Keto Caveat

woman with very small waist

My wife and I started 2019 adjusting to the Keto lifestyle. We’d been leaning towards low carb for a while, but got serious after finishing the holiday leftovers.

The goal of Keto is to train the body to burn fat as the primary fuel rather than carbs. You do this by restricting carbs to 5 – 10% of total calories.

So no bread, pasta, pastries, or processed foods. No rice or potatoes.

It’s a diet heavy in fats and proteins.

You can cheat on keto and not feel like you’ve failed. Start again. And for many people, it takes only a few weeks to reach a stage called “fat adaptation”, where your body now burns fat for energy, even if you start eating carbs again.

I was loving Keto.

 

The Good News

 

There were a couple of significant changes in my physiology after starting keto. Even before getting strict with carbs I found that my workouts were suffering. My research had prepared me for that.

My muscles were efficient at burning carbs, not fat. Yet.

The next change I noticed came almost immediately after I got strict about eliminating carbs. The closest thing I have had to a health issue in decades is my sinuses. Never a cold, never the flu, but my sinuses…

After going strict keto, zero sinus issues. Nothing aggravated them. If I ever figure out what was causing my sinus issues I’ll post it here.

 

The Bad News (for me anyway)

 

I had done some research on “Keto and Alcohol”, and was happy to see that dry red wines and champagne are allowed. As are many distilled spirits. A while back my wife was hooked on a popular diet that eliminated all alcohol. I wasn’t interested. I like my cocktails.

What I now know is that I should have used the search phrase “does keto lower your tolerance for alcohol?” Had I done that ahead of my first Mardi Gras parade I might remember that parade and not have new scars over my left eye.

An amount of alcohol that I could have consumed without issue three months earlier truly put my life at risk that night.

It was as though I had a very heavy weight on the left side of my upper body with no control of my motor function. Always to the left.  My left elbow, left shoulder, left face, all beat up. My left hand didn’t have a scratch. I couldn’t even control my left hand enough to break my falls. Truly bizarre night.

Two weeks later I went to a Mardi Gras Ball. Took no chances. Drank six beers spread out between noon and midnight. Far from drunk but still couldn’t stand up straight or maintain my balance towards the end. Incredibly frustrating.

Further research found evidence that a strict keto diet can cause changes to a vital structure in the brain called the “basal ganglia”. While apparently rare, this can lead to difficulties walking and staying upright.

That would help explain my Mardi Gras. And while the research made no mention of alcohol, it seems obvious that alcohol, especially with lowered tolerance, would amplify the problem.

The research also didn’t suggest the changes were temporary, which is a little troubling. Because more than a year after quitting Keto I’m still having occasional balance issues.

I still do intermittent fasting and still exercise in a fasted state, as I have for years. Both are part of the keto lifestyle. And I still eat more healthy fats than before.

I think keto is an awesome way to eat. But if you like to cocktail and still decide to try keto, please be very, very careful.

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