Ketosis: What is ketosis?

Ketosis is a normal metabolic process. When the body does not have enough glucose for energy, it burns stored fats instead; this results in a build-up of acids called ketones within the body.

Some people encourage ketosis by following a diet called the ketogenic or low-carb diet. The aim of the diet is to try and burn unwanted fat by forcing the body to rely on fat for energy, rather than carbohydrates.

Ketosis is also commonly observed in patients with diabetes, as the process can occur if the body does not have enough insulin or is not using insulin correctly.

Problems associated with extreme levels of ketosis are more likely to develop in patients with type 1 diabetes compared with type 2 diabetes patients.

Fast facts on ketosis

Ketosis occurs when the body does not have sufficient access to its primary fuel source, glucose.

Ketosis describes a condition where fat stores are broken down to produce energy, which also produces ketones, a type of acid.

As ketone levels rise, the acidity of the blood also increases, leading to ketoacidosis, a serious condition that can prove fatal.

People with type 1 diabetes are more likely to develop ketoacidosis, for which emergency medical treatment is required to avoid or treat diabetic coma.

Some people follow a ketogenic (low-carb) diet to try to lose weight by forcing the body to burn fat stores.

What is ketosis?

In normal circumstances, the body’s cells use glucose as their primary form of energy. Glucose is typically derived from dietary carbohydrates, including:

sugar – such as fruits and milk or yogurt

starchy foods – such as bread and pasta

The body breaks these down into simple sugars. Glucose can either be used to 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 in order to meet those needs. Specifically, the body begins to break down fat stores to provide glucose from triglycerides.

Ketones are a by-product of this process.

Ketones are acids that build up in the blood and are eliminated in urine. In small amounts, they serve to 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 in the process.

Scrambled eggs and bacon on plate.
Some people follow a ketogenic diet as a way to lose weight.

Due to the fact that ketosis breaks down fat stored within the body, some diets aim to create this metabolic state so as to facilitate weight loss.

Ketosis diets are also referred to as:

ketogenic diets

keto diets

low-carbohydrate diets

The diet itself can be regarded as a high-fat diet, with around 75 percent of calories derived from fats. In contrast, around 20 percent and 5 percent of calories are gained from proteins and carbohydrates, respectively.

Adhering to the ketogenic diet can lead to short-term weight loss. A study conducted in 2008 and published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that obese men following a ketogenic diet for 4 weeks lost an average of 12 pounds during this time.

The participants were able to consume fewer calories without feeling hungry while following the diet.

Is ketosis healthy?

The ketogenic diet could have a healthful effect on serious health conditions such as:

cardiovascular disease

diabetes

metabolic syndrome

It may also improve levels of HDL cholesterol (high-density lipoproteins, also known as “good” cholesterol) better than other moderate carbohydrate diets.

These health benefits could be due to the loss of excess weight and eating of healthier foods, rather than a reduction in 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 could also benefit adults with epilepsy, although more research is required to confirm these findings.

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