While some people report having headaches on the keto diet, others report that they feel the exact opposite.
Studies have shown that people on low-carb or ketogenic diets can feel euphoria and have a much clearer mindset which is attributed to being in ketosis. (1)
Brain function on the keto diet has been studied as well, and there have been many surprising discoveries about what happens to the brain on ketones.
Scientists also now believe that there is a link between being in a state of ketosis and GHB, otherwise known as Gamma-hydroxybutyrate.
Gamma-hydroxybutyrate is known for its abuse within the drug world because of its intense feeling of euphoria with users of this drug. (2)
To understand why these good feelings are happening when on the keto diet, we will need to look at how our bodies process ketones instead of glucose for energy needs.
Keto Euphoric Feeling & Why You Feel So Much Better On A Low Carb Diet
When you start a low-carb diet like keto, your body has to switch its fuel source from burning carbs to burning fat, and that phase takes a few days to completely change over.
Once your body starts burning fat as its main fuel source, your body has entered into a state of ketosis.
You’ve used up all your glycogen stores, and the water weight at this point has come off you completely.
Then, stored fat starts breaking down into fatty acids, which are then released into the bloodstream.
Once these fatty acids reach your liver, they get converted into a metabolic fuel known as Acetoacetate.
Acetoacetate is needed because without it, we would not experience ketones and all their amazing benefits on the body.
There are two other main ketone bodies known as Acetone and Beta-hydroxybutyrate, and these two are formed directly from Acetoacetate.
Once the ketone acetoacetate is created by your body, there are only three things that can happen to it from here:
- Its sent to other cells to be used as a fuel source
- It will be converted into Beta-hydroxybutyrate (BHB). This will be used as energy for your body as BHB is much more efficient.
- It may react (or decompose) into acetone, which is a carbon dioxide and excreted through the body without being used for anything. This typically happens through the breath giving it a sweet smell.
Feeling High On Keto
When Acetoacetate gets converted into Beta-hydroxybutyrate, this is where happy feelings can come from since it’s very similar to GHB, or Gamma-hydroxybutyrate.
Both BHB and GHB are made up of 15 atoms, and the only difference between them is the position of only one hydrogen and an oxygen atom.
When your body enters ketosis, Beta-hydroxybutyrate levels can reach very high in your brain, where it may bind to the same anxiety-reducing receptors as Gamma-hydroxybutyrate.
Since they can bind to the same receptors, BHB and GHB have similar effects when this happens.
So aside from the names ending in “hydroxybutyrate,” how do we know that BHB has similar effects on the brain like GHB?
One of the earliest studies on fasting in 1959 was done by Walter Bloom, who reported his findings of what happened when test subjects entered into ketosis. (3)
Being a pioneer in the field of fasting, Bloom reported that after days without consuming any food, the people under his supervision had decreased appetite levels, reported feeling better than normal, and even had mild forms of intoxication similar to effects produced by ethanol.
It was Bloom who first noticed that Acetoacetate was the cause for this, and other scientists had seen similar effects on their patients soon after that.
During the 1950s and 1960s, scientists found links between fasting and feelings of euphoria with patients losing around 2 lbs a day for a whole month. (4)
More studies definitely need to be done to get more information on exactly what’s happening and why keto and low-carb diets make people feel so good.
While Acetoacetate, acetone, and Beta-hydroxybutyrate will be involved in knowing more, there are other theories as well which can add to the intense feelings of well-being.
Brain activity needs to be studied more on people consuming different kinds of low carb diets and fasting to compare with people eating normally without any restrictions.
It would be interesting to see how this develops further.
If you’re interested in starting a low-carb or ketogenic diet, be sure to check with your doctor to make sure it’s right for you.
There are pros and cons to the ketogenic diet, so make sure you do your own research as well.