The keto diet, more commonly called the ketogenic diet, involves severely restricted carbohydrate intake. Keto dieters compensate for this reduction in carbohydrates by increasing their intake of high-fat foods and eating moderate amounts of protein.
These dietary adjustments can sometimes cause mild constipation. Read on to learn more about the ketogenic diet, including how it can cause constipation and how to treat it.
What is a keto diet?
When people think of carbohydrates, they often picture grain-based foods, such as bread and pasta. Although it is true that eating too many simple carbohydrates, such as refined sugar, can negatively affect people’s overall health, there are carbohydrates in both healthy and unhealthy foods. The main types of carbohydrates in food include sugar, starch, and fiber, which are present in fruits, vegetables, and grains. The term carbohydrate refers to a group of molecules that cells can break down into a simple sugar called glucose.
Glucose acts as the body’s main source of energy because cells can easily convert it to adenosine triphosphate (TFA) through a process called glycolysis. People on the ketogenic diet consume very small amounts of carbohydrates, generally limiting their intake to less than 50 grams (g) per day. This restricted intake means that your body will need an alternative source of energy. At first, the body will tap into its glycogen stores. Glycogen is a larger and more complex form of glucose that the body metabolizes after burning all the readily available glucose.
When the body has depleted its glycogen stores, the liver begins to convert fatty acids into water-soluble molecules called ketone bodies. Cells can use these ketone bodies as an alternative source of energy when glucose is not available. When this happens, the body enters a state of ketosis.
Health benefits of the keto diet
According to the authors of a 2018 article, keto diets may have health benefits beyond weight loss. These include:
- Improve blood sugar control
- Reduce triglyceride levels
- Lower total cholesterol levels
The authors noted that clinical evidence suggests that keto diets can reduce oxidative stress and inflammation.
They also found evidence to support the use of keto diets for the treatment of various neurodegenerative and neuro-inflammatory conditions, such as:
- Alzheimer disease
- Migraine headaches
Health risks of the keto diet
Unfortunately, keto diets have their downsides. People can find it difficult to maintain an extremely low carbohydrate diet for a long time. The transition to ketosis can also cause some undesirable side effects that can discourage people from following the keto diet.
In addition to fatigue and headaches, people can experience uncomfortable gastrointestinal (GI) symptoms. According to a large study on the use of keto diets to treat childhood epilepsy, almost 50% of children experience the following gastrointestinal symptoms during the first few weeks of starting a keto diet:
- Abdominal pain