Ketogenic diet Dangers, Drawbacks and Downfalls
Surely, And, Ketogenic diet is not a magical solution. Like any diet, it has its pros, cons, health risks and dangers. Let’s see why not to keto?
The ketogenic diet is one of the trendiest diets these days. It is a high fat, low/no carbs diet. since it is a relatively new diet (find more about its history and origin here) there is no enough research to confirm or deny its long-term benefits and side effects.
Keto diet has been advertised as the magical solution for weight loss, treatment of epilepsy, prophylactic against heart problems and much more.
Keto diet dangers
Well, keto diet originally isn’t for everyone, some people are forbidden from following a high-fat diet if you have:
- Diabetic Type 1.
- Any existing liver, gall bladder, kidney, cardiac, or respiratory disease.
- Irregular menses, or on hormonal replacement therapy.
- Suffered from gestational diabetes in any of your pregnancies.
- Any eating disorder or severe mental problem.
- Reached 18 years old.
This means that the ketogenic diet may hold a certain health risk for these people and they can’t follow the diet fearing that its side effects and complication may aggravate their ongoing health problem.
While others can’t follow the ketogenic diet unless they are cleared by their specialized doctor, who has to perform a few tests to make sure they can follow the diet without complicating their condition. Like if you :
- Suffer from Diabetic type 2.
- Are On any medication that may be affected by this high-fat diet.
- Easily fatigue and get tired.
- Have an inflammation or infection.
- Are recovering from a serious surgery.
- Are exclusively breastfeeding (wait till your baby is weaned).
So why do nutritionists tell their patients about ketogenic diet dangers?
Many certified nutritionists wouldn’t recommend the keto diet to their patients because it is unrealistic. What diet restricts fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains and low-fat dairy from its regimen? These foods are known to help with long term weight loss and overall health! How can I recommend a diet that tells people to stop eating healthy food and start eating fats!?
This idea critics believe in, is since a Ketogenic diet is a restrictive diet, cutting carbs completely! Any restrictive diet holds certain dangers to our body and its metabolism as it eliminates a very important macronutrient essential for survival. This means it is an “all or nothing diet” if you don’t follow it as strictly as prescribed then you are risking yourself and your health for absolutely nothing!
This restrictive nature makes people drawback from it because a simple whim as craving a piece of cake can destroy all your efforts!
13 reasons why?
So why do many nutritionists say no to keto, and What are the most common ketogenic diet dangers
- Ketosis and ketoacidosis
- Keto-flu symptoms
- Bad breath
- Fatigue, lethargy, insomnia, and loss of concentration.
- Diarrhea and vomiting
- Reduced athletic performance
- Reduced muscle mass.
- Social isolation and weight obsession.
- Liver, heart and kidney diseases’ risk.
- Vitamins deficiency
- Reduced immunity.
- Weight cycling
Let’s breakdown these reasons one by one!
Ketosis vs ketoacidosis:
In a ketogenic diet, the whole mechanism of the diet depends on achieving a state called “ketosis”.
In this state, ketone bodies (acetoacetate, beta-hydroxybutyrate, and acetone) are produced in the liver and are released into the blood to help fuel the body especially the brain!
They act as effective energy sources for the brain because they can pass the blood-brain barrier like glucose! But if these ketone bodies reach dangerous levels in your blood and urine you may go into a state of ketoacidosis!
Although ketoacidosis is more common in diabetics especially type 1 (that is why they are ineligible to follow a high fat, low carb diet) but in some rare cases, ketoacidosis has been reported in people who are not diabetics and were following a ketogenic diet. If you felt your mouth go dry, or frequent urination, nausea and breathing difficulties while on a ketogenic diet, consult your doctor immediately and ask for immediate help as ketoacidosis could be fatal!
At the beginning of your keto diet, if you didn’t follow the instructions properly (check them here) you can suffer from aches, cramping, fatigue, diarrhea or constipation, dizziness, a skin rash, and mood swings.
These symptoms look like you are having the flu so they were commonly known as keto-flu. It usually happens due to dehydration leading to water and electrolyte imbalance. This side effect takes place because your body ran out of glucose quickly and is passing through a transition phase to start using fatty acids instead!
To avoid these symptoms, cut off the carbs gradually, drink lots of water, add a pinch of salt to your food and add some organic energy drinks like green tea and organic coffee. (buy them here)
Bad breath (halitosis):
Although this side effect is a good sign that your body has entered the ketonic state and is now fully fueled on fatty acids! But it is a very socially aversive sign too! To avoid losing all your significant other for following a ketogenic diet, try brushing your teeth several times a day and use sugar-free xanthan gums more often.
Fatigue, lethargy, insomnia, and loss of concentration:
These symptoms may be part of the keto-flu experience or simply you can be experiencing them alone! They are unpleasant and annoying symptoms that may affect your daily routine.
But they are short term side effects due to the decreased level of glucose reaching your brain, once you enter the ketonic state and your brain starts using ketone bodies as its energy source you will feel pumped up again and extra focused!
Diarrhea and vomiting:
Spending your nights in the bathroom? Missing out on important events because you can’t stop throwing up? This means most commonly that your gallbladder is working extra shifts trying to breakdown the extra fat in your diet!
Or maybe you are intolerant of the full-fat dairy and fatty food you are eating in your ketogenic diet! Try adding more fibers to your diet, and ask your doctor to prescribe an anti-emetic drug!
Reduced athletic endurance and performance:
A study published in the Journal of Sports Medicine and Physical Fitness stated that after 4 days of ketogenic diet athletes performed worse on high-intensity cycling and running tasks compared to those who spent those four days on a high-carb diet.
This finding is inconclusive as it only covered 4 days of a ketogenic diet where these athletes may not have entered the ketonic state yet. Further studies are recommended to compare the long term effect of the ketogenic diet on athletic performance, especially high-intensity workouts.
Reduced muscle mass:
One of the drawbacks of a ketogenic diet is the negative effect it may have on the muscle mass! When the body tries to find other energy sources rather than the depleted glucose, it turns its metabolism to the muscles, breaking down its proteins and gets its energy supply from there!
This means that even if you get off the ketogenic diet, and return to your normal lifestyle, your muscle mass is gone! You have to work extra hours at the gym trying to get them back!
Social isolation and weight obsession:
This side effect is common with any change in your lifestyle! If you go vegetarian you may lose your carnivores friends! And, If you go vegan, you may lose your pescatarian friends!
Furthermore, If you go keto, well you may lose your pasta-loving friends! This makes you feel more isolated, and in some cases may lead to chronic sadness and finally clinical depression!
Obsessing with your weight may be a side effect with benefits! this obsession could be a good way to maintain your weight or a bad way to lose perspective on how food is a gift, and is important for nourishment and staying well both physically and mentally.
Suffering from low blood pressure may be a side effect of a ketogenic diet. You need to stay well hydrated to overcome this symptom and add a little more Himalayan salt to your diet to avoid it! Just don’t go overboard with the seasoning or you will suffer from salt and water retention (reflects as bloating and extra pounds on the scale)!
Liver, heart and kidney diseases’ risk:
Most people who follow a ketogenic diet alone without the supervision of their nutritionist or doctor put themselves at risk for heart and liver diseases! As they use this diet as an excuse for eating more bacon not more vegetables and good sources of meat1
This unscientific approach increases the risk of hypercholesterolemia, liver damage, kidney stones, decreased heart function and even diabetes.
This is any doctor’s definition of a nightmare! A large-scale study presented in the European society of cardiology congress suggested that people on unsupervised low carbs diet are at high risk for cancer, cardiovascular diseases, and heart failure!
You are cutting on carbs, right? Well, carbohydrates rich food is not only rich in carbs but is rich in vitamins and minerals too! So, cutting them off means fewer vitamins for your body to absorb! You will need some supplements with your keto diet that you never needed before!
The bodyguard of your immune system (aka your gastrointestinal tract) has a perfect balance of good and bad bacteria that allows it to function properly! Restrictive diets like keto diet disrupt this balance causing a decrease in the friendly bacteria known as prebiotics! This affects your immune system and puts you at risk for chronic diseases.
Weight cycling and Yo-Yo dieting:
One of the most important drawbacks of the ketogenic diet is the fact that you can’t follow it forever! Unlike going vegan or maintaining a healthy lifestyle, at some point in your keto journey you have to stop! Living off carbs forever is not an option! It is a burden that requires huge willpower! stopping the keto diet abruptly will make you gain all the weight you lost! This weight gain and loss cycles (known as Yo-Yo dieting) ruin your metabolism! Making your journey for weight loss even harder and harder! You messed up your hunger hormones, your metabolism, your glucose blood levels, your ketone bodies, your muscles and much more!
Most Diet plans that are restrictive, like ketogenic diet comes at an expensive cost. Indeed, This cost maybe your overall health!
But, if you follow it properly with a certified nutritionist and fully understand its side effects and complications and how to avoid them, then you will benefit from the weight loss without the side effects. Otherwise, you may be putting yourself at risk for many chronic diseases and health problems like vitamin deficiency and decreased athletic performance.
Finding a long-term healthy lifestyle with all the nutritious food is your ultimate goal! few behavioral changes that promote physical, mental and psychological well-being can go a long way. Surely, this lifestyle ensures better health without compromise and zero risks for diseases it may save you from some fatal diseases and treat the existing ones!
- Paoli, A., Bosco, G., Camporesi, E. M., & Mangar, D. (2015, February 2). Ketosis, ketogenic diet and food intake control: A complex relationship. Frontiers in Psychology, 6, 27. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4313585/
- Gosmanov, A. R., Gosmanova, E. O., & Dillard-Cannon, E. (2014, June 30). Management of adult diabetic ketoacidosis. Diabetes, Metabolic Syndrome and Obesity: Targets and Therapy, 7, 255–264. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4085289/
- Kosinski C, Jornayvaz FR. Effects of Ketogenic Diets on Cardiovascular Risk Factors: Evidence from Animal and Human Studies. Nutrients. 2017;9(5):517. Published 2017 May 19. DOI:10.3390/nu9050517.