Can the Keto Diet Cause a Positive Breathalyzer Test?

Posted by Doug Murphy | Mar 18, 2020 | 0 Comments

In 2019, flight attendant Andre Riley was fired by American Airlines after registering a .05 on a breathalyzer while on the clock. Riley does not dispute that his body registered an elevated score on the breath test. He does, however, claim the high level did not occur as a result of alcohol consumption. Instead, Riley believes the ketogenic diet is to blame.

The ketogenic diet – also known as simply “keto” – is a type of diet that has rapidly grown in popularity in recent years. Riley claims the way the body breaks down food while on the ketogenic diet can create a false positive blood alcohol concentration (BAC) result.

Although Riley is not the first to claim keto caused a false BAC reading, the science is not settled on how frequently this diet could interfere with breath testing. For now, there is a possibility this diet could have an unfortunate impact on some DWI arrests.

What is the Keto Diet?

The ketogenic diet started as a method doctors used to address conditions like diabetes and epilepsy. Due to the substantial weight-loss properties, this diet has now become a favorite of fitness fanatics. This diet is low-carbohydrate and high-fat. The end result is that the body remains in a state of ketosis, which means the body burns fat instead of carbohydrates. However, the process of converting fatty acids to energy in the liver can create ketones that are chemically identical to a type of alcohol.

How the Keto Diet Could Impact a Breath Test

When the body is in ketosis, your liver will continuously break down fat to fuel your body. The byproduct of this reaction is known as acetone, which is released from the body through your breath in the form of isopropyl alcohol.

Isopropyl alcohol is different from ethyl alcohol, which is found in liquor and other alcoholic beverages. Unfortunately, a breathalyzer cannot differentiate between the isopropyl alcohol your body produces and the ethyl alcohol that is consumed from beverages. This can result in a positive BAC reading, which could lead to your arrest.

A false positive on a breathalyzer test is not the only way the keto diet could result in a DWI arrest. A body in the state of ketosis can have other side effects that mimic intoxication. This is not surprising, given this situation results in the body producing alcohol. The signs of ketosis are similar to those of intoxication, including:

  • Flushed face
  • Dehydration
  • Reduced coordination
  • Thirst
  • Smell of alcohol on the breath
  • Sluggishness

These signs are often the first things police look for when investigating a potential DWI. Your problems could be further compounded if you agree to perform field sobriety tests. The impact ketosis can have on your coordination could hamper your ability to perform these exercises.

Not all people experience these effects during ketosis. For those that do, it may be necessary to choose between the diet and driving. If you have been arrested under these circumstances, a Houston DWI lawyer might be able to help.

About the Author

Doug Murphy

Doug Murphy is one of only two Texas lawyers Board Certified in Criminal Law by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization, and also in DWI Defense by the National College for DUI Defense, accredited by the American Bar Association and the Texas Board of Legal Specialization.


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