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Background: One-third of people with depression do not respond to antidepressants, and, after two adequate courses of antidepressants, are classified as having treatment-resistant depression (TRD). Some case reports suggest that ketogenic diets (KDs) may improve some mental illnesses, and preclinical data indicate that KDs can influence brain reward signalling, anhedonia, cortisol, and gut microbiome which are associated with depression. To date, no trials have examined the clinical effect of a KD on TRD. Methods: This is a proof-of-concept randomised controlled trial to investigate the efficacy of a six-week programme of weekly dietitian counselling plus provision of KD meals, compared with an intervention involving similar dietetic contact time and promoting a healthy diet with increased vegetable consumption and reduction in saturated fat, plus food vouchers to purchase healthier items. At 12 weeks we will assess whether participants have continued to follow the assigned diet. The primary outcome is the difference between groups in the change in Patient Health Questionnaire-9 (PHQ-9) score from baseline to 6 weeks. PHQ-9 will be measured at weeks 2, 4, 6 and 12. The secondary outcomes are the differences between groups in the change in remission of depression, change in anxiety score, functioning ability, quality of life, cognitive performance, reward sensitivity, and anhedonia from baseline to 6 and 12 weeks. We will also assess whether changes in reward sensitivity, anhedonia, cortisol awakening response and gut microbiome may explain any changes in depression severity. Discussion: This study will test whether a ketogenic diet is an effective intervention to reduce the severity of depression, anxiety and improve quality of life and functioning ability for people with treatment-resistant depression.

Original publication




Journal article


Journal of Psychiatric Research

Publication Date





230 - 236