Does a Keto Diet Increase Cortisol: Low Carb Diets & Stress

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Does a Keto Diet Increase Cortisol: Low Carb Diets & Stress

Carbs and Blood Sugar

As cells absorb blood sugar, levels in the bloodstream begin to fall – when this happens, the pancreas begins making glucagon, a hormone that signals the liver to start releasing stored sugar

This interplay of insulin and glucagon ensure that cells throughout the body, and especially in the brain, have a steady supply of blood sugar

Simply, the carbs you consume turn into blood sugar and the more carbs you eat, the higher the levels of sugar you will have released as you digest and absorb your food

Blood Sugar and Cortisol

When your blood sugar rises too quickly and then drops rapidly, it causes a stress response to occur in your body and leads to the release of cortisol

The lack of carbs on a keto diet lessens the stress response from carb digestion, which reduces the amount of cortisol that is released

Ketones and GABA

Ketosis increases the availability of oxaloacetate, which means more glutamate is available for production into GABA – helps to synthesis glutamate into GABA

Increase in GABA production helps to reduce the excess firing of neurons in the brain, leading to better mental focus and reduces stress and anxiety (1)

High Stress on Keto/How Stress Affects Keto

Continued/high stress means cortisol levels never have a chance to decrease, and this leads to a bunch of negative effects

But the main way it affects ketosis is by its main function, which is to elevate sugar levels in the blood through gluconeogenesis (2)

In Terms of ROS and Oxidative Stress

*Ketones inhibit mitochondrial production of reactive oxygen species production following glutamate excitotoxicity by increasing NADH oxidation*

Ketones may mediate neuroprotection through antioxidant activity

Study/Review from the journal Neuroscience:

A combination of bHB and acetoacetate decreased neuronal death and prevented changes in neuronal membrane properties induced by glutamate

Ketones also significantly decreased mitochondrial production of reactive oxygen species and the associated excitotoxic changes by increasing NADH oxidation in the mitochondrial respiratory chain, but did not affect levels of the endogenous antioxidant glutathione

Concluded that ketones reduce glutamate-induced free radical formation by increasing the NAD+/NADH ratio and enhancing mitochondrial respiration in neocortical neurons (3)


1) Yudkoff M , et al. (n.d.). The ketogenic diet and brain metabolism of amino acids: relationship to the anticonvulsant effect. – PubMed – NCBI. Retrieved from

2) Stress and Ketosis – The Nourished Caveman. (2014, November 25). Retrieved from