Everyone’s talking about the keto diet, but no one’s talking about one very off-putting potential side effect of the meal plan: a funky vaginal odour.
The low-carb, high-fat diet places your body into a state of ketosis, wherein you burn fat instead of carbohydrates for energy.
There is no research confirming the existence of “keto crotch,” but according to Calgary-based dietitian Andrea Hardy, it makes sense that the diet would alter the pH of the vagina through the vaginal microbiota.
“Most of us eat about 30 per cent of our calories for the day as fat,” said Hardy. “The keto diet recommends 70 to 80 per cent of our calories are fat. Excess intake of fats and saturated fats can alter the pH of the vagina.”
(Excessive fat intake is associated with an increase in bacterial vaginosis, a condition caused by a change in pH in the vagina.)
Ultimately, an increase in the pH of the vagina can increase the risk of bad bacterial growth. Bad bacteria can cause yeast infections, bacterial vaginosis — and, yes, a bad smell.
The keto diet displaces plant-based foods with foods high in fat. Plant-based foods are high-fibre foods, and “those high-fibre foods are what feeds good bacteria in our gut,” explained Hardy.
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For Hardy, a foul odour, yeast infections and bacterial vaginosis can be a sign that the keto diet isn’t for your body.
“There are some studies to suggest that the keto diet is actually harmful to our microbiomes, simply because it reduces the variety and the types of carbohydrates that are so important for feeding those good bacteria,” said Hardy.
That being said, there are some ways to promote good gut and vaginal health while on the keto diet.
“Most people that I see doing the keto diet end up doing more of a moderate approach, consuming a bit more than the recommended five to 10 per cent of their calories as carbohydrates,” Hardy said.
It may also help to speak with your pharmacist or family doctor about using probiotics, which can help reduce your risk of bacterial vaginosis and yeast infections.
However, Hardy doesn’t think the keto diet is a sustainable way to lose weight — especially if you’re experiencing these additional side effects.
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“Proponents of the keto diet suggest that by eating this low carb, it puts your body into ketosis, which is helpful for weight loss,” explained Hardy. But entering into ketosis requires a very restrictive meal plan that can be hard to maintain.
In addition, the drastic changes that happen to your body during ketosis can have several other negative side effects.
“Ketosis occurs when your body runs out of its primary fuel source: glucose. Our carbohydrate-containing foods get converted to glucose in our body and provide with energy. When we restrict that, our body has to find energy from other sources so it takes other nutrients, fats and proteins and converts them into ketones, which can be used like glucose,” said Hardy.
“The reason why people lose weight so rapidly is your body actually stores glucose as glycogen, and for every one gram of glycogen it stores, it stores three grams of water. So when people go on the keto diet, they deplete their glycogen stores and very quickly lose quite a lot of pounds.”
Dehydration, constipation, an increased risk of kidney problems and the “keto flu” are some of the most common negative side effects.
“When you restrict your body from its primary energy source, it drives up its hunger hormones as it struggles to get the fuel that it needs,” said Hardy. “People tend to feel unwell, really hungry and fatigued.”
Ultimately, Hardy does not recommend the keto diet as a way to lose weight.
“Unless it’s therapeutic for a specific medical condition, I would not recommend the keto diet. For the general public looking to manage their weight, I don’t think the keto diet is appropriate and, frankly, I think long-term, it’s probably harmful to your gut microbiota. Your best bet would be a more moderate, sustainable approach,” she said.
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