What is Ketosis?

Ketosis is a result of not having enough stored carbohydrate for energy, as a result of low carb dieting. Ketoses at low levels are normal, however high levels may not be good for health. When carbohydrates are very low the body needs to break down fat for energy. The breakdown of this fat produces ketones, which can either be used for fuel or excreted via the kidneys in the urine. Ketone bodies are three water soluble molecules produced by the liver from fatty acids. One of which is called acetate that is excreted via urine and the breath (it can cause bad breath). The other two (acetoacetate and B-hydroxybutyrate) are converted to a molecule (acetyl-CoA) which can be used for energy in the krebs cycle instead of glucose. The heart and kidneys prefer to use ketones as fuel, while other tissues, including the brain, can also use them. 

Ketosis is a state the body goes into if it needs to break down body fat for energy. The state is marked by raised levels of ketones in the blood, which can be used by the body as fuel. Ketosis can be normal to very high depending on how low the carbohydrates in the diet are, how much the glycogen stores are depleted and how long a person has been on the diet.

Diabetic Ketoacidosis

A more extreme version of ketosis is called diabetic ketoacidosis. This is when the amount of ketones in the blood makes the blood acidic, which can be dangerous. This can happen when either the body is lacking sufficient insulin to transport the glucose into the cell, even if there is sugar in the blood, excessive alcohol consumption and, as already mentioned, a low carb diet.

A low level of carbohydrate will lead to low levels of insulin, and therefore the body will produce ketones. Ketones do not rely on insulin to be transported into the cell for fuel like glucose.

There are a few diets that advocate low carbohydrates for the exact reason that they want to increase fat burning and see the increase in ketones as a beneficial consequence. The NHS describes ketosis as a potentially serious condition. It is potentially dangerous as very high level of ketones can make the blood acidic, a state known as ketoacidosis, which can lead to serious illness in a relatively short space of time. Ketosis may leave you with low energy levels, really bad breath, inability to concentrate as effectively, along with serious vitamin and mineral deficiencies.

This article has
been written by
Terry Fairclough