Keto diet can help depression in women suffering from chronic fat condition

24 April 2023

A new CQUniversity research study has shed light on the potential benefits of ketogenic diets for managing depression in women with lipoedema, a chronic medical condition that causes abnormal fat deposition in the legs, arms, and other areas of the body.

According to CQU researchers Chantelle Clarke and Associate Professor Talitha Best, the accumulation of fat cells can cause swelling, pain and bruising, in which approximately 40 per cent of lipoedema cases impact patients' mental health, leading to depression.

“These often debilitating symptoms of lipoedema, combined with a lack of support and understanding from those around them, can potentially lead to depression, among other physical, psychological, and social difficulties,” Ms Clarke explained.

“This under-researched, regularly undiagnosed, and misunderstood condition is often misdiagnosed as obesity.

“There is currently no cure for lipoedema, making research into treatment options to help address the symptoms, improve quality of life, and slow progression, even more important.”

While a ketogenic diet is recommended as a lipoedema treatment option to manage this painful inflammation, Ms Clarke said more work is needed to understand the relationship between diet and mental health in lipoedema patients.

“The study aimed to explore the relationship between self-reported ketogenic diet status and depression in women with lipoedema,” Ms Clarke said.

“There is evidence to suggest that a keto diet can have positive cognitive effects on an individual's brain functioning and mood, and a keto diet has proven to help with the physical symptoms of lipoedema.

“But there has been no direct research into the cognitive effects of a keto diet in lipoedema patients.”

Associate Professor Best explained that the researchers surveyed 826 adult women with self-reported lipoedema to assess the depressive symptom severity of those who followed a ketogenic diet, in comparison to those who did not.

“We measured the participants' ketogenic diet status, Body Mass Index (BMI), lipoedema symptom severity scale, and depressive symptoms,” Assoc Prof Best said.

“Results showed that 35 per cent of participants used a ketogenic diet to manage their symptoms and of these participants, those who followed a ketogenic diet reported reduced depressive symptoms.”

Associate Professor Best said this novel insight link between diet and mood could be a game-changer for lipoedema patients struggling with their mental health.

“These findings suggest that the ketogenic diet may have additional benefits to mood in those with lipoedema, especially when used as a recommended treatment option to manage inflammation,” she said.

“However, it is important to note that ketogenic diets are not suitable for everyone and should be undertaken with medical supervision.”

Findings from this study will contribute to Ms Clarke’s Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) thesis where the research student is supporting mental health for women with lipoedema through compassionate mind training.

Ms Clake’s Research Higher Degree candidature was supported under the Commonwealth Government's Research Training Program/Research Training Scheme.

“Future research may seek to understand the potential mechanisms of effect, such as inflammatory pathways, and the perceived impact of diet on symptom management and well-being,” Ms Clarke explained.

“The validation of research in understanding and capturing the detrimental impact of this condition on mental health is very much needed, as are effective tools and interventions that can support improving it.”