For many people, one of the more surprising side effects of starting a ketogenic diet is a bout with the “keto flu.” How so? “When you go on this diet, your kidneys don’t retain as much salt or water, which can lead to flu-like symptoms, such as fatigue and headache, or constipation,” says Laura Saslow, PhD, an assistant professor at the University of Michigan School of Nursing. “But these are typically short-lived symptoms that can be prevented or treated by increasing your salt and water intake.” However, if you have high blood pressure, speak with your doctor before adding more sodium to your diet. And know that the keto flu only lasts a week or two; symptoms typically subside once the body adjusts to the diet.
Ketoacidosis, on the other hand, is dangerous. But it’s usually limited to people with type 1 diabetes, striking when their glucose levels rise due to illness or a missed insulin dose. Without insulin, cells can’t take in glucose, so they burn fat for fuel instead, producing exceptionally high ketone levels—much higher than the amount generated by the keto diet. That, in combination with high blood glucose levels, essentially poisons the blood. “It’s very easy to tell the difference between nutritional ketosis, which has no negative symptoms [aside from ‘keto breath,’ which can smell like nail polish remover], and dietary ketoacidosis, which is an illness that requires hospitalization and causes lethargy, abdominal pain, nausea, vomiting, rapid breathing, and lack of appetite,” says William Yancy, MD, program director at the Duke Diet and Fitness Center in Durham, North Carolina.
Children who discontinue the diet after achieving seizure freedom have about a 20% risk of seizures returning. The length of time until recurrence is highly variable, but averages two years. This risk of recurrence compares with 10% for resective surgery (where part of the brain is removed) and 30–50% for anticonvulsant therapy. Of those who have a recurrence, just over half can regain freedom from seizures either with anticonvulsants or by returning to the ketogenic diet. Recurrence is more likely if, despite seizure freedom, an electroencephalogram shows epileptiform spikes, which indicate epileptic activity in the brain but are below the level that will cause a seizure. Recurrence is also likely if an MRI scan shows focal abnormalities (for example, as in children with tuberous sclerosis). Such children may remain on the diet longer than average, and children with tuberous sclerosis who achieve seizure freedom could remain on the ketogenic diet indefinitely.
The keto diet isn’t new, and it’s been around for nearly a century. It was originally developed to treat people with epilepsy. In the 1920s, researchers found that raised levels of ketones in the blood led to fewer epileptic seizures in patients. The keto diet is still used today to treat children with epilepsy who don’t respond well to anti-epileptic drugs.
I actually clicked on the story just to see if they included anything about it’s use in managing chronic migraine. I have chronic migraine, basically intractable. Nothing has helped. I’ve tried medications, meditations, and everything in between including a bunch of dietary changes. Keto is my next consideration. I’m happy to hear it helped you! Thanks for sharing
No human population has ever lived in a permanent state of ketosis. Ketogenic diets are dangerous for pregnant women and developing fetuses, and the only human population that has ever subsisted on this dietary pattern advocated by keto diet proponents could only do so because of a genetic mutation that prevents them from going into ketosis. Unfortunately, it has the unintended but unavoidable consequence of reducing the survival prospects of their infants.
I think the larger question is why we are seeing such a sudden rash of anti-keto stories. So many of them quote no experts sources and do not provide citations for their claims. Skeptics with little acquaintance with the diet are quoted exclusively instead. From a journalistic perspective, this lack of balance of viewpoints and the failure to back up claims with evidence falls below basic reporting standards. Offenders on this list include even the Harvard School of Public Health, which recently published more than one unsourced, one-sided article on the keto diet (This is in addition to the Lancet Public Health article cited above, by Harvard researchers, which suggests that a low-carb diet kills you). These stories could reflect lazy reporting or they could very well be scare tactics to steer people away from the keto diet. Why would reporters or scientists at Harvard be doing such a thing? That’s material for another post. Stay tuned.
Here’s the real kicker: the reason why the Inuit don’t go into ketosis as readily as other ethnic groups is the high prevalence of a deleterious mutation in the CPT1A gene. This mutation permitted adaptation to a high fat, low carbohydrate diet in the sense that those carrying the gene could survive to reproductive age while eating a diet entirely at odds with our evolutionary history. However this gene is associated with high infant mortality rates due to hypoketotic hypoglycemia: when Inuit babies’ blood glucose levels drop, they are unable to utilize ketone bodies to sustain their brains. The very mutation that permits adult survival in extreme circumstances compromises infant health – a powerful example of the trade-offs inherent to evolution. Humans can indeed adapt to an extreme environment and an extreme diet, but that adaptation comes at a high cost.
Around this time, Bernarr Macfadden, an American exponent of physical culture, popularised the use of fasting to restore health. His disciple, the osteopathic physician Dr. Hugh William Conklin of Battle Creek, Michigan, began to treat his epilepsy patients by recommending fasting. Conklin conjectured that epileptic seizures were caused when a toxin, secreted from the Peyer's patches in the intestines, was discharged into the bloodstream. He recommended a fast lasting 18 to 25 days to allow this toxin to dissipate. Conklin probably treated hundreds of epilepsy patients with his "water diet" and boasted of a 90% cure rate in children, falling to 50% in adults. Later analysis of Conklin's case records showed 20% of his patients achieved freedom from seizures and 50% had some improvement.
A ketogenic diet helps control blood sugar levels. It is excellent for managing type 2 diabetes, sometimes even leading to complete reversal of the disease. This has been proven in studies. It makes perfect sense since keto lowers blood-sugar levels, reduces the need of medications and reduces the potentially negative impact of high insulin levels.