Keto Headache Causes and Prevention

Medically Reviewed on 8/3/2022
Keto Headache Causes and Prevention
The most common disadvantage of the keto diet is headaches.

A keto headache is a terrible headache that many people on the ketogenic diet suffer when they start.

  • Headache is a typical adverse effect caused by a decline in glucose levels, which leads to ketosis.
  • Ketosis is a condition where your body burns fat to generate ketones, which are used as a source of energy in the absence of carbohydrates.

What is a ketogenic diet?

The ketogenic diet, popularly called the keto diet, is a weight loss diet that involves restricting an important dietary group, carbohydrates, to less than 50 grams a day. While this may be an efficient strategy to lose weight if done properly, cutting carbohydrates totally can cause various negative effects. The most common disadvantage of the keto diet is headaches.

The degree, frequency, and severity of the headaches will vary among people based on sleep patterns, other eating habits, stress levels, and hormone variations. However, they do not last very long.

Though keto headaches are bothersome and may interfere with everyday living and productivity, they are completely natural.

4 causes of keto headache

  1. Dehydration
    • Carbohydrates are responsible for water storage in the body and with a carb-restricted diet, the body tends to eliminate more water through urine, leading to dehydration.
    • A keto diet can produce a strong diuretic effect; you urinate more than normal when your body enters ketosis.
    • During a keto diet, your body utilizes glycogen or stored carbohydrates. Glycogen in your body contains water molecules and emits water when used.
    • As your carbohydrate consumption declines, your body produces less insulin, a hormone responsible for carbohydrate metabolism in your body.
    • A considerable decline in insulin levels may affect electrolytes, such as sodium and potassium, which are essential to keep you hydrated.
    • For example, while you are in ketosis, your kidney releases a large quantity of salt due to low insulin levels, which causes dehydration.
    • These contribute to worse headaches.
    • In addition to headaches, you may experience dry mouth, blurred vision, and dizziness.
  2. Low blood sugar
    • Glucose is a type of carbohydrate that serves as the major source of fuel for the brain and body.
    • When you follow a keto diet, you drastically limit your carbohydrate consumption and begin ingesting fats.
    • This puts your body in ketosis, a metabolic condition in which the body burns fat for energy.
    • Thus, when you start the diet, your body begins to prioritize ketone bodies over glucose.
    • This procedure drastically reduces your body's sugar levels, resulting in low blood sugar.
    • These physical changes can strain your brain, causing headaches and other issues, such as brain fog and mental tiredness.
  3. Electrolyte imbalance
    • When your body excretes water, it excretes electrolytes, including potassium, sodium, and magnesium, and causes electrolyte imbalances in the body.
    • Electrolytes are important for the nervous system and fluid equilibrium inside the body. These imbalances can create several disorders.
    • Magnesium deficiency causes headaches, muscle cramps, and dizziness.
    • When your body enters ketosis, sodium levels often drop faster than any other electrolyte.
    • Studies report that sodium deprivation might excite pain receptors in the brain, giving you the impression that you have a worse headache than you do.
  4. Increased stress
    • The process of transitioning from carbohydrate to fat fuel is stressful for the body.
    • When blood sugar levels fall, the body produces more cortisol, one of the key stress hormones.
    • Elevated cortisol levels and stress can cause muscle tightness and headaches.
    • These symptoms could be aggravated by sleeping difficulty, which you may experience in the early days of implementing a keto diet.
    • Sleep deprivation may reduce your pain threshold and make you more sensitive to pain than usual.


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7 measures to prevent or treat keto headache

Though regular treatments may not always work, it is worth trying. If the pain is debilitating, you are recommended to discontinue the keto diet and consult a doctor immediately.

  1. Increase water consumption
    • As you start with the keto diet, you may observe that you start losing a lot of water from your body.
    • You must stay hydrated.
    • Drink at least 68 ounces (2 L) of water every day.
  2. Reduce or quit alcohol consumption
    • Alcohol is a diuretic.
    • It pushes your body to urinate more than usual, which may dehydrate you.
    • The keto diet imposes a diuretic effect and further dehydrates you, so you are recommended to stop alcohol consumption while following a keto diet.
  3. Increase intake of water-rich low carbs foods
    • Cucumbers, lettuce, zucchini, celery, raw tomatoes, and cabbage are high in water content.
    • All these foods can help you to be hydrated while losing weight. Some of these foods are excellent sources of electrolytes.
  4. Increase intake of electrolyte-rich foods
    • Potassium is abundant in foods that could be consumed on a keto diet, such as spinach, avocados, tomatoes, and mushrooms.
    • Kale, almonds, oysters, and pumpkin seeds are rich in magnesium.
  5. Increase intake of salt
    • To keep your electrolyte balance in check, sprinkle a little salt on your diet.
  6. Take electrolyte supplement
    • Using an electrolytic supplement reduces your risk of dehydration significantly.
  7. Refrain from excessive exercise
    • Avoid hard workouts for a period while on the keto diet.
    • The activity stresses your body, which causes severe headaches.
    • After the body adjusts to the diet, you can resume workouts.

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Medically Reviewed on 8/3/2022
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