Chris Palmer, MD, of Harvard Medical School — Optimizing Brain Energy for Mental Health, The Incredible Potential of Metabolic Psychiatry, Extraordinary Case Studies, and Harnessing Mitochondria for Anxiety, Depression, OCD, PTSD, and More (#633)

“Mental disorders are metabolic disorders of the brain, so that means metabolic impairment in the body and/or brain can result in mental symptoms.”

— Dr. Christopher Palmer

Dr. Christopher M. Palmer (@chrispalmermd) is a Harvard psychiatrist and researcher working at the interface of metabolism and mental health. Dr. Palmer is the director of the Department of Postgraduate and Continuing Education at McLean Hospital and an assistant professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School. For over 25 years, he has held administrative, educational, research, and clinical roles in psychiatry at Harvard. He has been pioneering the use of the medical ketogenic diet in the treatment of psychiatric disorders—conducting research in this area, treating patients, writing, and speaking around the world on this topic.

He has developed the first comprehensive theory of what causes mental illness, integrating existing theories and research into one unifying theory—the brain energy theory of mental illness. You can learn more in his new book Brain Energy: A Revolutionary Breakthrough in Understanding Mental Health—and Improving Treatment for Anxiety, Depression, OCD, PTSD, and More.

Please enjoy!

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The transcript of this episode can be found here. Transcripts of all episodes can be found here.

#633: Chris Palmer, MD, of Harvard Medical School — Optimizing Brain Energy for Mental Health, The Incredible Potential of Metabolic Psychiatry, Extraordinary Case Studies, and Harnessing Mitochondria for Anxiety, Depression, OCD, PTSD, and More

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Want to hear an episode that explores the ketogenic diet in greater depth? Have a listen to my conversation with Dr. Dominic D’Agostino here, in which we discuss muscle and strength gain in ketosis, the diet’s impact on type 1 diabetes, tricks for adhering to the diet in polite company outings, vegetarian and vegan options, exogenous ketone efficacy, and much more.

#172: Dom D'Agostino — The Power of the Ketogenic Diet

What was your favorite quote or lesson from this episode? Please let me know in the comments.



  • Connect with Dr. Christopher Palmer:

Website | Twitter | Instagram


  • [07:14] How a woman overcame her 53-year streak of chronic paranoid schizophrenia.
  • [11:16] The backstory of Brain Energy‘s dedication.
  • [16:31] Chris’ thoughts on DSM-5 diagnostic categories.
  • [21:51] Chris’ first exposure to the ketogenic diet.
  • [28:35] Metabolic psychiatry.
  • [30:33] How ketosis affects the human body (e.g., sleep, mood, weight).
  • [39:35] Examining the mood elevation of ketosis on a bio-cellular level.
  • [44:24] When ketosis can be dangerous.
  • [46:44] How mitochondrial dysfunction can trigger a host of ailments.
  • [58:07] Dietary methods for sustaining ketosis over the long term.
  • [1:04:54] Common ketosis mistakes.
  • [1:07:53] Psychiatric medications, metabolism, and controversy.
  • [1:15:29] Indications that a medication impairs more than improves a patient’s condition.
  • [1:18:06] Resources to share with doctors open to conversation about these issues.
  • [1:20:41] Why quitting psychiatric medication cold turkey is a bad idea.
  • [1:23:20] Thoughts on the efficacy of exogenous ketones.
  • [1:30:32] Ketogenic diet as treatment for schizophrenia.
  • [1:38:34] Why you need to take radical ownership of your own health advocacy.
  • [1:40:33] Physical exercise for optimizing mitochondrial health.
  • [1:44:59] A cautionary note for people using medication for off-label results.
  • [1:48:49] Parting thoughts.


“Mental disorders are metabolic disorders of the brain, so that means metabolic impairment in the body and/or brain can result in mental symptoms.”
— Dr. Christopher Palmer

“Mental disorders are now the leading cause of disability on our planet. And it’s not because people aren’t getting treatment. A lot of those people are getting treatment, and it’s because our current treatments fail to work for them. That is a fact, and that is why I am so passionate about this work. Because I want to help those people who are being told, ‘There’s nothing more we have to offer you. There’s nothing more we can do. Just take your pills and stop complaining.’ I want to help them.”
— Dr. Christopher Palmer

“Right now, the mental health field says, ‘This child has block-throwing disorder.’ ‘This child has grumpy disorder.’ ‘This child has handwriting disorder,’ and ‘This child has defiant disorder. He spoke back to me in a really poor manner.’ We label those different things, and then we assume they are different disorders. They’re certainly different behaviors, and they might require different interventions. One child might need discipline and another maybe not, but you can solve all of it by feeding them.”
— Dr. Christopher Palmer

“What I want to say is, for all of you who know somebody with schizophrenia or bipolar disorder, there is a better way.”
— Dr. Christopher Palmer


The Tim Ferriss Show is one of the most popular podcasts in the world with more than 900 million downloads. It has been selected for "Best of Apple Podcasts" three times, it is often the #1 interview podcast across all of Apple Podcasts, and it's been ranked #1 out of 400,000+ podcasts on many occasions. To listen to any of the past episodes for free, check out this page.

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10 Replies to “Chris Palmer, MD, of Harvard Medical School — Optimizing Brain Energy for Mental Health, The Incredible Potential of Metabolic Psychiatry, Extraordinary Case Studies, and Harnessing Mitochondria for Anxiety, Depression, OCD, PTSD, and More (#633)”

  1. Realistically for someone working with the stress of living with severe mental illness and not much money, can this really be followed? Would be interesting if there was a post on that.

  2. Tim, I don’t have a specific comment on this podcast, but I will eventually listen to it. I just wanted to tell you that I enjoy your content and that I hope you have a good weekend. I was excited to read about the Veritasium YouTube channel today in your weekly e-mail. I think my 14-year-old science loving son and I are going to be watching some of that tonight. Take care!

  3. Tim, in your email this week, the quote from Rainer Maria Rilke made me want to share the concept of Nature Journaling with you. Specifically I’d point you to look into John Muir Laws and his book, The Laws guide to nature drawing and journaling. I think you’ll be particularly interested in his thoughts on love. “Love can be defined as sustained, compassionate attention. Paying sincere attention to another person – a child, partner, student, or stranger – helps us to build understanding and kindness. Similarly, I feel understanding, care, and compassion when I journal and turn deep attention to nature.” his teaching is about bringing you into a special connection with your surroundings, much as Rilke described. I hope you enjoy the rabbit hole.

  4. Randomly drifted back to my podcast queue after long break and really enjoyed your last 2 episodes – I really appreciate your thoughtful approach and deeper explorations. Love that you hinted at the story/theory from cell bio how mitochondria were assimilated into our bodies. Did not know they clustered in neuroreceptor/transmitter regions, love the idea of that boost of energy helping my biochemistry along.

  5. Hi Tim and Chris, thank you for this enlightening discussion. What about folks with eating disorders (and presumably other mental disorders like depression and OCD) for whom a (very) restrictive diet of any kind, such as ketogenic, is psychologically unhealthy? Thanks for sharing your wisdom!

  6. I really enjoyed the show. I have a lot of questions about the diet. Any direction/insight would be helpful. I am interested in following the diet and was wondering if there’s a less extreme diet that I can try first or use as a segue for the keto diet? It might be beneficial for me to gradually step into it.

  7. Tim, I’ve been an avid fan and follower of your journey since 4 Hour Work Week was published.💗 I don’t have Twitter so using this forum to formally request (beg?) that you consider elevating this incredible woman, and her message about the current state of pornography and the public view of sexuality on your show sometime soon. I think she would be a superb fit. Her TedTalk says it all: [Moderator: YouTube link to “The porn conversation | Erika Lust | TEDxAthens” removed per YouTube embed policy.]
    Thank you, Tim, for all you do!!

  8. Excellent episode! I have thought of reaching out for the past few months to suggest you do an episode on tick borne illness and include Alpha-GAL. A leading expert on Alpha-GAL is: Dr. Scott Commins (UNC Allergy & Immunology Clinic) [Moderator: phone number removed here but preserved]. I am very sorry to hear your mom and I share that diagnosis. After hearing this episode, I found myself wondering how to do a vegan keto diet. Thank you!

  9. Very good interview and podcast. As a Type 1 Diabetic I’d like to hear more about the fasting protocol and how it’s able to produce insulin in the beta cells. The one article from the BBC in the references is very short and doesn’t elaborate. I’d like to hear more about the 5 people you know that have done this and are seeing success. Are you able to do an entire Podcast on this topic?

  10. Hi, Tim. I am new to your podcast and I stumbled upon this episode with Dr. Palmer after going down a rabbit hole of research for my 8 year old son. I would love to get some feedback on steps I might be able to take to help him. I am expanding a huge web of information and all paths are leading back to mitochondrial dysfunction, infection, etc…you sharing your story lit a bulb in my brain and I just need more information on how I can best help my son. Any feedback is greatly appreciated.