Ah, the keto diet. On one hand, it’s helped tons of people lose weight. On the other? It comes with a whole slew of pretty gnarly side effects like the keto flu, keto breath, and keto diarrhea.
Now, people are talking about another unpleasant side effect of the keto diet: keto crotch. Yep, some people online (shout-out to the Reddit page r/xxketo!) noticed that their vaginas started to emit an intense order after going on the low-carb diet.
Wait, so what are people saying about so-called keto crotch?
“I’ve been on the diet for about a month and a half now and I’ve noticed that my vaginal odors have gotten MUCH stronger…(It smells like a mix between urine and discharge…I’m not exactly sure how vaginas are ‘supposed’ to smell like. Many say ‘musky’ but I feel like that’s too mild of a word… It’s much stronger than ‘musk’ for me :/),” one Reddit user posted.
A different Reddit user agreed, responding: “Oh boy, yes. During the first few months there was some extra smell stuff happening all over – crotch and otherwise. But, the good news is that it settles down and goes away after you’ve been keto for awhile.”
On a separate thread, another user slash keto dieter wondered: “Does anyone else’s lady bits smell different too? Like not a nasty infectious smell, just like a stronger natural smell? I’m about to ovulate so maybe that with keto makes things a little more potent. I have no idea! Maybe I’m just a freak of nature!”
The group of peeps who have experienced smelling an off scent down below seems to be pretty large, at least on the Internet. “Oh thank God I am not the only one with a stinky vajayjay. I have to think happy thoughts during squats,” another woman posted on Reddit.
Okay, so people are definitely experiencing something funky going on with their vaginal scents. But whether this is actually being caused by following the keto diet remains up for debate.
Sooo…is keto crotch a real thing?
To make one thing super-clear first, there’s no research confirming that keto crotch is, in fact, a legit side effect of the keto diet. But that doesn’t mean people aren’t still experiencing some less-than-pleasant odors down there on the keto diet.
Keto crotch sounds similar to the keto breath phenomenon. When your body is in ketosis (a.k.a., it breaks down fat for fuel instead of carbs), it produces ketones (chemicals like acetoacetate, beta-hydroxybutyrate, and acetone—yes, that last one is the same ingredient in nail polish remover). These are chemicals that are naturally produced by your body. But, because your body produces more of them on the keto diet, the excess can make your poop, pee, and breath a little more smelly (again, like nail polish remover).
But tbh, that’s probably not what’s going on here, says Jessica Shepherd, MD, a minimally invasive gynecologist in Dallas and founder of Her Viewpoint. Instead, a more plausible theory is that going on the keto diet impacts your vaginal pH—and that changes your vaginal odor, she says. “Any diet can change your vaginal pH,” Dr. Shepherd says, which can then change the odor a bit.
A healthy vaginal pH is acidic—between 3.8 and 4.5—and foods like onions, garlic, red meat, dairy, asparagus, broccoli, alcohol, and fruit can all affect the natural balance you’ve got going on, Mary Rosser, MD, PhD, ob-gyn at Montefiore Medical Center in New York previously told Women’s Health. And even a slight change in pH (even one doesn’t impact the health of your vagina) can alter the smell you’re used to.
Okay, well what about a keto crotch rash?
In addition to having an unfamiliar smell down there, some women are also reporting that they’ve noticed a rash in their crotch area on the keto diet (fun!).
So keto rash is a real thing. It’s actually an inflammatory disease called prurigo pigmentosa that’s often characterized by red, itchy bumps on the neck, back, and stomach—and the keto diet can potentially trigger it. But there’s no particular reason the keto diet would cause you to break out only around your crotch—at least, none that the scientific community has found a direct link to, says Christine Greves, MD, a board-certified ob-gyn at the Winnie Palmer Hospital for Women and Babies. “If you’re on the keto diet and develop a rash, don’t just blame it on the diet,” she says. “Make sure you get some assistance.”
But while there’s no direct link, going keto could potentially have an indirect effect on whether you develop a rash. “Changes in diet can lead to potential changes in vaginal health, which could mean more rashes,” says Dr. Shepherd.
Of course, it’s entirely possible that other things you do around the time you start the keto diet could lead to a rash in the groin area, like working out more and hanging out in your sweaty gym clothes for too long. But if you notice a rash down there and it’s not going away, it’s time to call your doctor, as you could be experiencing a yeast infection, STD, or other skin condition.
What should I do if I think I have keto crotch?
If you notice you have a weird odor going on down there right after you go keto, you may want to give it a few days to see if it goes away, says Dr. Greves. (Also, definitely don’t douche. Douching can open you up to a whole host of other issues and increase your risk of infection.) Some women on Reddit have reported the smell going away after a while, while others said it persisted. If the smell doesn’t go back to normal a few days after quitting eating keto, that’s a good sign something else might be causing it, since vaginal pH should return to normal after going back to your typical diet, notes Rosser.
But if the smell persists or you start to notice other symptoms like itchiness, burning, and abnormal discharge, it’s time to see your doctor. It’s entirely possible that you were just unlucky enough to develop an infection or other gynecological issue at the same time as you went keto, and that it has nothing to do with your diet, says Dr. Greves. Either way, you need to get it looked at. A change in vaginal smell could be a sign of bacterial vaginosis or an STD.
What else should I know about the side effects of keto?
The truth is, going on a high-fat, low-carb diet can be a little rough on your body at first.
You may end up having the keto flu, which is basically a bunch of flu-like symptoms that often appear at the beginning of the keto diet. We’re talking headaches, fatigue, body aches, dizziness, and nausea. The symptoms resemble those of the actual flu, but with a different cause. In general, you can expect the keto flu to last anywhere from 24 hours to up to two weeks, as your body adjusts to being in ketosis.
And then there’s keto diarrhea, which is about as fun as it sounds. Given that the keto diet is high in fat, it can end up making your poop a little more liquidy than usual, Barbie Boules, RDN, founder of Nyoutrition previously told WH. Couple that with the fact that a lot of people on keto tend to use artificial sweeteners, which also can cause stomach issues, and you might set yourself up for some serious bathroom sprints.
Ultimately, going on the keto diet is entirely your choice, and you should see how your mind and body feel after you start to help you gauge whether it’s a way of eating that works for you. And consider speaking to a doctor or nutritionist you trust about whether keto is a good fit for your health and lifestyle—and definitely chat them up about any questionable symptoms you experience if and when you do.