The ketogenic diet has gotten really popular. But what exactly is this diet and what are the potential dangers of a keto diet? 

avocado wtih tomatoes on board

The term “ketogenic” was one of the most popular diet searches on Google in 2019, but it’s not for everyone. This article shares some of the potential dangers of a ketogenic diet, and which groups of people should avoid ketosis. In other words, if you’re thinking of going keto, you should read this article to make sure it’s appropriate for you. 

This article shares some information about a ketogenic diet, including:

  • What is a keto diet?
  • Who is the keto diet not right for?
  • What type of person might benefit from a keto diet?
  • Some conclusions about a ketogenic diet

What is a Keto Diet?

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.

Sure, there are many people who claim to thrive on a ketogenic diet. Take Mark Sisson from Mark’s Daily Apple, for example. He wrote an entire book about becoming fat-adapted because he had so much success with it. Just because a lot of people find success with this way of eating does not mean it will fit your needs.

In fact, after my own experiences with specific diets including vegan, paleo, and keto, I thought it would be helpful to share some info about what to watch out for when thinking about trying a restrictive diet such as ketosis.

Who Should Not Go Keto

If you’re seriously considering trying a keto diet, you need to know if you fall into one of these eight categories of people who should not try going keto.

1. People with a history of an eating disorder

If you have a history of an eating disorder then you might not want to embark on a ketogenic diet. Why? Well, it can be restrictive and some people can become a little too obsessed with macronutrient ratios.

As an example, some people with a disordered eating past may still have an extreme fear of weight gain. They may look at the high fat content of this diet and feel like they don’t need as much of it. This is dangerous because a ketogenic diet is already low in protein and carbohydrates. If they don’t eat the proper fat ratios, starvation can occur, especially if their bodies aren’t yet fully recovered from their eating disorder.

Let’s be clear. A ketogenic diet is a highly restrictive diet, and anyone who has a history of disordered eating behavior should not consider this way of eating unless prescribed by a doctor and carefully supervised by a professional.

2. Pregnant women 

Because a ketogenic diet only contains around 15% of calories from protein, it may not be right for women who are pregnant. It’s recommended that a woman who is pregnant get at least 20% of her calories from protein.

This protein need jumps up to 25% during the third trimester of pregnancy when the fetus is rapidly growing. Plus, this diet which is higher in fat and lower in the other macronutrients, may signal food scarcity for the body. Diet restriction in general is not good for women who are pregnant or plan to become pregnant.

3. People with adrenal fatigue 

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.

4. People with hypothyroidism 

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.

5. People with no gallbladder 

If you have had your gallbladder removed, you may want to think twice about starting a ketogenic diet. Because the gallbladder is generally where your body breaks down fats and a ketogenic diet is one high in fats, complications can occur when you adopt a ketogenic diet with no gallbladder. If there is a lack of bile to break down the fats, this can lead to malabsorption and unwanted side effects.

While some people without a gallbladder can successfully follow a ketogenic diet, they must be careful and consult with a medical practitioner who should closely monitor them. Dr. Jockers touches on 7 strategies for a ketogenic diet without a gallbladder.

6. People with a history of gut dysbiosis 

A ketogenic diet has been shown to alter gut flora. Those with a history of gut dysbiosis need to be careful when following a ketogenic diet since it’s possible that this way of eating reduces the diversity of the gut microbiota.

We need prebiotic fiber for a healthy gut. Many beneficial prebiotic fibers come from carbohydrate sources. Without these sources the gut microbiota may shift in an undesirable direction contributing to digestive illness, autoimmune disease, skin issues, and more.

7. Children and teens 

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.

8. High performance athletes

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.

What Does the Research Say?

Of course, a ketogenic diet can benefit certain groups of people. Traditionally, a ketogenic diet has been used in the treatment of epilepsy on both children and adults to control epileptic conditions.

People with type 2 diabetes have shown improvement in biomarkers as well when placed on a well-managed ketogenic diet. One study showed that adults with type II diabetes that followed a ketogenic diet for 12 months lost more weight and were more likely to not need medications compared to a similar group of people following a moderate-carbohydrate diet.

Conclusions

The bottom line is that there is no one right diet for everyone. But, what works well for someone may not work well for you. Know your body and know what you can and cannot handle. If you’re dead set on trying keto, then try it for 4-6 weeks and then re-evaluate then. You might also fare better on a low-carb diet than a ketogenic diet.

If you fit into one of the above categories of people that may not benefit from a ketogenic diet, then it’s wise to think twice before adopting this lifestyle. Just because everyone seems to be adopting a ketogenic diet does not mean that you have to do it as well.

You might also be interested in this article where I explain the differences between paleo, keto, vegan, clean eating, and Whole30 diets. You might also want to check out my article with the dangers of intermittent fasting for women.

Note: this post is for informational purposes only and is not intended as medical advice. Please consult your healthcare provider for recommendations related to your individual situation.

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