You might already know what’s involved with the keto diet: Very low to no carbohydrates and an increased intake of fats. Following the diet forces your body into ketosis, in which it burns fat for energy instead of carbohydrates.
You may have even heard that following the plan invokes some less than ideal side effects, including but not limited to making your breath smell like nail polish remover (a result of fat turning into acetone, which is a ketone found in the body).
But it’s worth questioning the latest widely discussed keto topic that is troubling both dieters and non-ketoers alike. “Keto crotch” is, as the name suggests, the phenomenon of supposedly developing a strong vaginal odor as a result of going on the much buzzed-about diet.
A recent Women’s Health article shared details from a keto Reddit thread very aptly titled “HELP LADIES!” The user shared that since starting the diet she has, and we quote, become “very, SMELLY,” asking the forum’s nearly 82,000 followers if the change could have to do with yeast dying off or hormonal changes from the diet.
And maybe it is, but there is no way to be completely sure. “When I got the first call asking about this, I asked if they were making this up to write a story,” Lauren Streicher, medical director of the Northwestern Medicine Center for Sexual Medicine and Menopause and clinical professor of obstetrics and gynecology at Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine, told HuffPost with a laugh.
Streicher said that while it’s certainly possible that diet can have an impact on vaginal health, there is no scientific evidence to prove it, and myriad of potential causes for odor to exist.
The No. 1 cause is bacterial vaginosis, or BV, Streicher explained. BV is caused by an alteration in pH in the vagina, which leads to an alteration of bacteria in the vagina and leaves you with more bad than good.
“What is absolutely a given is that the bacteria environment in the vagina requires a certain kind of bacteria in order to be healthy and we know a lot of things can tip that balance,” she said.
Semen and menstrual blood are up there as some of the big culprits behind BV, each ranging above a 7 on the pH scale, while a normal vaginal pH lies between a 3.5 and 4.5.
“The real question I think, and we don’t know if it is, is if in fact a keto diet is increasing the risk for BV,” she said. “And again, it hasn’t been studied.”
Why not just study it, then? It’s not as easy as you might think.
“It seems like it should be a no-brainer, but I can’t just take the next 10 people who walk into my office and are on a keto diet and measure their pH against women not on a keto diet and say ‘Eureka!’” She said. “You have to look at a very large population over a long period of time to eliminate those variables, and quite frankly it’s not like people are saying, ‘Yeah, let’s spend $ 50,000 on this study.’”
Streicher said that finding a connection between keto and vaginal odor “is not on the long list much less the short list of things I’m looking to study,” but does offer some tips for those who are experiencing odor ― on keto or otherwise.
She normally recommends patients first try an over-the-counter gel called RepHresh, which is made to balance the pH levels in the vagina. If that doesn’t help, she says it’s important to see your doctor to find out if an antibiotic is necessary. “Never disregard and never douche,” she said.
If you’re intrigued with keto but are less than interested in emitting new and unwelcome odors from your crotch, join the club and we don’t blame you. But as far as cause is concerned, it’s just not possible to say one way or another. If you notice an odor after starting the diet, Streicher put it quite simply:
“Well then, you might want to alter the diet and see if it makes a difference.”