Keto Diet Side Effects: The “Keto Flu”
In general, keto diet side effects are minimal. The keto diet is safe and effective, and can be done for long periods. At the beginning, keto diet side effects, or the “keto flu”, can be uncomfortable and unusual if you do not expect it or understand it. This is a group of symptoms that occur due to the sudden switch from eating carbs to eating mainly fats and proteins; it is the reaction to almost no carb intake. These symptoms are both emotional and physical. The keto flu is a natural reaction to entering ketosis. Even though it’s transient and will pass on its own, there are ways to relieve the symptoms and possibly avoid them altogether.
Usually, your body burns carbohydrates (glucose) for energy. Suddenly you drastically cut the carbs and introduce large amounts of fat and protein. For the first 2-3 days you are living off the carbs you have stored. This is the metabolic process of ketosis. The symptoms that our body experiences when making the change from carb to fat burning is termed the “keto flu.” Your body’s response to ketosis often feels like the symptoms of the beginning of the flu without the fever and upper respiratory issues.
The Common Symptoms of The Keto Flu
Although there is no scientific explanation for it, these are the keto diet side effects many people experience at the beginning.
- Stomach cramps
- Fuzzy thinking or “Brain fog”
- Dizziness or confusion
- Irritability (Often quite noticeable due to the lack of carbs in the brain; mood changes are very common)
- Diarrhea or constipation (usually not a significant problem)
- Muscle cramping or soreness often due to carb and water depletion
- Lack of concentration or focus (again part of the adjustment to carb reduction)
- Trouble falling or staying asleep
- Sugar cravings, depending upon the individual’s need for carbs (the ketosis reduces hunger)
- Bad breath and odors in the urine (signs of ketosis)
- Athletes report less endurance in the first week<?li>
Staring on day 2 or 3 (once your body has consumed all of your stored carbs) the keto flu can begin. It’s symptoms and intensity vary with the individual. Some people may have no symptoms at all, while others could experience several for up to a week or two. On some occasions, it takes a week to develop fully. Either way, the symptoms shouldn’t last more than a 1 week and should disappear. Intense exercise should be avoided.
What Causes the Keto Flu?
The keto flu is due to a combination of sodium and potassium loss, dehydration, and withdrawal from carbohydrates and sugary foods. The wide variation in occurrence and severity might be expected since there is a huge variation in carb and fat consumption from person to person. Generally the more a person consumes high-sugar carbs, the more keto diet side effects they experience at the beginning of the diet.
Sodium, Potassium and Water Changes
When you switch to a keto diet, most salt-laden foods in prepared meals are eliminated and sodium intake is drastically reduced. Sodium causes the body to retain water, so less sodium intake means less water retention. The lack of carbs also lowers insulin levels. All of these changes lead to more excretion of water by the kidneys. Accompanying the loss of water is the depletion of sodium and potassium leading to many of the keto flu symptoms. Leg cramps, dehydration, and headaches are frequent signs. It may take a week to reestablish balance in minerals and water. Sugar-free sports drinks and Pedialyte may be of benefit.
The sudden reduction in carbs, especially in the form of sugar, can lead to a withdrawal-like syndrome. Some research has shown sugar affects the brain in a way similar to heroin or cocaine. Many dieters experience mood swings, irritability, cravings for sugar, and other symptoms that mirror drug withdrawal. However, this is not unique to the keto diet; it can happen on any low-carb or very low carb diet.
How to Avoid Keto Diet Side Effects: Get Rid of the Keto Flu!
Keto diet side effects are temporary. Here are some of the ways to minimize and/or eliminate them.
Keto Supplements in Form of Medium Chain Triglycerides Reduce Side Effects
Supplemental ketones in the form of Medium Chain Triglycerides (MCT’s) reduce time to ketosis and side effects. These are often termed keto bombs. Taken in the form of capsules or creamers for coffee, tea, or shakes, they reduce keto flu and the transitional keto diet side effects found when switching from carb to fat burning.
Increase Water and Electrolyte Intake
The water loss that occurs at the beginning of a ketogenic diet needs to be replenished. This can help reduce keto flu symptoms like headaches, fatigue, or nausea that are often caused by simple dehydration. Keep water near you to drink regularly throughout the day. Always drink when you feel thirsty. If your urine is darker yellow, you need to drink more water. Clear urine–without much color change is an indication that you’re well hydrated. When you wait for thirst as a signal, you are usually already dehydrated.
Add Some More Calories
Your body is no longer getting its energy from carbohydrates and sugars, so it needs plenty of fat for fuel. Make sure the calories from carbs are replaced by eating plenty of keto-friendly fats. Supplement with MCT oil powder to help further increase ketone levels for fuel.