The keto diet was the biggest hit of 2018 for a reason: People lose incredible amounts of weight all while enjoying high-fat foods like bacon and cheese. But it also comes with some funny side effects, like bad breath and the ‘keto flu’ — and for some women, an unusually smelly crotch.
On the very busy message boards over in the keto section of Reddit, women are polling each other for advice on ‘keto crotch’ after noticing a strong scent emanating from their vaginas since starting the high-fat, low-carb diet.
This news didn’t come as a shock to Dr. Mary Jane Minkin, a board-certified OB/GYN at Yale University School of Medicine and member of PEOPLE’s Health Squad, though she adds that none of her patients have mentioned the issue.
“Ketones do smell funny, so it doesn’t surprise me that folks have bad breath or a funny odor from their vaginas on the diet,” she says.
Ketones are a byproduct of the body breaking down fatty acids, a state known to dieters as ketosis. The idea behind the keto diet is to reach ketosis, when the body is using fat stores for energy instead of carbohydrates.
Minkin thinks the keto crotch could be a “disruption in vaginal pH.”
“An acidic vagina is usually a happier vagina, and if for some reason the pH is disrupted, one can end up with a vaginitis,” a common inflammation that causes unusual discharge, she says.
This is one situation in which Minkin recommends trying an over-the-counter acidifier, like RepHresh.
“In general, things are self-cleaning, which is why we don’t typically want women douching and potentially washing out some of their ‘good guy bacteria’ which help keep the vagina acidic,” she says. “However, there are times, like when the vagina gets dry, occasionally after a period, or after sex — when more basic fluids are placed into the vagina! — that addition of a somewhat acidic substance will help restore the normal pH. That’s when an acidifying gel can be helpful.”
But if the problem persists, women should go to their doctor.
“If the vagina continues to smell funny, it’s always reasonable to get a OB-GYN check to see if you do have a significant vaginal infection,” Minkin says.