Ketosis is a natural metabolic process that happens when your body lacks enough carbohydrates to burn for energy. Without access to carbs or glucose, your liver starts to burn fat, and the breakdown of fats into fatty acids results in the formation of molecules called ketone bodies. Ketone bodies can be used as fuel for the body.
Ketosis has numerous health benefits and is safe for most people, but it may have some negative effects especially in the beginning, although these effects are typically not serious.
What are the health benefits of ketosis?
Ketosis can have a few significant health benefits:
- Promotes weight loss: In the short term, ketosis can help you lose weight by reducing your body’s stores of glycogen, the storage form of glucose in muscles and liver, and water. In the long term, it can suppress your appetite and cause you to eat less. Ketogenic diets also consist of foods that cause you to feel full longer and reduce the level of hunger-stimulating hormones.
- Improves acne: Acne is often caused by hormonal imbalances, as well as diet and blood sugar. Eating a diet high in processed and refined carbohydrates can alter the balance of gut bacteria and cause spikes in blood sugar, both of which can adversely affect skin health. A low-carb ketogenic diet can therefore help you reduce acne symptoms.
- Kills cancer cells: For people with certain cancers, a ketogenic diet is a safe and suitable complementary treatment to use alongside chemotherapy and radiation therapy. This is because ketones cause more oxidative stress in cancer cells than in normal cells, causing them to die.
- Protects brain function: Ketones provide neuroprotective benefits, which means they can strengthen and protect your brain and nerve cells. Following a keto diet may help you prevent or manage conditions, such as Alzheimer’s disease.
- Reduces epileptic seizures: Ketosis can reduce seizures in people with epilepsy, especially those who have not responded to other treatment methods. Many children with epilepsy have seen significant reductions in seizures while following a ketogenic diet, and some have experienced remission.
What are the negative effects of ketosis?
Ketosis may cause some negative symptoms, especially if you are just starting a keto diet. Effects are typically mild and may include:
- Keto flu: At the beginning of ketosis, you may experience a range of symptoms like headache and fever. This is often called the “keto flu” because symptoms resemble flu symptoms. This is due to the body getting accustomed to using fats instead of carbohydrates as energy.
- Bad breath: One of the more common side effects of ketosis is bad breath, often described as fruity and slightly sweet. It’s caused by acetone, a ketone that’s a byproduct of fat metabolism.
- Leg cramps: Leg cramps usually stem from dehydration and loss of minerals. This is because ketosis causes a reduction in water weight. Glycogen binds to water and gets flushed out when there’s a reduced intake of carbs. It’s one of the main reasons why people lose weight rapidly in the first week of a very low-carb diet.
- Digestive problems: Dietary changes can sometimes lead to digestive issues. This is also true for ketogenic diets. Constipation is a common side effect in the beginning, and is often due to not eating enough fiber and not drinking enough fluids.
You should not follow a keto diet if you have:
- Liver and kidney issues: The keto diet can cause stress on the kidneys and liver, and should therefore be avoided if you have abnormal kidney and liver functions.
- Heart issues: Many cardiologists do not advise the keto diet if you have heart issues because the long-term consumption of high-fat foods can cause damage to your heart.
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Masood W, Annamaraju P, Uppaluri KR. Ketogenic Diet. In: StatPearls [Internet]. Treasure Island (FL): StatPearls Publishing; 2021. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK499830/