Is The Keto Diet Dangerous?

Find out if the keto diet is for you or not!

Needless to point out but, the Keto Diet is a huge trend. The 90s was the age of Atkins and now we’ve turned our backs on carbs once again with the Keto Diet. It’s on the cover of every health magazine, it’s popping up on grocery store shelves, suddenly everything seems to need to be “keto-approved”.

But since everyone from Gwenyth Paltrow to Lebron James is hoping on the high-fat, low carb express it must safe, right? Surely, there couldn’t be any negative side effects of consuming a copious amount of fat on a daily basis, I mean what’s the harm in that? 

Sorry to pull the e-brake on your coconut oil joy ride but we’ve got news for you, the keto diet isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. In fact, if you have any outstanding illnesses or are still a kid who is still growing the keto diet is definitely something you want to think twice about. So if you’re curious about the adverse or risky side effects of keto read on, but if you still want to blissfully enjoy jerky drenched in ghee you may want to avert your eyes because a big truth bomb is headed your way. 

What Is The Keto Diet?

While the ketogenic diet may seem new and trendy, it’s actually been around since the 1920s as a treatment for epilepsy. Nowadays, it’s touted as a remedy (or coconut flavored snake oil) if you will for everything from infertility to type 2 diabetes, and with helping folks drop those stubborn extra pounds.

The goal of a ketogenic diet is to eat a lot of fat so that your body becomes adapted to burning it for fuel. We’re talking good fats that come from clean sources like avocado, nuts, seeds, and grass-fed or pastured animal sources. For most people following this eating plan, the aim is to consume 60-80% of your calories from fat, 15% from protein, and less than 10% from carbohydrates.

The idea is that if you fuel your body with more fat while restricting carbohydrate intake, you’ll potentially lose weight, regulate insulin levels, and lower inflammatory markers within your body. However, this way of eating can be difficult to maintain. It’s not exactly right for everyone and can have some negative effects, so do your research before you decide to embark on a ketogenic eating plan.

In fact, because of Keto’s origins in a specific diet for those with epilepsy, many of the side effects have been well studied. So see for yourself if the Keto diet is right for you. 

Risks Of The Keto Diet

#1 – Keto Can Put Stress On The Kidneys & Possibly Give You Kidney Stones

Kidney stones are a well-noted potential side effect of the ketogenic diet. Research published in the Journal of Child Neurology observed that among children following the keto diet as a treatment for epilepsy, 13 out of 195 subjects developed kidney stones. Children supplementing with potassium citrate in the study noticed a decreased likelihood of kidney stones. Speak with your healthcare practitioner about supplementing if kidney stones are a concern.

And the ketogenic diet can be dangerous for people with kidney disease, as people with kidney disease need to follow an individualized diet as prescribed by their doctor. According to Davita Kidney Care, people with kidney disease often need to consume a low-protein diet, which may not align with the type of keto you’re following.

#2 The Possibility Of Low Blood Sugar Can Make Keto Risky for People With Diabetes

Carbohydrates help control blood sugar levels, which are of particular importance for people with diabetes. A study published in May 2018 in the journal Diabetic Medicine shows that while a keto diet may help control HbA1c levels (a two- to three-month average of blood sugar levels), the diet may also cause episodes of hypoglycemia, which is a dangerous drop in blood sugar.

The same goes for people with type 2 diabetes. While some preliminary research suggests the keto diet may be safe and effective for certain people with type 2 diabetes, there’s still the risk for low blood sugar, especially for those on insulin, and the keto diet omits certain food groups known to benefit those with this disease. For example, a study published in September 2016 in the journal Nutrients highlights the importance of whole grains for helping to control weight as well as episodes of high blood sugar. Whole grains are off-limits on the ketogenic diet.

The best course of action is to proceed with caution and consult a professional before diving in.

#3 – Bowel Problems, Such As Constipation, Are Also Common on Keto

Let’s talk about a keto side effect that may not be so sexy: constipation. Many of the richest sources of fiber, like beans, fruit, and whole grains are restricted on the ketogenic diet. As a result, ketogenic eaters miss out on the benefits of fiber-rich diet such as regular laxation and microbiome support. The microbiome has been implicated in everything from immune function to mental health.

Indeed, in a long-term study in the Journal of Pediatrics in April 2015, constipation was noted as a very common side effect in children receiving ketogenic diets for epilepsy treatment.

Who Shouldn’t Go on the Keto Diet?

Just because a lot of people find success with this way of eating does not mean it will fit your needs. So if you have any pre-existing health condition, are pregnant, or you are still growing, make sure you visit your doctor and discuss your options with the keto diet. 

People With Adrenal Fatigue Should Probably Not Try A Ketogenic Diet

People with adrenal fatigue often develop this condition from various stressors. Studies have shown that people with adrenal fatigue who adopt a ketogenic diet tend to make their condition worse because their cortisol levels often spike.

Symptoms they experience may include lethargy, an irregular heartbeat, insomnia, muscle soreness, increased irritability, irregular menstruation, depression, and/or anxiety. A ketogenic diet is just an added stressor that they don’t need.

People With Hypothyroidism Might Not Do Well On A Keto Diet

Insulin is needed to convert the inactive thyroid hormone T4 into the active hormone T3. People on a ketogenic diet generally restrict carbohydrates to the point where not enough insulin is available for this process.

Some people with hypothyroidism who adopt a keto diet report that their hypothyroid symptoms get worse following this way of eating. A recent study indicated that a ketogenic diet can cause thyroid malfunctions in some people.

Children And Teens Should Not Be On A Keto Diet

Children and teens are still growing and developing. A ketogenic diet, which has been shown to be a major bodily stressor if not implemented correctly, can have a negative effect on their development. Teenage girls who adopted a ketogenic diet in at least one study saw amenorrhea (the absence of a menstrual cycle) and delayed puberty.

High-Performance Athletes Might See Their Performance Suffer While On Keto

A ketogenic diet may be challenging if you’re a competitive or high-performance athlete since higher activity levels require more calories and quick fuel that often come from carbohydrate sources. Athletes that adopt a ketogenic diet and don’t follow it correctly are at higher risk for adrenal fatigue and hormone dysregulation. Here is a study with more information.

So to conclude, keto diet might work for some, but definitely not for all! 

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Lesley George

Lesley is a content writer and community manager at Shape.
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