, and on and on it went. I was SO happy I was ME!!!!!! This lasted for 3, count ’em, 3 whole months. Then the side effects kicked in. BAD side effects. The dr took me off Lamictal and gave me a derivative of that, whose name I can’t recall but it started with a “T.” Not as good as Lamictal, took longer to kick in, but the side effects continued and even lasted for nearly a year after I was taken off both meds. I’ll never forget that surge that hit that day I came back into my being!! Even if it was for only 3 months, I’ll count it as one of the best times of my life!!

    You always educate me one way or another, SS, and I thank you very much for that!! God bless you my sweet, intelligent, creative and wonderful friend!!
    — Kathy

    Reply
    • Wow, Kathy, what a horrible let-down! I’m so sorry that happened to you. When you say side effects, do you mean the skin thing (can’t remember its name right at the moment)? I don’t know how you survived the amazing feeling of getting yourself back, and then that horrible crash and side effects! You’re a very strong woman, much stronger than I am.

      If Lamictal worked that well for you, I’m wondering whether the ketogenic diet might not work too, for the same reasons that Lamictal worked, only without the side effects. It’s not a particularly pleasant lifestyle, especially if you have a social life (I don’t, so there you go).

      It’s actually very easy to do. If you’re interested, let me know and I’ll do a post on how to do it.

      Blessings right back atcha, dear Kathy. I’m sending you tons of healing energy and good juju for finding just the right medicine, whether it be in a pill or a diet or a bolt of healing lightning from G-d, ’cause you deserve it.

      Love, S/S

      Reply
      • The side effect was body parts kept going to sleep (feeling dead, not just numb.) Big chunks — started out with one hand, then into the arm, then my foot, the leg and the entire left side of my body. The tingling sensation of when part of your foot or whatever falls asleep and when the feeling returns — like pins and needles yet still numb at the same time — was what lasted for a year.

        Thanks for all the blessings!! I’ll gladly take them!! 🙂

        Reply
  4. You mentioned feeling flat on Seroquil. I had that feeling when I tried Cymbalta for fibromyalgia. Now my rheumatologist is suggesting Seroquil, but I don’t want that feeling again, plus I’m on Lamotrogine now, which makes it more complex. Do you think that I have an increased risk of flat affect on the Seroquil if I had that problem on Cymbalta? I really need to find something for pain control.

    Reply
    • No idea. I’m also on Lamotragine. I’d rather feel flat than suicidal, so I keep taking it. I complained about it to my doctor, who helpfully said, “That’s what it’s supposed to do.” OK, I can live with it. I just bitch about it sometimes, and hope that once I get home to Jerusalem I can get off it.

      Reply
  5. Thank you for this information. I am Bipolar II and always playing trying new meds, which haven’t worked very well. So I am ready to try other remedies, one being the ketogenic diet. When I do yoga 3+ times a week, I feel much better…but one needs the drive!

    Reply
  6. How are you getting on with the diet? I find sugar has a lot to answer for!

    Reply
    • Well, my metabolism has changed a lot since I was last on it. In the 1990’s I was on it for 3 years and never felt better in my life. Now, though, I’ve developed a malabsorption syndrome related to a Cystic Fibrosis gene that I carry, and I haven’t been able to tolerate the extremely-low-carbs diet. I get totally exhausted, have headaches, and zero energy, even though I stuck with it for a couple of weeks, then went off it for a couple more weeks and tried it again. My son the cell biologist thinks it’s due to the malabsorption, so now I’m just eating a “high nutritional value”=no junk and very little sugar diet, and feeling much better. I’m disappointed that I can’t do the Atkins anymore because it was a great solution for me. Oh well. I agree with you about the sugar. Horses love it though LOL!

      Reply
      • I think Atkins will make you go one way or the other because it’s such an extreme way of eating – there’s no middle ground. In the main a processed-free, low sugar diet works well for me and keeping my PCOS symptoms at bay. It’s difficult on a convenience level, but oh so worth it! Good luck 🙂

        Reply
  7. Maggie

     /  November 7, 2013

    Hi – I think that probiotics play a HUGE role in mental health and bi-polar. I started taking a probiotic for an infection and 10 days later I was feeling way more alert (less add), focused, social and generally more upbeat. My son also took them and he has cut his add medication way down and he is in his 3rd year of college. I started doing research. There are huge holes in the information but one of the things I have learned is that neurotransmitters are made in the gut and then sent to the brain via the central nervous system. A healthy gut with lots of flora plays a major role in this. If you have taken antibiotics or eaten alot of junk food or eat fruits and vegetable with pesticides on them that kill healthy bacteria then likely you have a flora issue. My sister is visiting and she is bi-polar and in somewhat of a manic faze and so I was doing a little looking around on the internet and came across your blog. Just thought I would put this out there.

    Reply
    • I can definitely see that. I think immunity in general makes a huge difference in how we feel and function, and the gut flora is just beginning to be thought of in the scientific world as an “organ” unto itself. Kudos to you for exploring and researching ways to be healthier–and putting your knowledge to good use!

      Reply
  8. Chris

     /  December 15, 2015

    I know this is an old post,but i’m just wondering if anyone has dealt with anxiety (which is my underlying issue) returning when they get back on the ketogenic diet. I felt great on it weight wise, and it was easy to do for me. (basically removes all hunger and cravings) I’m just weary that if i go keto again, i’ll just worsen my anxiety symptoms which are now controlled with siroquel and anti depressant meds. Is ketogenic diet possible if someone has anxiety?

    thanks

    Reply
    • Hmmmm….that’s one I have not yet encountered. I found that my depression was much improved on the diet. Since you’re medicated, if you need the diet in order to lose weight, you could try it just to get into induction. Then if you start feeling anxious you could simply stop. Were you on Seroquel the last time?

      Reply
  9. Peggy Chavez

     /  January 7, 2017

    I’m bipolar ll and thinking of the New Atkins diet for major weight loss (cookies are so great for self-medication). I saw your post from a few years ago on re-starting Atkins and was eagerly searching for a follow-up post to find out if you had success or (hopefully not) catastrophic failure. Love to know if it worked for you.

    Thanks for the inspiration 😺
    Peggy

    Reply
    • Hi Peggy,

      Thanks for stopping by! I haven’t managed to get my Atkins thing together yet….it’s those yummy cookies!!! Next thing you know, they’ll be Schedule I.

      What’s new in the New Atkins Diet? I hope it’s a shift away from artificial sweeteners….

      Good luck and keep us posted! If you get real benefit from the keto diet be sure to let me know.

      Best,
      Laura

      Reply

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