Ketosis Symptoms

Karen Frazier
Litmus test

Ketosis is the name for a state achieved on a low-carbohydrate diet. According to WebMD, when you are in ketosis, it means your body is burning fat for energy. When that happens, your body releases ketones into your bloodstream, and you are in ketosis. This state may cause a host of temporary symptoms.

Understanding the Symptoms

Many dieters develop symptoms that let them know ketones are present. For many people beginning a low-carb diet, ketosis kicks in after a few days of strict adherence to the diet. In fact, many low-carbohydrate plans, such as Atkins and paleo, have an initial phase in which dieters take in extremely low amounts of carbohydrates (usually less than 25 grams per day) to kick start ketosis. You can test for ketones in the urine using ketosis strips, or rely on symptoms to tell you ketosis has been achieved.

Early Stages

Symptoms of ketosis vary, depending how long you've been in the state. In the early stages, the symptoms may be a bit unpleasant. However, as your body adapts to ketones in the bloodstream, symptoms may decrease. Early symptoms usually last for several days or up to a week in some people. This period of symptoms is sometimes called the keto flu. It may continue until your body is used to burning fat instead of glucose. Afterwards, the levels of ketones should lessen, but that doesn't mean you aren't losing weight. It means your body has found a balance and is no longer producing excess ketones.

According to Diet Doctor, early stage symptoms include:

  • Flu-like symptoms, such as fatigue and headache
  • Nausea
  • Brain fog
  • Constipation
  • Leg cramps
  • Feeling unusually thirsty
  • Irritability
  • Heart palpitations
  • Dry mouth
  • Ketosis breath, which smells fruity and unpleasant
  • Decreased energy and weakness
  • Dizziness
  • Sleep problems
  • Cold hands and feet
  • Frequent urination

Ongoing States

As your body adapts to ketones, your symptoms may change or go away. If you're using ketosis strips, your urine may still show ketones present, although probably in far lower concentrations. The amount of ketones in your urine does not correlate to the rate of weight loss.

As your body adapts to ketones, and you enter an optimal ketogenic state, according to Dr. Joseph Mercola, you may notice:

  • Increased energy
  • Better blood sugar control
  • Less food cravings
  • Weight loss
  • Better brain function and clearer thinking
  • Less migraines
  • Improved metabolic status

Sometimes, low-carb dieters never reach ketosis, or at least never have the urine test strips indicate excess ketones. This could be because exercising has used up the excess ketones or the urine is diluted from drinking a lot of water. This doesn't mean these people aren't burning fat, just that they aren't registering as technically being in ketosis.

Dealing With Symptoms

Ketosis is a common part of low-carb dieting, but it isn't always a pleasant one. According to Authority Nutrition, there are some things you can try that might ease symptoms:

  • Get enough salt. Sodium, an electrolyte, is lost in large amounts on a low-carb diet.
  • Snack regularly. Having a protein-rich snack like a piece of chicken may ease the headache and other symptoms.
  • Take a multivitamin and increase foods that include magnesium and potassium.
  • Ease up on the exercise until your body adjusts to ketosis.
  • Try a protein shake. Protein shakes with amino acid supplements can also be helpful for reducing symptoms and easing this transition. Many kinds of amino drinks are available and marketed to body builders.
  • Drink plenty of water to replenish water weight loss and help freshen breath.

Is Ketosis Dangerous?

Some suggest ketosis is an unhealthy condition, but this often arises because people confuse ketosis with ketoacidosis, which is a life-threatening emergency that may occur when the body is unable to produce enough insulin. Therefore, it's always best to consult your doctor before trying a ketogenic diet for weight loss, especially if you have diabetes or another medical condition.

Studies about ketosis show the condition to be relatively safe. A 1983 study published in Metabolism showed ketosis was well-tolerated. Another study in the Journal of Nutrition and Metabolism in 2002 showed ketosis had a positive effect on blood fats and did not increase risk of cardiovascular disease. However, research published in 2014 concluded renal function should be monitored closely in people following a ketogenic diet. More research is needed to determine the safest length of time to stay on a ketogenic diet.

Ketosis Is a Signal

The most important thing to remember is the unpleasant symptoms are usually temporary and should pass within a week or so. Try to focus on the fact that this less-than-perfect feeling is a sign you are burning fat and well on your way to losing weight.

Ketosis Symptoms