If you haven’t already, time to hop aboard the keto train. Keto dieters are growing in numbers, and results continue to show the diet’s effectiveness in weight loss and a general sense of well being.
The aim of the keto diet is to bring the body into ketosis , a metabolic state in which fats are favored over carbohydrates as an energy source.
When fats are converted to energy during this process, the body produces amino acids called “ketones” as byproducts. These ketones have been shown to be beneficial for the body in numerous ways.
The keto diet is not without its side effects, however. Good things take time, and weathering some uncomfortable symptoms as your body transitions is normal.
We’ve all been there, and new dieters can take solace in the fact that these side effects are temporary. Once the body is “fat-adapted”, many of the uncomfortable aspects of the keto diet will fade away naturally.
One of the more common side effects people experience when starting the keto diet are keto headaches. These headaches can be present anywhere from 24 hours to one week. In rare cases, they can stick around for up to 15 days.
In this article, we explain the possible causes of keto headaches and advise our readers on how to manage and prevent them.
What Causes Keto Headaches?
There are multiple factors that could contribute to a headache when starting or progressing through a new keto diet. Here we list some of the common culprits.
Everybody needs to be careful when they start any new diet that the body is receiving plenty of water and replenishing its electrolytes. Normally our body relies heavily on glucose for energy, and this glucose is stored in the body as glycogen. As it turns out, when this stored glucose is released from glycogen, it is accompanied by three equal parts of water.
This means that as we are transitioning to ketosis and depleting the body of our glucose stores (in glycogen form), we are also releasing a significant amount of water at the same time. This is why it’s not uncommon for initial weight loss in the keto diet to be accompanied by frequent urination.
If the body’s supply of water and electrolytes is not being replenished, we can experience headaches, fatigue, and many other symptoms associated with the “keto flu”.
Low Blood Sugar
For most of our pre-keto days, our brain (and body) always had a steady source of glucose to use as fuel. Even though our brain is fully capable of using ketones as its main energy source, the initial transition to ketosis can be a bit shocking, causing headaches and brain fog.
As our body and brain are transitioning and beginning to understand the ketones can provide ample energy, they begin craving glucose, causing the sugar level in your blood to drop. This drop is normal during the transition phase, and both your body and your brain will learn quickly that the ketones are there as a more efficient and healthier form of energy.
Release of Toxins
Fat is an excellent place for the body to store toxins. When the body is transitioning to ketosis and burning this fat, the toxins are released into the bloodstream to be expelled from the body via sweat or urine. This sudden release of toxins not only has been shown to result (occasionally) in mild body odor and bad breath, but can also result in fatigue, dizziness, and headaches.
The ever-important hormone insulin functions to break down glucose in the body to help create energy. The less glucose is present, the less insulin our body will create to break it down.
When we eliminate glucose from our diet while going keto, our kidneys respond to this lack of insulin by excreting higher concentrations of sodium. This flood of sodium can create an imbalance of important electrolytes and can contribute to dehydration.
How to Prevent and Manage Keto Headaches
Now that we have a better understanding of what may be causing these pesky headaches, we can look at some tips to managing them, or preventing them altogether. Here are some steps to take if you’re experiencing a keto headache.
Replenish Water and Electrolytes (salt)
In order to ensure that you are transitioning well into ketosis, you must hydrate. Drink lots of water to combat the lack of insulin your body will initially be producing. Ensure you are getting ample sodium, potassium, and magnesium by adding electrolytes to your liquids. Natural supplements such as bone broth, avocados, and dark chocolate can provide a little boost.
If you need some extra help keeping up your intake, keto supplements can also help to ease the transition to being fat adapted.
Exercise may seem a bit counterintuitive when you have a headache, but it has been shown to be a fantastic help in resetting and re-adapting your metabolism. Exercise will help to boost your body’s natural consumption which can help quicken the transition to burning fat instead of glucose, and get rid of some of the uncomfortable transition side effects.
Try not to go too hard on the exercise, just a small amount of cardio will often do the trick. If you launch into heavy weight training and add even more stress to the body, it can create more imbalance and delay your body from adapting.
Load up on Fat
A common mistake among many keto dieters is that we have to cut calories to lose weight. While this may prove effective with other diets, with keto it is important we maintain the same number of calories per day, but reallocate where we get them from.
As we cut carbs, we must increase our fat intake. If we supplement correctly, our body will have plenty of fat to start using as energy, making the transition to ketosis faster. Get that coconut oil ready!
For more information on types of healthy fats, read about the Keto Food Pyramid.
Don’t be disheartened if you get a keto headache from time to time, it is a temporary side effect that will subside when our body is fat adapted.
Giving our body time to transition is part of the diet, and it’s a phase everyone has to go through.
If we don’t do everything we can to get our body into ketosis, we can often delay ketosis and extend the uncomfortable side effects associated with the transition.
So stick to the diet, drink lots of water, get lots of sleep, and remember that there is a bright light at the end of the tunnel.
Florence, aka Flo, is the lead editor at keto.fm. Obsessed with nutrition, Flo used the keto + a one meal a day (OMAD) diet to lose 50lbs in under half a year.
After experiencing the benefits first, both mentally and physically, he became one of the many keto ambassadors online.
He is currently working towards becoming a NASM Certified Nutrition Coach.