Creative Commons License

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 4.0 License.


Date of Graduation


Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Science (MS)


Department of Health Professions


Jeremy D. Akers

Laura Dengo

Aimee Johnson


Major depressive disorder (MDD) is the second most common mental health condition and a leading cause of disability in the world. It is theorized that MDD develops from a combination of biological, psychological, and social stressors. The condition is typically treated using pharmaceuticals and psychotherapy. However, not all individuals with MDD have access to or choose to use these treatments, or may prefer to incorporate therapeutic lifestyle changes such as exercise, sleep, and healthy eating. Even with treatment, MDD can alter brain structure and function, leading to the development of comorbid mental health and chronic metabolic conditions like obesity, cardiovascular disease, or diabetes. Physiological mechanisms that can be significantly affected by MDD episodes include brain glucose metabolism, brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) production and activity, and antioxidant function. This paper reviews existing literature to examine these components of the pathophysiology of MDD and outline how treatments could functionally improve the condition. Most research has examined the relationship between nutrition and MDD utilizing traditional interventions, like low-fat diets, but more recent studies have explored alternative nutrition therapies. Animal-models have shown potential for the use of the ketogenic diet as nutrition therapy for MDD by demonstrating improved metabolism of alternative nutrients, increased BDNF activity, and improved antioxidant capacity in the brain. However, to date, there are no studies that examine the effects of a ketogenic diet on a human population with MDD. Future research is warranted to determine whether a ketogenic diet is a safe and reliable medical nutrition therapy for MDD.



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