Under normal circumstances, the body’s cells use glucose as their primary form of energy.
Glucose is typically derived from carbohydrates in the diet, which include:
- Sugar like fruit and milk or yogurt.
- Starchy foods, such as bread and pasta.
The body breaks them down into simple sugars. Glucose can fuel the body or be stored in the liver and muscles as glycogen.
If there is not enough glucose available to meet energy demands, the body will adopt an alternative strategy to meet those needs.
Specifically, the body breaks down fat stores to provide glucose from triglycerides.
Ketones are a by-product of this process.
Ketones are acids that accumulate in the blood and are eliminated in the urine.
In small amounts, they indicate that the body is breaking down fat, but high levels of ketones can poison the body, leading to a process called ketoacidosis.
Ketosis describes the metabolic state whereby the body converts fat stores into energy, releasing ketones.
Some people follow a ketogenic diet as a way to lose weight.
Because ketosis breaks down the stored fat in the body, some diets aim to create this metabolic state to facilitate weight loss.
Ketosis diets are also known as:
- Ketogenic diets.
- Ceto diets.
- Low carbohydrate diets.
The diet itself can be considered a high-fat diet, with about 75 percent of the calories derived from fat.
In contrast, about 20 percent and 5 percent of calories are obtained from protein and carbohydrates.
Adhering to the ketogenic diet can lead to short-term weight loss.
A 2008 study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that obese men who followed a ketogenic diet for four weeks lost an average of 12 pounds during this time.
Participants were able to consume fewer calories without feeling hungry while on a diet.
Is ketosis healthy?
The ketogenic diet could have a beneficial effect on severe illnesses like:
- Cardiovascular disease
- Metabolic syndrome.
It can also improve HDL (high-density lipoprotein, also known as “good” cholesterol) levels better than other moderate carbohydrate diets.
These health benefits could be due to losing excess weight and eating healthier foods rather than reducing carbohydrates.
The ketogenic diet has also been used under medical supervision to reduce seizures in children with epilepsy who do not respond to other forms of treatment.
Some studies have suggested that the diet might benefit adults with epilepsy, although more research is required to confirm these findings.
However, long-term adherence to the ketogenic diet does not produce many benefits.
The American Heart Association (AHA), the American College of Cardiology, and the Obesity Society concluded insufficient evidence to suggest that low-carbohydrate diets, such as the ketogenic diet, provide heart health benefits.
Other conditions are also being studied to see if a ketogenic diet could benefit.
These conditions include:
- Metabolic syndrome.
- Alzheimer disease.
- Polycystic ovarian disease (PCOS).
- Lou Gehrig’s disease.
What is ketoacidosis?
Ketoacidosis is a condition where ketone levels are abnormally high, poisoning the body.
It is a severe and dangerous condition that can develop rapidly, sometimes within 24 hours. There are several different potential triggers for ketoacidosis.
It is most commonly caused by diseases that lead to higher levels of hormones that work against insulin.
It can also result from problems with insulin therapy, either from a lack of scheduled treatments or from not getting enough insulin.
Causes of ketoacidosis
Less common triggers for ketoacidosis include:
- Drugs abuse.
- Emotional trauma.
- Physical trauma.
Ketoacidosis occurs most commonly in people with type 1 diabetes because the body does not produce insulin. Ketoacidosis can also occur in people with type 2 diabetes, although it is much less common.
High levels of ketones in the urine and high blood sugar levels (hyperglycemia) are signs of ketoacidosis and can be detected with home kits.
The early symptoms of ketoacidosis include:
- Abdominal pain.
- Confusion and trouble concentrating.
- Red or dry skin.
- Excessive thirst and dry mouth.
- Fruity breath.
- Frequent urination
- Nausea and vomiting
- Difficulty breathing or rapid breathing.
Ketone levels can be monitored using urinalysis kits that are generally available without a prescription.
Ketoacidosis does not usually occur in healthy individuals who eat balanced diets and regular meals.
Dramatically reducing the number of calories and carbohydrates you eat, exercising for long periods, or being pregnant can trigger ketosis.
In patients with diabetes, ketosis and eventually ketoacidosis can occur if insufficient insulin is used to control the disease adequately if meals are skipped, or if an insulin reaction occurs (often while sleeping).
Diabetic ketoacidosis is considered an emergency, as it can lead to diabetic coma and even death.
Treatment is usually administered by emergency healthcare workers, followed by a hospital stay in an intensive care unit.
For diabetic patients, the following measures are commonly taken:
- Fluid replacement: to rehydrate the body and dilute excess sugar in the blood.
- Electrolyte replacement: These are needed to help the heart, muscles, and nerve cells function correctly. Blood levels often drop in the absence of insulin. Electrolyte supplements are available to purchase online.
- Insulin therapy: to reverse the processes that caused the ketoacidosis episode. Eating a healthy, balanced diet and exercising regularly can prevent ketosis among healthy people.
In addition, there are several steps that people with diabetes can take to help prevent ketoacidosis: Check blood sugar levels carefully and often, at least three to four times a day.