Updated: Apr 29, 2020
My microbiome hated keto. My taste buds loved it for a while - organic turkey bacon, homemade-pesto-topped wild-caught salmon, raw cheese, raw cream from local grass-fed cows. Homemade whipped cream. Pumpkin spice whipped cream. Need I say more? No, but I will: Cauliflower goat cheese pizza crust. As delicious as they were, after a while these foods started to feel like Groundhog Day and I often turned to Headbanger's Kitchen for recipes to help me at least feel like I had more diversity in my diet. There are definitely fun ways to get creative on keto! [And yes, I ate greens daily and took in as much fiber as I could while keeping myself in ketosis.]
My waistline loved keto as well. I dropped 6 lbs (mostly water weight, which is normal and expected) the first week, and loose clothes felt great. I plateaued there, despite reduction down to just over 800 calories most days (I'm a small person and all the calculators suggested I stay between 800 and 1000 calories/day). My carbs were fewer than 25g per day. My weight actually went back up toward the end of my keto month, then went down again after bringing fruit and more fiber back into my life. [Sidenote: The weight-loss/maintenance trick that works best for me is what people are now referring to as "Intermittent Fasting," or what in the 1970's we called "normal eating patterns." More on that in a future post.]
As predicted in my first post a week into my keto experiment, my Akkermansia levels dropped (see my test results below). No bueno. Akkermansia are considered treasured longevity and health-promoting microbes in the microbiome world. My mood also dropped as I starved my butyrate-producing bacteria. I didn't experience outright debilitating depression or anxiety (both of which are a part of my past that has been healed via gut balancing and I do not want to revisit those) but on keto I didn't experience those moments of bliss and the overall sense of well-being and all being right in the world that had become a welcome part of my life since healing my gut. I did begin to experience mild agitation and anxiety the further along I went on the keto diet. I began to notice the negative side of life rather than the positive. The keto-experienced repeated the same mantra: this is just the keto flu, it'll pass, increase electrolytes, increase fat, drink more water, etc., none of which helped with the mood issue. Hmmmm. Very interesting, and I hope someone out there is doing real, broad-based studies (including folks with the FUT2 genetic SNP - more on this later) on keto and mood. Keto has been spoken of as a potential for therapy for mood disorders. This would obviously not work for me (or for some others whose posts I've read who experienced similar effect on mood while on keto), but like I say over and over - everyone is different. Just as your fingerprint is unique, so is your DNA and so is your microbiome.
Below are my gut sequencing test results post keto and one-month back on a diverse higher carb diet rich in fruits, veg and some grains. As you can see, my Akkermansia levels were abysmal on keto but have bounced back wonderfully. I still have work to do on bringing other key metabolite-producers back up.
After 30 days on keto (abysmal):
After 30 days off keto, back on carbs, diverse diet (good!):
Below is where my inflammation markers (based on bacterial metabolites - a higher number in the left column is desirable) were after 30 days on keto versus 30 days back on healthy carbs (I still have work to do to bring them back up). It's going to take extra effort to get my polyamine-producing microbes back up (these include Bifidobacteria) because genetic factors (that FUT2 SNP I mentioned earlier) make those difficult to anchor in my gut even on a pro-microbiome diet. I found a mention on that matter here: "If the Ketogenic diet is lacking diversified fiber, there can also be a dramatic negative shift in the microbiome for those requiring more fiber in their diet. Higher requirements for fiber can be seen by looking at genes like the FUT2 and SHBG (women) genes in the Nutrition Genome Report."
30 days on keto (abysmal):
30 days back on carbs (improving):
My digestion wasn't keen on keto, either. I started to feel a knot in my stomach after the heavy meals and began to take HCl supplements to boost digestion. And I could not poop to save my life - this coming from a world-class pooper, for the record. I have never experienced such drastic constipation in all my life. Again, back to the keto experts for recommendations. Increasing coconut, olives and avocados didn't do it for me and I eventually gave in to psyllium husk powder supplementation, which did the trick.
Knowing my body and my microbiome as I do, keto doesn't make sense as an option for me, especially in summer when fruits and edible plants are abundant (as they say, eat seasonally). Edit: Since writing this post, I've had multiple coaching clients report negative effects from being on keto before working with me. When we look at their DNA reports, it says right there in black and white that the keto diet is not recommended for them. Know your DNA, and know your microbiome.
I did experience some positive moments during my keto month. Not feeling hunger as frequently was a plus (although I also experience this if I'm getting enough of the right kinds of fiber while on a "normal" diet or if I'm eating a very high-fruit diet). Not needing to stop for a meal and being able to work more hours without a food break was cool (although I experience the same when I'm on a very high-fruit diet). I often felt run-down and brain-foggy on keto; my family noticed this as well. Keto satiation was definitely not a prodigious trade for the mood and energy issues or free and easy poops, however, and I began to gaze longingly at the fruit bowl in our kitchen.
I am now nearly two months post-keto and have felt a slow but steady improvement in digestion, gut function and mood. My second post-keto test revealed I'm not back to where I want to be microbially as shown above (and which I definitely still feel). I'm definitely not back to the good, happy place I was emotionally. I do feel my good bugs returning slowly though, thankfully.
Keto is just not for me. It's not going to be great for everyone. For those who do see great benefit, have low disease markers and good gut microbiome function while doing it and feel fantastic on keto, great! Whatever keeps you the healthiest, do that!
A note on FUT2 non-secretors. I believe my FUT2 non-secretor status is part of what made keto feel so awful for me. Since I don't secrete fiber in my mucosal lining to feed the good bugs, I have to work extra hard to keep them happy. Keto definitely did not keep them happy. If you know through DNA testing that you're a FUT2 non-secretor and have done gut sequencing while on keto, please let me know!
To read more on genes and diet, check out this post from Nutrition Genome: https://nutritiongenome.com/is-the-keto-diet-right-for-you-the-answer-may-be-in-your-genes/
Additional studies and other perspectives:
A dietary fiber-deprived gut microbiota degrades the colonic mucus barrier and enhances pathogen susceptibility