If you’ve recently started a ketogenic diet and you’re experiencing heart palpitations, you’re not alone. Heart palpitations, or increased heart rate, can be a common side effect of transitioning from the carb-heavy standard American diet to a diet plan that is higher in fat, moderate in protein, and very low-carb. Heart palpitations may sound scary, but if you’re experiencing them due to a keto transition, there are some things you can do to stop them or prevent them altogether.
What are Heart Palpitations?
Heart palpitations can feel like a racing heart or fluttering feeling in the heart. There are several possible causes of heart palpitations, including stress, intense exercise, caffeine, hormonal conditions, and medications. There are also causes that could be of medical concern, especially if you have increased risk factors for cardiovascular disease (including heart disease), such as diabetes, obesity, high cholesterol levels, or high blood pressure. A condition called atrial fibrillation can also be a cause. So if you are experiencing heart palpitations, it’s important to follow up with your doctor or a cardiologist, even if you think it’s in relation to your keto transition.
In the context of a keto diet, heart palpitations are one of the many symptoms of the “keto flu,” which includes a variety of unpleasant side effects that may occur while your body is transitioning from using glucose (sugar/carbs) for energy to using fat for energy. Other common side effects include constipation, bad breath, muscle cramps (especially leg cramps), and fatigue.
What Causes Heart Palpitations on the Keto Diet?
When transitioning to keto, heart palpitations are typically due to dehydration or a mineral deficiency. Here’s why:
When you cut way back on your carbohydrate intake on a low-carb diet, your body produces less insulin and uses up its glycogen stores. When this happens, your body excretes more water with the glycogen (which is why you tend to lose water weight quickly on keto). The quick water weight loss can cause dehydration, and dehydration can inspire heart palpitations.
As we mentioned, when you cut your carb intake from lots of carbs to nearly no carbs, you produce less insulin (insulin processes the glucose in carbs). With less insulin in your system, your kidneys excrete more sodium, which can throw your essential electrolytes out of balance.
The primary three electrolytes that can be affected when transitioning to keto are sodium, potassium, and magnesium. Sodium, potassium, and magnesium are all essential minerals for your heart. According to The Merck Manual for Consumers, “Some minerals—especially the macrominerals (minerals the body needs in relatively large amounts)—are important as electrolytes. Electrolytes are minerals that carry an electric charge when they are dissolved in a liquid such as blood. The blood electrolytes help regulate nerve and muscle function and maintain acid-base balance and water balance.”
What do these minerals do? A lot!
Sodium is an essential mineral found in the intracellular fluid of cells. Sodium helps your cells to maintain homeostasis, regulates fluids, balances other electrolytes, regulates blood pressure, and is crucial for the electrical charge of muscle and nerve cells, by transporting nutrients through the cell membranes. So, obviously it’s important to get enough salt. But not all salt is created equal. Make sure you get the healthiest, good-quality salt without anti-caking agents, such as Himalayan sea salt.
Potassium is an essential mineral that many of us are actually very deficient in, and it’s a big “heart health” mineral. This mineral is crucial for the excitability of heart muscle, which is why a deficiency can contribute to heart palpitations (also known as heart arrhythmias). Only three percent of Americans meet the adequate intake of potassium, and the average American intake is just over half of the requirements. Another major function of potassium is blood-pressure regulation by decreasing sodium reabsorption, which is one reason why when sodium is out of balance, potassium can be too. Plus, modern processed foods have significantly less potassium than whole foods, so many “healthy” people still experience low potassium and related heart palpitations.
Magnesium is a third essential mineral directly related to the excitability and contraction of muscles, including the cardiac muscle. It’s responsible for maintaining normal amounts of electrolytes inside heart muscle cells, and it’s a mineral in which many of us are deficient. Just like potassium, our modern foods are deficient in magnesium, and magnesium deficiency is associated with muscle cramping, insomnia, heart palpitations, and fatigue.
How to Remedy or Prevent Keto-Related Heart Palpitations
Keto-related heart palpitations are usually short-term and only experienced during your transition to the ketogenic high-fat diet. This is when your electrolytes are most likely to become out of balance. That means that as you regulate and settle into ketosis, these symptoms should resolve. However, part of regulating is getting your electrolytes in balance, and there are very easy ways to do that:
Drink salted water.
If dehydration is the cause, hydration is the cure! Add Himalayan salt to your water (a pinch); it will help keep your essential minerals balanced and also possibly prevent keto flu symptoms while the body is adjusting to its new power source. You can also drink a little pickle juice for fast relief!
Consume magnesium and potassium-rich vegetables.
Cauliflower, spinach, broccoli, and leafy greens are all keto-friendly vegetables that contain these important minerals.
Add a mineral drop supplement that contains all the essential electrolytes and minerals.
Many keto experts recommend you take a supplement while transitioning to a keto lifestyle, especially because it will help prevent keto flu symptoms.
Consider taking a magnesium supplement to keep magnesium levels up.
Magnesium is a mineral that most of us are deficient in and can be difficult to get from our diet alone, as modern soil tends to be depleted in magnesium (from pesticides and over-farming). So, taking a magnesium supplement can give you peace of mind that you are getting enough, especially if you are on keto and lead an active lifestyle, which can easily deplete magnesium.
The Final Word
Although experiencing heart palpitations on keto may be unnerving, know that it will pass once your body adjusts to using ketones for energy. Keep your eye on the health benefits of low-carbohydrate living, and, in the meantime, follow your keto meal plans wisely, remember to drink water throughout the day, and keep your minerals in balance; balanced electrolytes help maintain a normal heart-muscle contraction and rhythm.