An alcoholic male with a glass and bottle of whiskey


How the Ketogenic Diet Can Help with Quitting Alcohol

Quitting alcohol presents numerous challenges, often characterized by severe withdrawal symptoms that can deter even the most determined individuals. Among various strategies to ease this transition, the ketogenic diet emerges as a promising adjunct. According to a recent groundbreaking study published in Science Advances, this high-fat, low-carb diet may significantly reduce the need for medications typically used to manage withdrawal symptoms, making the process more manageable. This blog explains into how a ketogenic diet could be your ally in the journey to sobriety, spotlighting its potential to alleviate discomfort and cravings associated with quitting alcohol. As we explore the ketogenic diet’s role in recovery, we will discuss not only the biological impacts but also the emotional and physical benefits it may offer to those striving to overcome alcohol dependence.


Quitting Alcohol: Understanding Withdrawal

Quitting alcohol can initiate a series of uncomfortable and sometimes dangerous withdrawal symptoms. For individuals who have engaged in heavy drinking, symptoms such as nausea, fever, and tremors are not uncommon. These physical manifestations are the body’s response to the sudden absence of alcohol, to which it has become dependent.

The severity of these symptoms can vary widely, but they often include a range of physiological and psychological effects. Physically, individuals may experience sweating, shaking, and an extreme sensitivity to external stimuli. Psychologically, symptoms can encompass anxiety, irritability, and severe cravings for alcohol. These symptoms are not just distressing; they can also be barriers to successfully quitting alcohol.

Proper management of withdrawal symptoms is crucial, as they can lead to relapse if not adequately handled. Medical professionals typically employ a variety of treatments, including medication, to help mitigate these effects. However, the introduction of dietary strategies such as the ketogenic diet is becoming an increasingly researched alternative. This diet, focusing on high fat and low carbohydrate intake, may offer a new way to ease the discomfort of withdrawal, paving the path to recovery with fewer medical interventions. As we explore in the following sections, the potential for the ketogenic diet to assist in this process is supported by emerging research, suggesting it could play a significant role in the recovery journey.


A bottle of alcohol - bourbon, lying on it's side.
Quitting alcohol can initiate a series of uncomfortable and sometimes dangerous withdrawal symptoms.


The Keto Diet Explained

The ketogenic diet, often called the keto diet, is centered on high fat, moderate protein, and very low carbohydrate intake. By significantly reducing carbohydrates, the body is forced into a metabolic state known as ketosis. During ketosis, rather than burning carbohydrates for energy, the body burns fats, producing molecules called ketones.

Ketones are generated in the liver from fatty acids and serve as an alternative energy source when glucose is scarce. This shift in energy use not only aids in weight loss but also impacts various biological processes, including brain function and metabolism.


An wide variety of keto foods, including beef, salmon, eggs, avocados, deli meat flax seeds and nuts.
The ketogenic diet is centered on high fat, moderate protein, and very low carbohydrate intake.


Typical Macronutrient Distribution:

  • Fats: 70% to 80% of daily calories
  • Proteins: 15% to 20%
  • Carbohydrates: 5% to 10%

To achieve these ratios, individuals following the keto diet need to carefully select foods that are high in fats and low in carbohydrates.

Examples of Keto-Friendly Meals:

  1. Breakfast: A serving of scrambled eggs cooked with butter and a side of spinach sautéed in olive oil.
  2. Lunch: Grilled salmon with a side of asparagus and a salad dressed in high-fat, low-carb dressing.
  3. Dinner: Beef steak with a side of creamy cauliflower mash and steamed broccoli.


Salmon and asparagus makes a delicious keto meal!


Snacks can include:

  • Cheese cubes
  • A handful of nuts
  • Avocado slices

Foods to Avoid: On the ketogenic diet, it’s essential to avoid foods high in carbohydrates. These include:

  • Sugary foods like soda, candy, and ice cream
  • Grains such as rice, pasta, and oats
  • Starchy vegetables like potatoes, yams, and peas
  • Most fruits, except small portions of berries like strawberries and blueberries

By sticking to keto-friendly foods and avoiding high-carb items, individuals can maintain a state of ketosis, where the body efficiently burns fat for energy. This metabolic state is especially beneficial during alcohol withdrawal, as it helps stabilize energy levels and reduces cravings, facilitating a smoother transition away from alcohol dependence. This diet adjustment not only manages physical withdrawal symptoms but also supports cognitive functions, aiding in overall recovery.


Research Insights: Keto Diet and Quitting Alcohol

In light of recent studies, the ketogenic diet has shown promising results in managing alcohol withdrawal symptoms. A pivotal study published in Science Advances provides compelling evidence of its benefits. This research involved 33 inpatients with alcohol use disorder (AUD), who were divided into two groups. One group followed a ketogenic diet (KD) while the other adhered to a standard American (SA) diet during their detox process.

Significantly, those on the ketogenic diet required far fewer benzodiazepines to manage their symptoms in the first week compared to their counterparts on the SA diet. This finding suggests that the ketogenic diet may alter brain energy metabolism, facilitating a smoother transition during withdrawal. In addition, a parallel study with rodents indicated that a history of following a KD led to a decrease in alcohol consumption during withdrawal. This supports the diet’s potential in reducing alcohol craving and intake.

The clinical and preclinical evidence points to the ketogenic diet’s beneficial role in treating AUD. By increasing ketone bodies in the brain, the KD seems to provide an alternative energy source. This could alleviate some of the neurotoxic effects typically associated with alcohol withdrawal. One key finding from the study was particularly revealing. “Patients undergoing detoxification with a ketogenic diet showed lower ‘wanting’ and increased reactivity in brain areas associated with craving and cognitive control when exposed to alcohol cues,” highlighting the diet’s potential to aid in the recovery process by affecting the neurological pathways associated with addiction and relapse.

The ketogenic diet not only supports the physical management of withdrawal symptoms but also contributes to cognitive and psychological improvements. This dual benefit enhances the potential for recovery and may decrease the likelihood of relapse, making the keto diet a noteworthy consideration for those seeking effective strategies to quit alcohol.


Patients undergoing detoxification with a ketogenic diet showed lower ‘wanting’ and increased reactivity in brain areas associated with craving and cognitive control when exposed to alcohol cues.


How Keto May Aid Brain Recovery

The ketogenic diet’s impact on brain chemistry during alcohol withdrawal is an area of particular interest to researchers. The diet facilitates a shift in how the brain sources its energy, transitioning from glucose to ketones. This change is crucial during the withdrawal process, where normal brain energy metabolism is disrupted by the absence of alcohol.

Typically, when individuals consume alcohol heavily, their brains become accustomed to using glucose less efficiently. Once alcohol consumption stops, the brain struggles to revert to glucose as its primary energy source, which can exacerbate withdrawal symptoms. However, by adopting a ketogenic diet, the body enters ketosis, where ketone bodies are produced from fatty acids. These ketone bodies can serve as an alternative fuel for the brain, potentially easing the transition and reducing the severity of withdrawal symptoms.

Ketones not only provide energy but also have been shown to possess neuroprotective properties. They can help shield the brain from the neurotoxic effects of alcohol withdrawal, which can include oxidative stress and inflammation. This protective role could explain why individuals on a ketogenic diet during detoxification report fewer cravings and a more manageable withdrawal experience.

Additionally, research suggests that ketones may influence brain areas involved in craving and cognitive control. This influence is vital for managing the psychological aspects of addiction recovery. By supporting these brain functions, the ketogenic diet can help stabilize mood and improve decision-making capabilities, further aiding individuals in maintaining sobriety.

In summary, the ketogenic diet supports brain recovery during alcohol withdrawal by providing alternative energy sources and protective effects against neurotoxic stress. This dual action not only helps in managing physical symptoms but also bolsters cognitive resilience, paving the way for a smoother recovery process.


A ketogenic diet can help shield the brain from the neurotoxic effects of alcohol withdrawal, which can include oxidative stress and inflammation.


Potential Long-Term Benefits and Further Research

While the ketogenic diet shows promise in easing the initial stages of alcohol withdrawal, its long-term benefits still need more research. Current studies, such as the one published in Science Advances, focus mainly on the immediate effects of the diet during alcohol detox. The potential for sustained recovery and lower relapse rates over time is an area that requires more exploration.

Future research should examine how long individuals should maintain the ketogenic diet to maximize recovery benefits. It should also assess whether these benefits last beyond the detox phase. Researchers need to explore the diet’s effectiveness across different demographics and stages of alcohol use disorder to confirm its broad applicability.

It is also important to study how the ketogenic diet works with other treatment options. These include psychological counselling, social support, and medication-assisted therapies. This knowledge will help healthcare providers create comprehensive treatment plans. These plans could use the diet’s benefits while addressing the complex nature of addiction recovery.

Initial studies indicate that the ketogenic diet could be a key part of treatment strategies for alcohol use disorder. As more research emerges, it could change current treatment approaches. This provides a new path for those battling alcohol dependence to improve their health and their lives.


Addressing Criticisms and Safety of Keto Diet

The ketogenic diet, while gaining popularity for its potential benefits in various health conditions, has also faced criticism. Some health experts have labeled it a fad diet, raising concerns about its long-term sustainability and potential health risks.

Despite these criticisms, a growing body of research supports the ketogenic diet’s safety and efficacy, especially in medical contexts. It has been effectively used to treat conditions like epilepsy, obesity, and type 2 diabetes. These studies show that, under medical supervision, the diet can be safe and beneficial.

In the context of alcohol withdrawal and recovery, the ketogenic diet offers a unique advantage by altering brain energy metabolism, which may help reduce withdrawal symptoms and cravings. This therapeutic potential suggests that, when implemented correctly and with professional guidance, the keto diet can be a valuable tool in addiction recovery programs.


Final Thoughts

The ketogenic diet, known for its strict low-carb, high-fat regimen, offers intriguing benefits for those struggling with alcohol withdrawal. As highlighted in the Science Advances study, this diet can significantly ease the challenging symptoms associated with quitting alcohol. By shifting brain metabolism from glucose to ketones, the ketogenic diet not only helps in reducing the need for medications during detox but also supports long-term recovery by potentially decreasing cravings and enhancing cognitive control.

While further research is necessary to fully understand the long-term benefits and broader implications, the initial findings are promising. For individuals looking for effective strategies to manage alcohol withdrawal, incorporating the ketogenic diet could be a valuable part of a comprehensive treatment plan. However, it is crucial to approach this diet under the guidance of healthcare professionals to ensure it is implemented safely and effectively.

We encourage those interested in exploring this option to consult with medical experts and consider the ketogenic diet as a supportive tool in their journey toward sobriety. This approach not only addresses the physical challenges of withdrawal but also supports overall well-being and recovery, offering hope and a new perspective to those aiming to overcome alcohol dependence.




Laurie Tsemak is the founder and co-owner of PowerFlax Holdings Inc. and Red Square Bakery. Laurie and her husband, Mark have spent 34 years in the wholesale and retail baking field, focusing on innovative product development to serve health-conscious customers and forward-thinking commercial bakeries.

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