The Unhealthy Side of the Ketogenic Diet

The ketogenic diet has become increasingly popular in recent years, with many people touting its potential to help with weight loss and other health benefits. However, there are some potential risks associated with this diet that should be taken into consideration before starting. The ketogenic diet is a very low-carbohydrate, high-fat diet that can cause a number of side effects, including low blood pressure, kidney stones, constipation, nutrient deficiencies, and an increased risk of heart disease. It is not recommended for people with conditions involving the pancreas, liver, thyroid, or gallbladder.

Additionally, it can lead to social isolation or eating disorders. A 10-year study of children with epilepsy on a ketogenic diet found that 65% reported constipation as a common side effect. A study that evaluated the nutrient composition of common diets revealed that very low-carb eating patterns, such as Atkins, which is similar to keto, provide enough amounts for only 12 of the 27 vitamins and minerals the body needs to get from food. Therefore, it is important to supplement with potassium, sodium, magnesium, calcium, omega-3 fatty acids, psyllium fiber, and vitamins B, C, and E when following a very low-calorie ketogenic diet for weight loss.

Some studies suggest that keto may help lower levels of hemoglobin A1c, a measure of average blood sugar levels. However, people with type 1 diabetes may be at high risk of further episodes of low blood sugar levels (hypoglycemia), which is characterized by confusion, tremors, fatigue and sweating. Hypoglycemia can lead to coma and death if left untreated. A study of 11 adults with type 1 diabetes who were on a ketogenic diet for more than 2 years found that the median number of episodes of low blood sugar was close to 1 per day.

People with type 1 diabetes often experience low blood sugar levels if they are taking too much insulin and not getting enough carbohydrates. Therefore, a ketogenic low-carb diet may increase the risk. Several animal studies link the ketogenic diet to decreased bone strength due to losses in bone mineral density as the body adapts to ketosis. In fact, a 6-month study of 29 children with epilepsy who were on the ketogenic diet found that 68% had a lower bone mineral density score after following the diet. Another study in 30 elite walkers determined that those who followed the ketogenic diet for 3.5 weeks had significantly higher levels of blood markers for bone breakdown compared to those who ate a higher carbohydrate diet. Some evidence suggests that high-fat, low-carb diets that focus on animal food can lead to poor health outcomes while diets that emphasize vegetable sources of fat and protein provide benefits.

A long-term observational study of more than 130,000 adults linked animal-based low-carb diets to higher rates of death from heart disease, cancer, and all causes. Plant-based low-carb diets were associated with a lower death rate from heart disease and all causes. Another study of more than 15,000 adults found similar results but linked low- and high-carb diets to a higher all-cause mortality rate compared to moderate-carbohydrate diets in which carbohydrates comprised 50-55% of total daily calories. Ketogenic high-protein diets can also cause kidney stones in addition to accelerating kidney disease in people with kidney disease. Anything below a 1,200-calorie daily diet is considered a starvation diet and is not intended for long-term weight loss. Carbohydrate intake in the ketogenic diet is usually limited to less than 50 grams per day which can affect the body.

While fad diets tempt us all it's important to research any diet and consult your doctor before jumping on the bandwagon. Theoretically this could also happen to people with type 2 diabetes who are taking insulin medications. Ketogenic Diet May Reduce Bone Mineral Density and Trigger Bone Decay Over Time Although More Studies Needed.

Bruce Chen
Bruce Chen

Medical & health reporter. Award-winning internet evangelist. Embraced the low-carb keto diet and lost 9 pounds.