Keeping track of all the strict rules on the keto diet can make your head spin–so it’s no wonder headaches are one of the side effects of the uber-trendy diet. All kidding aside, keto headaches *are* actually A Thing that many keto dieters deal with when they start the diet.
Keto headaches, which are one of the totally miserable symptoms lumped into the “keto flu” category, often appear at the beginning of a ketogenic diet overhaul. The severity and duration of the symptoms vary from person to person, just like the real flu. Some people only have mild symptoms while others feel completely knocked out, with icky body and energy symptoms lasting hours or up to weeks.
The good news is the headaches are generally a short-term effect that only happen as your body adjusts to the low-carb, high-fat eating plan and switches into fat-burning mode. also have many tips for how keto dieters can prevent and treat keto headaches, so they don’t throw off your whole day or lead you to ditch the eating plan altogether. Here’s everything you need to know to nix the
What causes headaches on keto?
When you start the keto diet and dramatically drop your carb consumption (to somewhere around 20 to 50 grams per day), your body transitions into a process called ketosis within two to seven days. That means the body starts making ketones and burning fat for energy to make up for the lack of carbs coming in. You also go through carb withdrawal (yes, that’s a thing), which brings on symptoms like keto headaches.
The keto headaches occur during the transition into ketosis. “Headaches may occur as a result of consuming fewer carbohydrates, especially sugar,” says Valerie Agyeman, RD, women’s health dietitian and founder of Flourish Heights. “When you start the diet, your body begins relying on ketones instead of glucose, which can cause your blood sugar levels to drop. In turn, this may lead to low blood sugar.” This transition into ketosis may stress out your brain, which could result in a brain fog as well as headaches, she adds.
That’s not all: Agyeman says these factors also increase your risk of keto headaches:
- Overuse of , diuretics, and other drugs that promote
- Poor sleep
- Skipping meals
How long do keto headaches typically last?
Keto headaches, like other keto flu symptoms, are very personal. “It varies for everyone, but most people get headaches in the beginning phase of following this restrictive diet and might improve as you remain hydrated and eat plenty of foods,” says Agyeman. The pain can pop up anytime of day, too.
“Much like any diet plan, there’s a right way to do it healthfully,” says Keri Glassman, RD, at Life. “If you go right to eating packaged foods because they’re labeled ‘keto’ and loading up on only hard-to-digest foods, your body will have a harder time thriving on this diet and can result in more headaches, brain fog, aches, and pains.”
How can you treat and prevent headaches on keto?
You’re not totally powerless against keto headaches. say there are many ways you can get ahead of them and stay on track with your keto diet.
- Drink more water.“As the initial phases of keto involves water loss, it’s important to drink adequate fluids,” says Agyeman. “Wake up to a large glass of water and sip regularly throughout the day to reach, check your urine color.” When you’re staying hydrated, your urine will be a light yellow, close-to-clear color, she says. If you’re getting dehydrated, you’ll notice that your urine is becoming a deep amber or even light brown.
- Limit alcohol. “When first starting keto, reduce or get rid of alcohol as much as possible,” says Glassman. “Your liver is already under stress during this transition into ketosis.” Yes, there are many low-carb alcoholic beverages, but it’s better not to imbibe if you’re looking to avoid keto headaches, as alcohol in general is dehydrating.
- Eat more low-carb, water-rich foods.“There are many low-carb, water-rich foods–cabbage, lettuce, zucchini, and tomatoes, for instance–that are nutritious and can help keep you hydrated,” says Agyeman. Glassman also recommends eggplant, cucumber, bell pepper, and asparagus.
- Add more electrolyte-rich foods to your plate. “Fatty fish like salmon is an excellent source of protein and fats including omega-3s and offer a great source of electrolytes,” says Agyeman. “Dark leafy greens and other non-starchy vegetables like mushrooms, kale, spinach, and artichokes offer a variety of key nutrients, including magnesium and potassium.” And don’t forget about seeds like pumpkin, chia, and flax, she adds–which are a powerhouse of micronutrients and have an abundance of the key electrolytes.
- Salt your foods. “Salting your foods can help reduce your risk of an electrolyte balance while keeping your nerves and muscle functioning properly,” says Agyeman. “The body needs only a small amount of sodium to function properly.” (The exact type of salt you choose doesn’t make much of a difference.) The current dietary guidelines recommend no more than 2,300 mg of sodium a day, adds Glassman. “But, based on sodium you’ll lose while transitioning into keto, if high blood pressure is not a current health concern for you, there may be reason to not track this so closely and salt fairly generously.”
- Try an electrolyte supplement.“Replenishing your electrolytes is much needed and in most cases trying out an electrolyte supplement may help minimize your risk of dehydration,” says Agyeman. “They are over-the-counter and some come in a powdered or pill form.” Halo Sport, Natural Calm, and Liquid IV are a few brands Glassman likes.
- Avoid intense exercise at the beginning of keto.Save the HIIT for after you’ve adjusted to the keto diet. “It’s important to refrain from very intense workouts during the initial days of keto, as they can stress your body and increase your chances of getting a headache,” says Agyeman. “An hour-long, high-intensity, sweat-inducing workout may be too much, largely for electrolyte imbalance, as you’ll be losing electrolytes via sweat,” explains Glassman.
- Get all your nutrients from keto-diet friendly foods. “Ensuring you get the appropriate electrolytes from food is just as important as the macronutrient content,” says Agyeman. “Planning your foods so that your meals are as nutrient dense as possible will help to alleviate any headaches that you may experience.”
Keep in mind, the keto diet may not be to blame for your headaches. As Agyeman warns, “If you continue to experience headaches constantly on the keto diet, consult a health to ensure that an underlying medical isn’t to blame.” And if keto just isn’t for you, that’s okay too. is super personal–and you can work with a health pro to find the best eating plan for you.