Why Starting The Atkins Diet Causes You To Feel Tired

by Patrick Nemechek, D.O. on December 12, 2010

Why Starting The Atkins Diet Causes You To Feel Tired

Patients who go on the Atkins low carbohydrate diet often experience headaches, ‘brain fog’, lightheadedness or fatigue the first few weeks after reducing their carbohydrate intake.

These symptoms will improve after a few weeks but for some individuals they can be quit severe and will cause some to quit the diet altogether because they believe it is somehow harming their body.

The truth is that their bodies were already damaged from the excessive carbohydrates they have been eating for many years and reducing the carbohydrates just unmasked the problem. 

They need to remain on lower amounts of carbohydrates in order to allow their body to repair itself.

Excessive Carbohydrates Damage The Nervous System

The level of carbohydrates consumed by the average American is having a toxic, damaging effect on the portion of the nervous system that controls blood pressure regulation to the brain (see Lightheadedness and Fatigue).

The carbohydrate toxicity prevents the body from normally adjusting the amount of blood vessel constriction to fight against the downward pull of gravity. The constriction of the leg blood vessels is required to maintain normal levels of blood flow to the brain. 

When we stand up or are sitting or standing, the force of gravity is trying to pull blood in the upper half of body down to the lower half.  If blood is allowed to pool in the legs, blood flow is robbed from the brain and we begin to feel lightheaded, fatigued, sleepy or develop headaches.

Normally the neurological system sends increased signals to the arteries of the legs to squeeze down on the blood vessels harder in order to counteract gravity’s downward pull.  This is the main mechanism that prevents us from passing out when we stand up.

Excessive carbohydrates damages this portion of the brain’s blood pressure regulation mechanism and allows blood to pool in the arteries in the muscles of the legs.  This is why you may feel lightheaded when you stand up or why you feel tired or sleepy after sitting or standing after a period of time.

You’ll feel better when you get up and walk around because walking causes the muscles to squeeze or constrict.  When the muscles contract,  the pooled blood is forced back into the circulation, blood flow to the brain increases and your symptoms improve.

Symptoms Often Get Worse Before They Get Better

Carbohydrates also cause your body to retain salt water.  Abnormal retention of salt water is one of the factors that causes high blood pressure (hypertension).

When you decrease carbohydrates in your diet, your kidney function quickly returns to normal and you pee off the extra salt water.  People will lose “water weight” at the beginning of a weight loss programs because they cut out all the high carbohydrate junk food right off the bat.

The extra salt water in your body also prevents you from noticing how bad your blood pressure regulation problem really is. 

The string of events goes like this:

  1. Excessive carbohydrates causes the blood pressure regulation system to not work well against gravity
  2. Excessive carbohydrates makes the kidneys abnormally retain extra salt water which blunts the lightheadedness and fatigue symptoms from step 1.
  3. You start the Atkins induction phase with a rapid decline in carbohydrates.
  4. The kidneys pee off the extra salt water within a few days.
  5. The blood pressure system can’t compensate against gravity
  6. You feel fatigued, lightheaded, experience headaches or mental fogginess.

The low blood pressure problem is becoming so bad in some people that they are becoming physically addicted to high carbohydrate energy drinks in order to temporarily increase their brain blood flow.  Their system is so badly damages that they are needing higher and higher levels of carbohydrates in order to maintain blood brain flow.

How to Fix the Fatigue of Atkins

In the short term you’ll need to increase the amount of salt you consume for the first 2-6 weeks of the Atkins diet.

Start by adding salt to food at every meal and drinking a cup of chicken broth in the morning and midafternoon.  The salt has a magnetic effect called osmotic pressure that pulls water into your blood vessels.  More fluid in your blood vessels helps increase the blood flow to your brain.  Many people feel better than they have in a long time after the add the salt to their diet.

Within a few weeks of being on the lower amounts of carbohydrates, your blood pressure regulation system will begin repairing itself and you’ll require less and less extra salt to maintain normal brain blood flow.

Patients can sense their blood pressure system is working better because they may forget to add salt for a day or 2 and will notice their symptoms of lightheadedness, fatigue or headaches have not returned.

So remember, increase the salt when you decrease the carbs.

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