Can a Ketogenic Diet Be Used for Gut Healing?
The ketogenic diet is extremely popular these days. And with its biggest fans claiming it can do everything from help you lose weight to solve your hormonal problems, I can see why.
This new diet trend is also being touted as great for supporting gut health. Many people are using a ketogenic diet in conjunction with other treatment protocols for gut conditions like SIBO, pathogenic infections, and leaky gut.
But, is a ketogenic diet actually beneficial for healing your gut? And should you be using this high-fat, low-carb way of eating if you’re suffering with a gut condition?
In this blog post, I’ll go through some of the pros and cons of using a ketogenic diet for gut healing.
I have my own thoughts about going keto, based on my own experiences that I outlined in my blog post, here. But this post is going to be strictly facts, no opinions or keto diet hype here!
So if you’re ready to learn the benefits and drawbacks of using a ketogenic diet for gut healing, you’re in the right place.
Benefits of Keto for Gut Healing
There are so many diets out there that claim to be the best for helping to heal your gut and get rid of those pesky gut infections for good.
The ketogenic diet, while not one of the most outspoken gut healing diets out there, is definitely an option for certain people dealing with gut issues.
Here are just a few of the benefits of using the ketogenic diet for gut healing. And remember, always talk with a trusted medical professional before you make any changes to your diet or supplement routine.
Reduced Fiber Intake Can Reduce Bad Bacteria
When you switch to a ketogenic diet you end up focusing on consuming a lot of fat, moderate amounts of protein, and very few to no plants.
This strategy is great for getting you into ketosis. And as an added bonus, it can also be beneficial for reducing or eliminating any pathogenic bacteria you may have in your gut.
People with SIBO or any other gut imbalance could benefit from the reduced fiber intake that is common with a ketogenic diet.
Our gut bacteria feed on fermentable fibers from plant foods. So by significantly reducing your fiber load with a keto diet, you’re providing less fermentable food for those bad gut bugs.
There are several studies that show consuming fibrous foods serve to feed our gut bacteria.
This is great when your gut is healthy, but if you’re dealing with a microbiome imbalance this fiber can be fuel to the fire.
Since the fiber reduction that naturally occurs on a ketogenic diet can inherently help to reduce the pathogenic load in the gut, it can also help to reduce symptoms associated with those overgrown bacteria.
Being on a ketogenic diet can help reduce symptoms like gas, bloating, acid reflux, and constipation or diarrhea.
If the bacteria aren’t being fed, they can’t survive. So when combined with an antimicrobial protocol, the ketogenic diet can be a great tool for healing your gut.
No Sugar Intake to Feed Overgrowth and Cause Symptoms
Along with reducing fermentable carbohydrates, the ketogenic diet severely restricts sugar of all kinds.
And if you’ve ever attempted to eat an apple or even some honey with a gut infection, you know how much your body can negatively react to even the slightest sugar intake.
Like with fermentable fibers, our gut bacteria feed on those fast absorbing sugars found even in natural sources like fruits and honey. When bacteria feed on these sugars, they produce a myriad of symptoms that can cause you both physical and mental discomfort.
And since even the smallest amount of sugar will kick you straight out of ketosis, a ketogenic diet is inherently going to help reduce the symptoms of a microbiome imbalance.
This can be especially helpful if you’ve struggled to stick with a gut healing, SIBO diet before. Adding the extra motivation of staying in ketosis is maybe all you need to remove those sugars from your diet and help you remain symptom free.
Eliminating sugar from your diet may not completely resolve your gut symptoms. So working to get to the root cause of why you’re experiencing those symptoms in the first place is going to be your best bet for long-term healing.
Drawbacks of Keto for Gut Healing
Now before you think the ketogenic diet is all sunshine and roses when it comes to regaining a healthy gut, we have to talk about the drawbacks.
The ketogenic diet almost completely eliminates an entire macronutrient group from your diet. And with that is bound to come some consequences, some of which can affect your gut health.
So, here are some of the negative effects that a ketogenic diet can have on your gut and overall health.
Can Reduce Intake of Prebiotic Fibers that Feed Good Gut Bacteria
While the reduction of dietary fiber on a keto diet can be great for starving a pathogenic overgrowth, it also has its drawbacks when it comes to your good gut bugs.
Gut bacteria need dietary fiber in order to stay alive, healthy, and multiplying. And without a constant intake of fiber to feed on, your microbiome can start to diminish.
One study even concluded that a low-fiber diet may cause irreversible depletion of our gut bacteria over generations. And while your personal gut bacteria can likely recover from a stint on a ketogenic diet, over time it can take a toll.
Perhaps even more surprisingly, these starving gut bacteria can actually turn to feasting on your protective mucus layer in your colon if they don’t have enough fiber to feed on.
This phenomenon, observed in mice, can result in the development of leaky gut, food sensitivities, or a weaker immune system.
Furthermore, a diet that is high in fat, not just low in fermentable fibers, like a ketogenic diet, has been shown to cause unfavorable shifts in the microbiome. This means that after a ketogenic diet you could end up with less beneficial bacteria and more commensal (or potentially pathogenic) bacteria in your gut.
In order to reap all the benefits of the ketogenic diet, while still supporting your good gut bacteria, a cyclical ketogenic diet may be a good idea. This way you’ll be eliminating sugars and fibers for some time to help reduce symptoms, but you’re able to reintroduce those restricted foods to help keep your microbiome balanced and healthy.
Can Be an Additional Stressor on Your Body
It may come as a surprise, but the production of ketones that accompanies a high-fat, low-carb diet is actually a natural stress response.
Ketones are only produced when the body runs out of stored glucose that it normally uses for energy. These glucose stores are traditionally replenished by consuming carbohydrates. But when on a ketogenic diet, these stores get used up pretty quickly.
And once that happens the body starts producing ketones for energy instead of using glucose.
The only problem with this is that the brain actually NEEDS glucose for fuel. It cannot run on ketones.
So, in order to have available glucose to power the brain, the body has to work extra hard to perform a task called gluconeogenesis.
Gluconeogenesis, or literally “the creation of new glucose” is a stress response that is initiated by the adrenal glands.
Normally, this stress response can be handled appropriately by the body. But, when that body has been dealing with chronic gut infections and other stressors, sometimes this extra stress is just too much.
For some, a ketogenic diet can exacerbate any underlying thyroid or adrenal issues and can result in fatigue and just general poor tolerance to this new style of eating.
If you think a ketogenic diet could be helpful for your gut condition, getting your thyroid, cortisol, and sex hormones tested before you start is a good idea. And if any of those levels are off, keto might just have to wait.
The Bottom Line
A ketogenic diet has great potential to help restore gut health, especially if you’re dealing with a condition like SIBO or a pathogenic overgrowth of bacteria.
But, there are definite drawbacks to attempting a ketogenic diet that should be taken into consideration before jumping in.
Like any treatment plan, there are ways to make a keto diet work for you, not the other way around.
It’s important to not force a high-fat, low-carb diet just because there are claims that it can help to lessen symptoms and resolve gut infections.
Listening to your body is one of the amazing skills that having a chronic illness can force us to develop. And if your body is telling you that a ketogenic diet just isn’t working, then it just isn’t working.