If you have been reading this blog for a while, then you will know that I am a fan of the ketogenic diet plan.
No, I don’t do it myself, and I don’t recommend it for healthy people because I think it is too restrictive.
However, this has been studied in epileptic children, diabetic patients and overweight people with incredible success. I believe this diet plan has a lot of therapeutic potential for these disorders.
In this article I am going to discuss ketosis side effects and the general safety of the ketogenic diet, but there appear to be a lot of misconceptions about it that I would like to dispel.
The ketogenic diet plan
When I refer to the ketogenic diet plan, I am talking about a diet that is very restricted in carbohydrates, moderate in protein and high in fat. This diet results in an elevated blood level of ketone bodies.
The “classic” ketogenic diet is a bit different, and is used to treat epileptic children and involves weighing food and calculating calories.
I’ve written an article before describing a sample ketogenic diet menu.
Ketosis is not the same as Ketoacidosis
It is important to distinguish between ketosis and ketoacidosis.
Ketoacidosis is a phenomenon that mainly happens in type I diabetics when they don’t get any insulin for a long time.
This happens because the cells don’t receive any blood sugar without insulin, and therefore the body thinks that it is starving and ramps up ketone body production in an uncontrolled manner.
The ketone level in the blood becomes very high and causes the acidity of the blood to increase. This is very dangerous and can be fatal, but this does NOT happen with low-carbohydrate diets.
Ketosis, however, is the body’s response to fasting, starvation or a very low-carbohydrate diet. It happens because the body isn’t receiving the glucose that it wants, and instead it breaks fat down into ketone bodies in order to use them for energy.
There is nothing unnatural about a healthy amount of ketone bodies, and most cells are able to effectively use them as fuel instead of glucose. The body can produce all the glucose it needs (about 130g) out of amino acids and other substances.
In reality, the human body doesn’t have any actual need for carbohydrates in the diet.
Safety of the ketogenic diet plan for children
I’ve written a compilation of research studies on the ketogenic diet before. To examine their safety, I skimmed through most of these studies, and a few others, to look for adverse effects.
It appears that in children being treated for epilepsy, there is a long-term risk of kidney stones, growth retardation and bone demineralization (1). Using nutritional supplements, such as a blend of vitamins and minerals, should decrease the chances of adverse effects.
It should be noted that those side effects are rarely severe enough to warrant discontinuation of the diet. Generally, the ketogenic diet is very well tolerated in epileptic children.
Parents should never try to treat their epileptic children by themselves, it should be done with the guidance of a neurologist who has an understanding of the possible adverse effects.
Safety of ketosis in adults
There are a lot of misconceptions about this. I’ve even heard one of my university teachers claim that people have been hospitalized because of low-carbohydrate diets.
Well, to put it bluntly, that is crap.
In adults, there are NO indications that a ketogenic diet would be dangerous in any way. A massive review article found that there were no serious adverse events caused by low-carbohydrate or ketogenic diets (2).
You would think that a diet so high in fat would probably cause horrible blood lipids and lead to heart disease. I don’t blame you for thinking that, given the propaganda about saturated fats in the past.
Well, it turns out that the high-fat, low-carb ketogenic diet improves blood lipids and other biomarkers of health, leading to weight loss, lowered blood pressure, decreases in triglycerides, elevated HDL (good) cholesterol, as well as decreasing blood sugar and insulin levels (2, 3, 4, 5).
However, those using any medications do need to consult with their doctors before trying out a ketogenic diet, because it can drastically reduce or even eliminate the need for certain medication, especially in type II diabetic patients (5, 6).
It is also critical to use a multivitamin supplement with this diet to prevent any nutritional deficiencies.
Ketosis side effects
Even though this diet plan has incredible health benefits for many people, there are some side effects that come with it.
I believe that many of those side effects are temporary. When the body suddenly switches its primary fuel, it does need some time to adapt and ramp up enzyme production and such.
That being said, these are a the main ketosis side effects that have been reported:
- Skin rash
- Muscle cramps
In both children and adults, there are some ketosis side effects, and anyone with a medical condition should consult with a doctor before trying this out.
This diet plan has been consistently shown in research studies to have massive therapeutic potential for many disorders. These are usually treated with medication, which address the symptoms (not the cause).
These mild ketosis side effects are, in most cases, much less severe than those that come with medication, let alone many years (or a lifetime) of using multiple different drugs.