Keto Flu: Causes, Symptoms & Treatment

what is keto flu

Anyone who stayed on top of health and dieter news has likely stumbled into the Keto Diet.

It seems that everyone is jumping onto this newest health trend; however, unlike other fads, many have had great success in losing weight by undergoing a Ketogenic diet.

In fact, the low-carb and high-fat diet is a proven way for dieters to both lose and keep off the weight.

With all that said, it should be no surprise why people are jumping onto the Keto bandwagon, yet many are turned away from Keto when they start experiencing something known as “Ketosis Flu”. So, what is it, why does it happen, and – most importantly – how can you get rid of it?

What is Keto?

Keto, otherwise known as Ketogenic Diet, is the term for a low-carbohydrate diet developed as a treatment for epilepsy in 1930’s France. Though it had varying success in treating the neurological disorder, some started to realize that the low-carb diet consistently resulted in weight loss.

Instead of getting energy from carbs like bread (not counting keto-friendly bread), wheat, and pasta, those undergoing keto prioritize protein and fat.

Dieters opt for less than fifty grams of carbohydrates a day in order to trigger their body’s response to the sudden drop in blood sugar. Then, the body is forced to adjust to breaking down protein and fats from energy, keto diet infographicwhich will cause the dieter to lose weight rapidly. Instead of burning glucose, the body is shifted to start burning ketones.

This process is called ketosis. Most undergo ketosis for a series of weeks before transitioning to a different diet in order to build muscle since Keto is considered better for weight loss rather than as a long-term lifestyle change. Some adopt a ketosis diet on a rotating schedule, performing the diet for several weeks, then eating a higher amount of carbohydrates for a month before returning to ketosis in order to boost their rate of fat burning.

Typically, dieters follow a meal plan that consists of 60 to 75 percent fat, 15 to 30 percent protein, and a mere 5 to 10 percent carbs. For more information on getting started, check out our beginners guide to keto.

What is Keto Flu?

Though the ketogenic diet is considered well-tolerated by most people, there are some potentially nasty side effects that you can undergo when first starting the diet. Ketogenic Flu, also known as carbohydrate flu, refers to the range of symptoms that most people experience when they first begin the diet.

Believe it or not, it can actually be very difficult for the body to adapt to having less or almost no carbohydrates when transitioning sharply to a keto diet. In the United States, most consumers’ daily diets consist of around sixty to seventy percent carbs, while keto diets reduce consumers’ carb intake by under fifty grams per day.

The sudden decrease in carb intake can come as a shock to the system, causing symptoms that mirror withdrawal from addictive substances. Considering that simple carbs, especially pasta, white bread, and rice, are essentially composed of sugar, it makes sense that our bodies are very used to the carb-caused cycles of blood sugar spikes.

When you switch from using glucose to burning fat for energy (called ketosis), the body may at first act as is if it is entering starvation. All of these factors combine to cause Ketogenic Flu, which includes a range of unpleasant symptoms that mimic influenza or the common cold.

Symptoms of Keto Flu

Everybody’s body reacts differently when they start creating drastic changes in their diet. Some people may find that they tolerate Keto Flu very well and experience none of the frustrating or nearly debilitating sickness that others complain of.

keto flu symptoms

Meanwhile, some may find the transition exceedingly difficult to undergo. Luckily, most symptoms of Ketogenic Flu appear within the first week and last only a few days. However, some people may experience symptoms for two weeks or longer.

Symptoms of Ketogenic Flu may include:

  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Constipation
  • Low mood or irritability
  • Dizziness when standing (orthostatic hypotension)
  • Stomach cramps
  • Lack of focus
  • Body aches and muscle soreness
  • Insomnia
  • Cravings for carbohydrates and sugar

If you find that your symptoms are not getting better with time, you should consult with a primary care physician in order to determine the best course of action. Long-lasting Ketogenic Flu could relate back to symptoms of other illnesses or disorders exacerbated by the new dietary change.

Who Shouldn’t do Keto?

Though Keto is generally considered safe, there are some people who should not perform a low-carb diet as it poses a risk to their health. Significant shifts in eating patterns can pose long term safety risks.

Pregnant and Breastfeeding Women

If you are pregnant, you should not undergo keto since it is associated with developmental problems in the growth of the fetus. This could increase the risk of neurological defects and birth defects, such as spina bifida.

Additionally, there is a lack of studies showing the safety of ketogenic diets on infants when a mother opts to breastfeed. Rather than performing keto, mothers can opt for moderate carb intake diets that don’t emphasize very rapid weight loss.

High-Performance Athletes

Ultimately, Ketogenic diets are used by those who want to lose weight rather than those that need to perform well in athletic competitions. Extreme exercise while on Keto is highly associated with fatigue, irritability, digestive problems, and orthostatic hypotension.

If you’d like to emphasize performance in high-endurance sports, try adding more carbohydrates to your pre and post-workout routines.

Teenagers and Children

Early studies have demonstrated that children on ketogenic diets experienced stunted growth and developmental delays. Keto should only be undertaken by teenagers under the strict supervision of a doctor and for therapeutic purposes.

Those without a Gallbladder

The gallbladder is responsible for breaking down and metabolizing fats. It would be reckless to opt for a high-fat diet since the body has a diminished ability to effectively process fats. However, shorter fats, such as those found in coconut oil, may be able to be processed by the liver.

Type II Diabetes

Though diabetics aren’t completely barred from the Ketogenic diet, they should only undertake it under the supervision of their primary care physician. Unlike carbohydrates, fat and protein don’t have significant effects on insulin.

How Do You Get Rid of Keto Flu?

Thankfully, there are plenty of ways to diminish or get over Ketogenic Flu faster. Though you may feel like quitting, remember that these symptoms will fade gradually with time as your body continues to adjust to the diet.

Eliminate Carbohydrates Gradually

Cutting carbs immediately from your diet results in a drastic reaction from your body. After all, it’s a difficult process to help your body transition from glucose use to directly burning fat – you essentially have to trick your body into thinking that it’s starving in order to enter ketosis.

Instead of jumping in head first, consider slowly removing processed and simple carbohydrates from your diet first. Start by drinking water instead of carbonated sodas, then gradually cut out foods you can live without – candies, bread, pasta, and cookies.

Afterward, you’ll find it easier to reduce your intake of whole grains, fruits, and starch-based vegetables. Since your body will have adjusted, you’ll find it much easier to avoid getting Ketogenic Flu in the first place.

Stay Hydrated

Since our diets are composed of less salt due to the sudden decrease in processed foods, we tend to retain much less water. Additionally, one of the primary components of carbohydrates includes glycogen, which binds to water in the body and keeps it from being excreted.

During keto, you rapidly lose water from your body, which makes dehydration much more likely than normal. Additionally, ketogenic-induced diarrhea can also make you lose water much more quickly.

Just like with normal influenza, you should strive to drink more water than you normally would during the day. Persistent dehydration is one of the primary causes of nausea, vomiting, abnormal digestive behavior, irritability, and headaches.

Herbal teas and drinks without caffeine can provide a tasty way to keep up your fluids. Soups that are high in salt can also provide a way to better retain water. If your urine is not clear, it is likely that you are dehydrated.

Supplement Your Diet with Electrolytes and Minerals

One of the primary causes of Ketogenic Fly is an electrolyte imbalance. To put it simply, electrolytes are substances that conduct electricity when dissolved in water, such as sodium, potassium, calcium, and bicarbonate.

If you are lacking these electrolytes, you may experience symptoms like twitching, weakness, heart palpitations, and other side effects that worsen nausea and dizziness. Often, Ketogenic diets cause these imbalances since we have cut out processed foods that are high in additives like salt.

To make matters worse, insulin levels decrease when you switch from carbs to proteins and fats. This causes the kidneys to release the additional stores of sodium from the body.

Without the normal degree of water retention, we end up flushing sodium and other electrolytes out of our bodies. This can be solved simply by adding more salts to our foods, taking magnesium supplements, and opting for foods high in potassium. Nuts, avocados, mushrooms, and dark green vegetables all have many of the electrolytes we need to stay healthy.

Avoid Exercise

Though it may seem unproductive to avoid exercise, it is important to rest when you start experiencing flu-like symptoms in order to recover as quickly as possible. While you are undergoing Ketogenic Flu, your body is still adjusting to the new and uncomfortable changes.

With a fat and protein-based diet, your body is less adapted to effectively providing consistent energy, resulting in fatigue, weakness, and dizziness if you train strenuously. Opt for walks around the neighborhood and light exercises when you feel the need to move around.

Try to Sleep More than Normal

The symptoms of fatigue and irritability aren’t just caused by the new diet. Studies have demonstrated that most lack of focus and frustration is caused by the lack of sleep that new keto dieters experience.

Decreased hours and quality of sleep cause stress hormones, such as cortisol and adrenaline, to rise. This may cause the symptoms of Ketogenic Flu to increase and can irritate your poor mood.

In order to get better sleep, reduce your caffeine intake later in the afternoon and the evening. If possible, try not to drink any caffeinated beverages past four pm.

Try to establish a normal sleeping routine that has you going to bed and getting up at the same time every morning. Additionally, try to limit your time in front of bright screens at least an hour before bedtime.

Eat Enough Food

Often, when you transition your diet, you end up eating much less than you probably should. If carbs were one of the primary components of your diet, you may be unaware of the types of foods that you should eat, resulting in decreased food intake.

Before starting the diet, research the types of foods that you can eat guilt-free and try to eat plenty. Remaining consistently full will help you reduce your cravings for simple carbohydrates, sugars, and whole grains. Additionally, hunger is associated with poor mood, fluctuations in energy, and the stomach pain associated with Ketogenic flu.

Common keto foods include seafood (such as shellfish), cheese, dark leafy greens, coconut oil, plain greek yogurt, meats, avocados, berries, nuts, and other low carb fruits. Keep low carbohydrate food that is easy to snack on accessible in order to make the transition easier.

Don’t forget to eat a healthy keto breakfast to have enough energy for the rest of the day.

The Verdict

Though we don’t know the exact reason why some get worse symptoms of Ketogenic Flu, the transition from high carb to high-fat diets presents a struggle for most new dieters.

Luckily, there are ways to reduce the unpleasant aspects of Ketogenic Flu quickly and safely. Make sure to stay hydrated, eat enough, sleep regularly, and slowly transition to the new diet in order to reduce the flu-like symptoms.