Foods containing carbs get broken into glucose, and this process energizes your body to perform multiple activities. But, intake of carbohydrates comes with its own share of discomforts. For example, your blood sugar levels may increase substantially. People who are diabetic and those wanting to pursue weight loss goals often sign into a diet called as keto diet. Children who are living with epileptic fits are also advised to take this diet. The keto diet can be best summed-up as being high on fats with needful levels of proteins. The key item conspicuous by its absence is carbohydrates. This diet pushes your body to use proteins and helps derive needful energy. This diet may however trigger a few side effects; it is a wise thing to know what these side effects are.

The essence of keto diet rests in its ability to minimize your intake of carbohydrates. In the absence of carbs, your liver makes ketones from fats available within its reach. Regular intake of such a diet – i.e., a diet which is free from carbs – makes your brain to depend on ketones and fatty acids as alternative sources of energy. In the process, you may also experience lesser craving for foods. But, such a diet can enable building of muscles. The chief medical benefit of this drug is – it can help minimize the number of convulsions among children who are epileptic. The diet was popular among epileptic children (as well as among adults – of course, with some changes to suit adults) in the mid-1920s and early 1930s. However, with the advent of antiepileptic drugs and their efficiency to reduce the intensity of fits or convulsions, the keto diet found fewer takers. Since late-1990s – the diet has reclaimed some of its lost glory and is fast becoming popular. Its popularity is more pronounced among people living with obese conditions, type 2 diabetes as well as cancers.

Several studies are underway to understand the keto diet, mainly to tap its potential to treat autoimmune conditions like cancers; a few types of cancerous cells are found to be inactive while using fats as energy sources. Such sources are known to limit their multiplication and growth. The keto diet is also being actively studied for potential benefits to people living with brain conditions such as autism, Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s disease as well as insomnia or other sleep-related problems.

Among children who are epileptic, it is highly recommended to pursue this diet only after checking with your child’s doctor or a qualified pediatrician. It is not safe to switch over to keto diet without consulting your physician as well as an experienced dietitian. This is because such a low-carb diet may add more pressure onto your renal system. Also, if you are obese due to say, a cardiac condition or diabetes, a sudden change in diet can lead to serious implications. In this milieu, it is important to know that the diet may also pose a few risks in the form of adverse side effects and allergic reactions.

Side effects of keto diet

In case of treating an epileptic condition – this diet is often taken along with anticonvulsants or antiepileptic drugs. If the diet proves to be working well, the treatment plan is modified with limited or no intake of these drugs. This diet is not all-benign and wholesome. It is known to trigger a few adverse side effects. However, the adverse reactions it triggers are often not as acute as those caused by antiepileptic medications.

The most common side effects of keto diet are tiredness, headaches, sleeping problems, cramping of muscles, foul-smelling breath, cravings for sugar-based foods, etc. Your dietitian will advise intake of a lot of water to avoid or minimize most of these discomforts. A few side effects experienced by a sizeable number of people include drop in blood sugar levels, difficulties to pass stools, increase in acidity levels in tissues and blood. In some children, this diet may lead to increased levels of lipids in blood and can thus enhance cholesterol. When you notice very high build-up of body fats, your dietitian may advise intake of polyunsaturated fatty acids. In some cases, ketogenic percentage (fat content) of the diet may be altered to a substantial level. A typical diet has a mix of 4:1 – 4-parts of fats for 1-part of carbs and proteins.

Anticonvulsant drugs such as topiramate (i.e., those belonging to a category called carbonic anhydrase inhibiting meds) may trigger the formation of kidney stones. The keto diet is also likely to cause a few other renal problems. Renal health conditions are known to arise mainly due to the presence of higher level of calcium in your urine. This is because of excessive acidity (acidosis) as well as loss of bone strength. Talk to your doctor if you notice symptoms like reduced output of urine, discoloration of urine or painful sensation while urinating. As a remedial measure, you may be advised to take supplements of potassium citrate. This salt is a proven antidote to risks of crystal / stone formation in your renal system.

Other side effects of keto diet

The diet may impair the health of bones, especially among children. Consistent intake of the diet can cause growth problems such as stunting or inability to achieve normal height among children, and can also make bones to become fragile. Risks of fractures or bone loss are more pronounced among children who take this diet for a very long time. Deprivation of needful carbs can also lead to reduced availability of insulin-related growth factors. This further stunts normal growth in younger adults as well as children.

Keto flu

This condition occurs when you are reducing the intake of carbs and if your body if making energy from fats. This flu-type condition may start to show up soon after you make a diet-shift. In most people, it may show up for some 3 or 4 days. However, in some remote instances, some people have experienced weakness, enhanced appetite levels, thirstiness, headaches and other such discomforts for nearly 20 days. The best way to keep this condition at bay is to consume more water or other fluids every day. Your dietitian may tell you to add some salt to water, or take supplements of essential electrolytes to minimize these discomforts.

Bad breath is another side effect you might have to cope with. This discomfort is experienced only over a shorter span of time. Once your body gets used to a reduced supply of carbs, foul-smelling breath may disappear on its own. You may consider brushing your teeth two times each day. It may also help to floss your teeth often. If the foul smell is acute, you can also use an oral freshener or mouth sprays.

Keto diet for people living with diabetes mellitus

High levels of blood sugar as well as insulin resistance may often turn fatal when you are taking this diet. Such conditions can trigger an acute episode of dehydration. In some people, pH balance of body fluids may change in a marked manner. These side effects do not augur well for your health, and may result in near-fatal outcomes like coma. In some remote cases, these may also lead to death. So, those who are diabetic are advised to consult their treating physician before opting for keto diet.

Excessive levels of acidity can also be triggered in people who have a hyperthyroid condition or over-optimal secretion of thyroid. People who fast often or those who take alcohol (in larger quantities) regularly may also witness acidosis. It is a safe practice to talk to a dietitian to know the type of foods you can take and more importantly, at what time intervals. In general, if you are experiencing side effects like urinating frequently, dryness of lips, being in a confused state of mind, vomiting often, abdominal discomforts such as pain in the lower abdomen or nausea, it is highly recommended to meet your doctor immediately. Other adverse reactions and side effects to stay watchful of include respiratory problems (wheezing, shortness of breath, etc.), weariness and drying of skin.

Of all these side effects of keto diet, vomiting very often or throwing up persistently can be fatal, especially if you are living with diabetes. This can be preliminary sign of a condition called diabetic keto-acidosis or DKA. Vomiting can hasten the onset of this type of acidosis, and persistent throwing up can aggravate the effects further. You are advised to seek medical help on an emergency basis. Those living in the US need to call 911 or contact the emergency helpline numbers of food and drug administration (FDA). If you are a resident of any of the Canadian provinces, quickly reach out to Health Canada; you can also establish contact with a poison control unit on an urgent basis.

As an added safety measure, you can check the level of ketones in your body regularly. One of the best ways is to test samples of your urine or blood. Talk to a diabetic instructor or a qualified diabetic care provider to know how to measure ketone levels at home (using easy-to-use strips) or by using sugar-meters.

Intake of keto diet by breastfeeding women

Women who have newly delivered a baby may need more fluids as well as calories. Absence of these items in your diet can reduce the secretion of breastmilk. Talk to your physician if you are planning to switch to keto diet; in such instances, your doctor may advise starting the diet only after weaning your baby to other foods.

In sum, keto diet does have its own merits such as reduction of bodyweight, minimize the episodes of muscular spasms or convulsions among people living with epilepsy, etc. This diet may trigger a few side effects and discomforts. Most common among such discomforts are headaches, constipation, sleeping difficulties, bad breath, feeling thirsty or hungry, cramping of muscles, other abdominal discomforts like nausea, pain, etc. Most of these side effects can be managed by taking supplements of electrolytes to restore the right balance of essential salts in your system. Another proven way to handle these common side effects is to take a lot of water. However, if these side effects of keto diet persist for long, it is time to talk to your treating doctor as well as dietitian as quickly as possible.

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