Are Hangovers Worse on Keto?
How to handle keto hangovers
We’re talking about keto hangovers today, not to be confused with the keto flu.
The keto diet is a diet where you avoid carbs and consume large portions of healthy fats in order to promote sustainable weight loss. You may have heard about its appeal as one of the few modern diets where you can still drink alcohol. There are some rules, though. You still have to avoid carbs (i.e. no beer), your tolerance will plummet, and you’re more likely to suffer from a debilitating hangover.
But are keto hangovers worse than normal ones? What causes hangovers in the first place? Farm to Fit found out.
What is a hangover?
A hangover is a colloquial term for the after effects of drinking too much alcohol. Typical symptoms include fatigue, shakes, vertigo, headaches, nausea, muscle aches, sweating, elevated heart rate, and sound and light sensitivity. Everyone experiences hangovers differently, and a hangover’s severity can be due to a number of factors. However, the general rule tends to hold that the more a person drinks, the worse their hangover is likely to be.
What causes hangovers?
When you drink, your body responds in a variety of ways:
- Dehydration — Alcohol is a diuretic (makes you urinate more often). Dehydration is linked to excessive thirst, headaches, and vertigo in hangovers.
- Electrolyte depletion — Can contribute to fatigue, irritability, and headaches.
- Sleep disruption — Alcohol prevents deep sleep, and overly relaxed muscles can leave you sore. You are also more likely to wake up in the middle of the night.
- Gastrointestinal disturbances — Irritation to the stomach lining can cause nausea, vomiting, diarrhea and stomach pain.
- Low blood sugar - Drinking can make you hypoglycemic, in turn leaving you weak and dizzy.
- Minor or major alcohol withdrawal — Binge drinking can brink on minor or major neurological withdrawal from alcohol. This can cause anxiety, restlessness, tremors, and elevated heart rate.
- Acetaldehyde exposure — When your body metabolizes alcohol, it produces a toxic byproduct called acetaldehyde. This chemical sticks around until you're totally sober, and contributes to internal organ inflammation.
Additionally, darker alcoholic beverages like bourbon and red wine have higher levels of congeners. These chemicals give alcohol distinct flavors, but may also make hangovers more severe.
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So why are keto hangovers worse?
When alcohol enters the system, the liver prioritizes metabolizing the ethanol, which it identifies as a toxin. Your body shifts from burning fat stores to burning off the booze, putting your weight loss on hold. While your body can still make ketones from alcohol, it can’t make as many, and may slow your ketosis progress as well.
A stomach full of high-carbohydrate food will slow alcohol absorption, but when on a low-carb high-fat diet like keto, the opposite happens. Since your body isn’t holding on to any carbohydrates as glycogen stores, it effectively loses two carb cushions. This is likely responsible for the reduced alcohol tolerance keto drinkers experience, though more studies are required.
Some of the worst symptoms of a hangover (headaches, fatigue, vertigo, irritability) are caused by dehydration, electrolyte imbalance, and stomach irritation. All three of these can be unrelated side effects caused by ketosis as well, making for a drastically worse experience the morning after.
Can I cure a keto hangover?
The short answer is no. The only way to avoid a hangover, keto or otherwise, is to avoid drinking.
Many people swear by coffee, cold showers, electrolyte drinks, or supplements to ease the pain of a hangover, but there’s no meaningful research proving any of these speed up recovery.
The best and only sure-fire cure for a hangover is time and hydration. You can reduce your risk of severe hangover preemptively by eating a keto-friendly meal before drinking, only drinking alcohol in moderation, and avoiding other dehydrating drugs like caffeine or cigarettes.
Don't let a night out kick you off keto
As long as you drink in moderation, stay hydrated, and avoid drinking on an empty stomach, you’re likely to dodge the worst symptoms of a keto hangover. Keep in mind, keto does lower your tolerance, so moderation may look different than it did before.
As with alcohol, keto isn’t for everyone. Consult with your healthcare professional before starting a new diet, or if you suspect you may have problem drinking tendencies.