The keto diet concept dates back to the 1920s and 1930s when it was used for epilepsy. It has gone by various names such as Paleo diet, Zone diet and Atkins diet. But, while the keto diet can help you lose weight, it can cause a common side effect —a keto flu headache.
When you first start this diet, your body goes through a transition from carbs to fats. This transition causes you to feel lethargic, tired, highly unmotivated and yes, suffer from headaches — at first. Most low-carb dieters will experience these headaches for the first couple days or weeks on the diet.
We’ll dive into what you can do for keto headache relief below, but first it’s important to know the main concept behind the keto diet and the reasons why low-carb diets cause headaches in order to understand the treatment.
Main Concept Behind the Keto Diet
The idea behind the ketonic diet is to turn your body until a fat burning machine through a very low carb diet. The thought is carbohydrates are just sugars — and sugars can make you fat.
Some examples of these carbohydrates may include:
When you’re on a very low carb diet, your body produces small fuel molecules called “ketones”. When your glucose (blood sugar) is in short supply, ketones become an alternative fuel for the body, used when blood sugar (glucose) is in short supply.
Why Does a Low Carb Diet Cause Headache?
Chances are, you’ve spent most of your life indulging in large amounts of carbs — many from processed sources no doubt. And, this means your brain, cells and hormones have become use to using carbs as the body’s main source of energy. Then, when you begin the keto diet and transition to a fat dominant energy source, you are confusing your body’s metabolism at first.
This metabolic confusion puts your body through what’s known as the “induction phase”. Your metabolism works hard to get used to using ketones for energy (from the fats) instead of using glucose (from carbs).
During this phase, you’ll probably experience keto sickness which causes flu-like symptoms, particularly brain fog and headaches because your body is actually withdrawing from carbohydrates. You might experience leg cramps too if you become dehydrated.
When your body faces severe carb depletion, it goes into starvation mode. It uses the liver’s stored glycogen at first. Once it exhausts that source, it will begin breaking down muscle and fat cells for energy source. During the “turning fat into usable energy” process, your liver is producing large amounts of ketone bodies and releases them into your blood.
The starvation stage is often called the ketogenic stage. For dieters, this is the stage where they experience fast fat and weight loss. When they prolong this stage, it accumulates high amounts of ketone into the body, trigger nutritional ketosis. And, this is where the majority of dieters start experiencing the side effects, including the keto flu headache.
What are the Treatment Options for Ketogenic Diet and Migraines
Unfortunately, the headaches and other flu-like symptoms experienced on this diet cause many people to drop the diet and lose out on its benefits. But, these flu-like side effects are temporary and shouldn’t discourage you.
There are specific nutrient protocols and lifestyle hacks you can take to cure or avoid these headaches altogether. Your body will gradually become adapted to using fats as energy and your headaches will go away. But, there are things you can do in the meantime during this transition that will help.
Below are some ways to cure and/or prevent keto headaches.
Consume More Water and Salt
The easiest solution is to mix up about a half teaspoon of salt into a glass of warm water. Drink it up and expect your headache to disappear within a half hour, hopefully.
Eat More Fats
Consume a lot of healthy fats such as:
You’ll have to eat a lot of fats anyway in order to go into ketosis. Add some MCT oil to your diet to help increase your ketone level which can help your brain feel better.
Drink Vegetable or Bone Broth Bouillon
If you’re not into the salt and water mixture, either veggie or organic bone broth bouillon will help and it has a great taste. Just mix the bouillon with two cups of hot water and enjoy.
Supplements assist your body into turning into a fat-fueled machine. However, don’t use supplements to replace any dietary deficiencies. Some essential minerals and vitamins that can reduce your keto headache are:
1. Co-Enzyme Q10:
This is an antioxidant responsible for the creating-energy cellular process. It helps mobilize fat, helping you to quickly transition into ketosis.
The ketogenic diet’s high fat intake means more fatty acids will have to move into the mitochondria to help with fat oxidation. Carnitine is needed for efficient transportation.
3. Omega-3 fatty acids:
These acids are fish oil supplementation that works as a strong natural anti-inflammatory. They’ll also help contribute to your high fat, low carb diet. By consuming omega-3’s, they’ll assist in lowering your body’s triglycerides (fat molecules in your blood to be stored to use later).
Exogenous Ketones Supplement
Taking these helps effectively elevate your ketone levels even if you have not been completely converted into using fats for your main energy source. Exogenous ketones elevate your levels of beta-hydroxybutyrate (BHB).
Final Thoughts About Keto Headache Relief
You can prevent a keto flu headache from coming back the same way you cure them. That’s following the treatment tips above. Also, you can lower your headache recurrence by making your transition period to fat adapted from carb adapted shorter. For you to do this, simply cut your everyday net carbohydrate intake to less than 10g a day and add olive oil or butter to your meals to help you feel satisfied and full after you eat.
Remember, the keto headache is normal when you first transition to the keto diet and happens to the majority of people when they start this diet. But, if you apply the keto headache relief tips above, you can hopefully minimize or eliminate this transitioning discomfort.