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Sweat Smells like Ammonia While in Ketosis – Cause & Solution

author avatar Dr. Eric Berg 09/23/2023

Have you recently started keto and noticed stinky sweat with a strong ammonia smell? 


While changes in body odor are a common side effect during the early stages of keto-adaptation, ammonia-like sweat can indicate electrolyte imbalances or excessive protein intake.  


Discover why your sweat smells like ammonia while in ketosis and what steps you can take to get rid of bad body odor fast.  

Woman pinching her nose

What is ketosis?


Ketosis is a metabolic state in which your body relies on fat for energy instead of carbohydrates.   


As your liver breaks down fat, it generates large quantities of ketones, which act as a highly efficient energy source. When ketones start to fuel your cells, your body enters ketosis.


To trigger and maintain ketosis, it’s crucial to limit your carb intake to 20 to 50 grams daily and obtain the majority of calories from healthy fats.


A low-carb, high-fat ketogenic diet helps maintain a healthy weight and has profound benefits for metabolic, cardiovascular, and cognitive health.


Watch the video below to discover common causes of ammonia body odor on keto.

 

Five reasons your sweat smells like ammonia while in ketosis


Temporary changes in body odor, such as keto breath and even keto crotch, are common side effects of keto-adaptation.


However, persistently smelling an ammonia odor in your sweat while in ketosis can indicate electrolyte imbalances or excessive protein intake or may be linked to an underlying health condition. 


Ammonia is a metabolic by-product of amino acid and protein breakdown that can have toxic effects on the brain and other organs. The liver converts ammonia into urea, which is less harmful and can safely be excreted by the kidneys. 


In some situations, ammonia can build up in the bloodstream, and small amounts are released through sweat glands, leading to sweat that smells of ammonia.


Here are five potential causes of ammonia-smelling sweat. 


1. Poor liver function

The liver plays a crucial role in the breakdown and conversion of ammonia into urea, and poor liver function can significantly increase the risk of ammonia-like body odor. 


Research published in StatPearls found that individuals with fatty liver disease and cirrhosis have a reduced capacity to efficiently metabolize amino acids into urea, which can lead to raised ammonium levels, also known as hyperammonemia.


2. Kidney issues

The kidneys help regulate the balance of various electrolytes and waste products in the body, including ammonia. 


“When the kidneys are damaged or not working correctly, they may fail to excrete urea, which can impair ammonia breakdown,” says Dr. Berg. “This explains why individuals with kidney disease are at increased risk of elevated ammonia levels.” 

Hungry young man

3. Too much protein

If you smell ammonia in your sweat, it may be time to evaluate your protein intake. 


A high-protein diet can overwhelm the liver's ability to metabolize all the ammonia your body produces due to an increased amino acid turnover. 


However, it’s important to note that hyperammonemia due to excessive protein intake is relatively rare in healthy individuals and is most commonly linked to poor liver or kidney function. 


4. Potassium deficiency 

Potassium is a crucial electrolyte that plays an essential role in maintaining the acid-base balance in the body. 


Low potassium levels can lead to acidosis, a condition characterized by excessive hydrogen ions in the blood. Acidosis inhibits the enzymes needed to convert ammonia into urea, which leads to elevated ammonia levels and associated changes in body odor. 


Not consuming enough potassium-rich foods, such as green leafy vegetables, can quickly lead to low potassium levels. This may explain why people who do keto without considering the nutritional value of their food are at increased risk of sweat and urine that smells like ammonia.


5. Alcohol  

Drinking alcohol is another potential cause of sweat smelling like ammonia. 


Alcohol inhibits the absorption of glutamine, an amino acid involved in ammonia detoxification. Lack of adequate glutamine levels can cause a buildup of ammonia in the bloodstream.


Research published in Nutrients suggests that even moderate amounts of alcohol can significantly impair glutamine levels, thereby increasing the risk of hyperammonemia.

Woman eating vegetables

How to get rid of ammonia smell on keto


Experiencing sweat that smells like ammonia while in ketosis doesn’t mean keto isn’t right for you.


It takes time to become fully keto-adapted. As your body adapts to a low-carb diet, unpleasant body odors typically resolve, and there are plenty of steps you can take in the meantime to reduce symptoms.


Here are six things you can do to get rid of body odors that smell like ammonia.


1. Support keto-adaptation

Starting the keto diet triggers profound changes in how your metabolism generates energy, and it can take the body some time to become fully fat-adapted.


Ketosis can initially lead to increased water loss and electrolyte imbalances. It's essential to stay well-hydrated and consider adding electrolytes such as potassium, sodium, calcium, and magnesium to your water to prevent dehydration and maintain normal ammonia detoxification.


Combining keto with intermittent fasting is an excellent way to support keto-adaptation. During periods of caloric restriction, your liver is forced to utilize stored body fat for energy, which promotes ketosis and speeds up your cells' transition into using fat as a primary fuel source.


2. Reduce protein intake

While protein is essential, too much protein can bump you out of ketosis and may overwhelm your liver's ability to detoxify ammonia. 


To maintain ketosis and support normal liver function, it’s generally recommended to consume between three to six ounces (85 to 170 grams) of protein per meal.


3. Increase your potassium intake

As your body adjusts to fat-burning, increased urination can deplete essential electrolytes, including potassium, which can lead to hyperammonemia.


Potassium is found in many keto-friendly foods such as avocado, pumpkin seeds, mushrooms, and green leafy veggies like collard greens, mustard greens, and spinach.


Alternatively, you can opt for a sugar-free, high-quality electrolyte powder that contains at least 1000 milligrams of potassium per serving to promote balanced electrolyte levels.

Human liver illustration

4. Support your liver health

Supporting liver function and taking steps to reverse fatty liver disease isn’t just essential to prevent body odor but also plays a crucial role in overall well-being and longevity.


You can promote a healthy liver by making beneficial diet and lifestyle changes, including:


5. Avoid alcohol consumption

It takes surprisingly small amounts of alcohol to damage the liver and trigger metabolic imbalances, including elevated ammonia levels.


Given that alcohol has no health benefits and is linked to a wide range of health issues, it’s best to avoid alcohol altogether. 


6. Identify potential underlying health issues 

Most cases of ammonia-like odor while in ketosis can be managed with dietary and lifestyle changes.


However, in some individuals, pungent ammonia sweat can indicate underlying medical issues such as toxic kidneys, liver problems, or a severe reaction to certain medications.   


If you suspect that your body odor may be related to a potential health condition, it’s crucial to consult a healthcare provider for a thorough evaluation of your symptoms.   

Woman smelling her armpit

Key takeaways


Consuming too much protein, a lack of potassium, or excessive alcohol consumption are potential reasons sweat smells like ammonia while in ketosis. 


Tweaking your protein intake, following Healthy Keto, and avoiding alcohol supports ammonia detoxification and can help eliminate unpleasant body odor.  


Some cases of pungent ammonia sweat can be related to poor liver or kidney function and should be evaluated by a healthcare provider.



FAQ


1. Does keto make you smell like ammonia?

Yes, keto can make you smell like ammonia. This typically is caused by elevated levels of ammonia in the blood, which may be linked to consuming too much protein, a lack of potassium, or drinking alcohol while in ketosis. 


2. What does ketosis sweat smell like?

It’s not uncommon to develop a slightly fruity smell during the early phases of ketosis. 


When your liver breaks down fat, it generates a ketone called acetone, which has a slightly sweet smell similar to nail polish remover. Rising levels of acetone during the adaptation stage of ketosis can change body odors, including breath, sweat, and even urine. 


3. Does ketosis give you body odor?

Many people experience changes in body odor during the early stages of keto-adaptation due to rising acetone levels that can change the scent of your sweat and make your breath smell fruity. 


Once your body adapts to utilizing ketones as a primary fuel source, unpleasant body odors typically diminish. 


4. Why do I smell of ammonia on keto?

Body odor that smells like ammonia while in ketosis typically indicates a buildup of ammonia in the blood. This can be related to excessive protein intake, inadequate potassium, or alcohol consumption. 


In some cases, elevated ammonia levels can be linked to liver issues and kidney damage and may require medical evaluation and treatment. 


5. Why does my sweat smell like ammonia?

Sweat that smells of ammonia may be caused by elevated ammonia levels in the blood. Not consuming enough potassium-rich foods, drinking alcohol, or overeating protein can impact amino acid metabolism and lead to ammonia buildup.    


In addition, excessive sweating due to prolonged and intense exercise can also lead to sweat that smells like ammonia due to the increased breakdown of muscle tissue. 


6. Should I be concerned if I smell like ammonia?

A mild ammonia-like odor from your breath or sweat can sometimes occur during the early stages of keto and typically isn’t anything to worry about.


However, a strong or persistent ammonia-like smell can indicate underlying medical issues such as kidney or liver damage, and it’s recommended to consult a healthcare provider for a thorough medical evaluation.  


7. How bad is ammonia sweat?

Mild and temporary ammonia sweat often isn’t harmful and can be managed by moderating protein intake, avoiding alcohol, and increasing potassium intake.


However, in some cases, ammonia sweat can be linked to kidney or liver damage and may be a symptom of excessively high ammonia levels, which requires medical attention. See a doctor if friends and family frequently mention smelling ammonia on you when you sweat.


8. Why does my sweat smell like vinegar or ammonia?

Sweat with a vinegar or ammonia smell is often caused by elevated ammonia levels due to dehydration, electrolyte imbalances, or excessive protein consumption. An ammonia smell on your body or breath can be caused by ketones while you’re adapting to a ketogenic diet.


Ammonia is metabolized in the liver and excreted via the kidneys, and impaired liver or kidney function can also result in ammonia buildup and associated changes in body odor. 

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