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Main Health Risks of a Ketogenic Diet


minute read

April 15, 2018

Learn about the most common health risks of a ketogenic diet. Here we explore conditions you should be aware of when undergoing a major shift in diet.

Keto health risks

The ketogenic diet is generally a very safe diet with no severe health risks reported from ketogenic dieters. However, because you are switching your metabolism from carb-fueled to fat-fueled for the first time, you should pay attention to a few body markers and be careful if you have any pre-existing health conditions.

A good plan of action is to set up an appointment with your physician to discuss any potential risks. We suggest doing a basic blood test to determine your pre-keto baseline, and then re-visit your doctor after maintaining ketosis for at least one month to see how the diet has affected these bio markers.

Here's the most common 6 Health Risks you should be aware of:

1.     Kidney Stones

When you are in ketosis your body gets rid of calcium more than usual through urine. At the same time, you should eat a lot of cruciferous vegetables (like broccoli and kale) to get necessary minerals like potassium. But cruciferous vegetables contain oxalate, which, when combined with calcium, creates stones. One way to counter this process is to eat or drink calcium together with oxalate-rich foods to bind them together in the digestive system, before the kidneys begin to process them. Another effective way to prevent kidney stones is to increase citrate levels. This can be done by adding lemon juice to your drinks or water (about 1 lemon a day) or by drinking 1-2Tbsp of apple cider vinegar diluted in water. An increase of magnesium intake also can counter kidney stones.

2.     Fatty Liver

Although low insulin levels cause the dissolution of fat storages, it also causes a great increase of triglycerides in the liver, with the possibility to lead to a fatty liver. To counter this process, you can eat a lot of vegetables (min. 7-10 cups per day). Vegetables, in particular green leafy vegetables, garlic and onions are great liver detoxifiers. Also, drinking apple cider vinegar diluted in water is a very effective way to cleanse your liver.

3.     High Cholesterol and Triglycerides

Fat cells contain both, cholesterol and triglycerides and when these fat cells shrink while on a ketogenic diet, the cholesterol gets “squeezed” out of the fat cell into the blood stream and gets processed by the liver and bile. Therefore, an increase of HDL and LDL can occur, but doesn’t necessarily mean that it will affect your health negatively. As soon as you come closer to your weight goal, your cholesterol should get back into balance.

On the other hand, since triglycerides can be burned as fuel, high triglyceride levels imply that the burning process is not taking place properly. This is a problem, and can result in health-related conditions. Therefore, if you are experiencing permanently high triglyceride levels while on a keto diet, it is an indication that your body/metabolism isn’t responding well to this type of diet.

4.     Thyroid Problems (people with a pre-existing thyroid conditions)

The keto diet can have an effect on thyroid function and lower its activity to produce hormones. On a well-balanced keto diet, the thyroid function will not be impacted, in particular if you eat enough calories. Since the keto diet is still quite restrictive and forces you to eat A LOT of fat to achieve a neutral caloric balance, some people fail to get sufficient calories and end up in a calorific deficit, which could negatively impact thyroid function.

Therefore, if you have a pre-existing thyroid condition it is essential to consult your doctor and monitor your condition closely during a ketogenic diet.

5.     Ketoacidosis (people with Type 1 Diabetes)

Ketoacidosis can occur if there is a lack of insulin, which is needed to break down glucose to generate energy. Since people with Type 1 Diabetes, can’t produce any insulin, they should be very cautious on a ketogenic diet. The lack of insulin will make the body start to break down fats into ketones to generate energy and the rapid increase of the blood concentration of ketones to over 15 mmol/L could be life threatening. People with no pre-existing condition like diabetes type 1 or other insulin related conditions are not at risk of Ketoacidosis and there are otherwise no dangerous cases known to have been reported as a result of a ketogenic diet.

6.     Age / Children / Pregnancy

The ketogenic diet has many benefits. But it’s long term benefits are mainly related to low inflammation levels and maintaining high insulin sensitivity due to the lack of carbs. Since both inflammation levels and insulin resistance are not of major concern for the majority of the young population, a ketogenic diet is not recommended for young people (<25 years). It could even be damaging to the growth and development, due to the lack of insulin related growth hormones. For heavily overweight children, a cyclical ketogenic diet could be beneficial. Pregnant women should not follow a ketogenic diet at all.

Disclaimer: We are not physicians.  Please read our full disclaimer here.