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Transition to the Paleo Diet Without the Headaches

By Stephanie Vuolo, B.A.
March 26, 2016
Transition to the Paleo Diet Without the Headaches image

Are you afraid to transition to the Paleo Diet because you’ve heard you might feel like you have the flu for the first week? The low carb flu symptoms consist of headache, fatigue/weakness, achy muscles, and brain fog.1 Some people have exclaimed, “The Paleo Diet is not for me, I felt terrible eating that way.”

The Paleo Diet is not to blame.

What is at fault is actually not being patient with the transition time required to reset your body’s metabolic process, as well as a few simple errors in the application of the Paleo Diet’s guidelines.

Why does the low carb flu strike in the first place?

When your body is accustomed to having easy access to glucose from a conventional low-fat, high grain diet it has to adapt in order to create glucose directly from fats and protein. The process, gluconeogenesis, occurs in the liver2 as opposed to the intestines. While completely natural, gluconeogenesis takes both time and energy to occur and it requires a few weeks to develop maximum efficiency.3

In addition to increasing gluconeogenesis to regulate blood sugar 4, there is a shift in the gene expression related to metabolism5, whereby an increase in fat oxidation pathways and a decrease in fat storage pathways occur.6 In other words there’s a shift away from fat storage in favor of burning fat for energy.

Here’s how to transition to the Paleo Diet while avoiding the flu-like symptoms:

  1. Stay hydrated. Drinking enough fluids and especially using mineral-rich bone broth can help the body function most efficiently and can regulate blood sugar7. The Paleo Diet is devoid of added salt, and the electrolytes in bone broth can ward off feeling weak and dizzy during the adjustment period.
  2. Eat more food. The Paleo Diet is not a calorie-restricted diet. It isn't enough to follow the guidelines by just skipping the grains and legumes you were previously eating. Beef up your protein intake, add adequate healthy fats, such as avocados and macadamia nuts, and fill up on a plethora of colorful vegetables.
  3. Support the detoxification functions of the liver and kidneys. In addition to neutralizing and processing toxins, the liver is responsible for regulating body fuel and the kidneys regulate electrolytes8. Their function can be best supported with herbs like dandelion, burdock, and ginger, as well as sulfur-rich foods, like asparagus and onions, to aid the body in producing glutathione.
  4. Boost digestion. The liver also plays an important role in producing bile, which is necessary to digest fats and protein9. The body has to adapt to digesting a higher ratio of fats and protein than what was ingested prior to the Paleo Diet and it often takes a few days to recalibrate bile production to the appropriate level. Incorporate naturally fermented vegetables, such as low-sodium sauerkraut, and kimchi that are rich in probiotics and enzymes to assist in maximizing your digestive process.
  5. Eat more carbs. The Paleo Diet is not necessarily a low carb diet, however it is certainly lower than the Standard American Diet.10 Adjust your carb intake as needed to reduce the severity of the flu-like weakness and fatigue. Seek out slow burning carbs from vegetable based starches, like winter squashes, and lower glycemic fruits, such as citrus and berries.
  6. Reduce exercise intensity. Exercise is a great way to improve metabolic flexibility. For many people, it takes about two to three weeks to move beyond the brain fog and muscle fatigue. Listen to your body’s readiness to participate in your normal exercise routine. Scale weight lifting loads and shorten the times of your work out until you feel energetically capable of full participation.

Not everyone who adopts the Paleo Diet will experience the low-carb flu. Even if you manifest some of the symptoms, our tips should reduce the severity and duration of the process. Nonetheless, in about 14 days you will feel more energized and able to reap the long-term, sustainable benefits of the Paleo Diet.


[1] D’Anci, Kristen E., et al. "Low-carbohydrate weight-loss diets. Effects on cognition and mood." Appetite 52.1 (2009): 96-103.

[2] Williamson, John R., Edward T. Browning, and Roland Scholz. "Control mechanisms of gluconeogenesis and ketogenesis I. Effects of oleate on gluconeogenesis in perfused rat liver." Journal of Biological Chemistry244.17 (1969): 4607-4616.

[3] Martens, Eveline AP, and Margriet S. Westerterp-Plantenga. "Protein diets, body weight loss and weight maintenance." Current Opinion in Clinical Nutrition & Metabolic Care 17.1 (2014): 75-79.

[4] Weber, George, et al. "Regulation of enzymes involved in gluconeogenesis."Advances in enzyme regulation 2 (1964): 1-38.

[5] DeRisi, Joseph L., Vishwanath R. Iyer, and Patrick O. Brown. "Exploring the metabolic and genetic control of gene expression on a genomic scale."Science 278.5338 (1997): 680-686.

[6] Kennedy, Adam R., et al. "A high-fat, ketogenic diet induces a unique metabolic state in mice." American Journal of Physiology-Endocrinology and Metabolism 292.6 (2007): E1724-E1739.

[7] Rogoff, Robert. "Blood sugar level sensing and monitoring transducer." U.S. Patent No. 4,538,616. 3 Sep. 1985.

[8]Chesley, Leon C. "Disorders of the kidney, fluids and electrolytes."Pathophysiology of gestation 1 (1972): 356-478.

[9] Hofmann, Alan F. "The continuing importance of bile acids in liver and intestinal disease." Archives of internal medicine 159.22 (1999): 2647-2658.

[10] Miller III, Edgar R., Thomas P. Erlinger, and Lawrence J. Appel. "The effects of macronutrients on blood pressure and lipids: an overview of the DASH and OmniHeart trials." Current atherosclerosis reports 8.6 (2006): 460-465.

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