If you’re new to the world of the ketogenic diet, you have probably heard the word ketosis thrown around, but might be unsure of what it actually means. You might have also heard of ketoacidosis – yes, it sounds similar, these are two very different things. While one is related to a trendy weight-loss method, the other is potentially fatal.
KETOSIS: Put simply, ketosis is the state of fat burning. It’s the primary goal of the ultra-low carb keto diet and can take a couple of weeks to fully eventuate (before which you’ll experience some unpleasant side effects commonly known as keto flu). To understand it fully, we need to re-wind a couple of steps.
You see, your body is engineered to use carbohydrate as its primary source of fuel. When you eat carbs, your body breaks them down into glucose (a fancy word for sugar) which enters your bloodstream. Your body then produces the hormone insulin, which removes that sugar from your blood and takes it to your working muscles and cells.
When you’re not giving your body those delicious, joyful carbs, however, it needs to find another source of fuel and here’s where it makes friends with fat. The breakdown of your fat stores produces ketones, which your body uses for energy instead of glucose. To sustain this fat-burning state, your diet must contain a high percentage of fat, and very minimal carbs (hence, the ketogenic diet). Not only has this diet been praised as a weight-loss wonder, but devotees claim anything and everything from improved sleep to more energy and even better exercise stamina.
KETOACIDOSIS: Now, this is where it gets a little scary. Properly referred to as Diabetic Ketoacidosis (or DKA), this is a life-threatening medical emergency that usually arises in people with uncontrolled Type 1-diabetes. In case you’re not aware, that’s a condition in which the body cannot produce sufficient insulin (the hormone that regulates the amount of glucose in the body). It requires ongoing insulin injections and careful blood sugar monitoring.
DKA as it is commonly called, is a sign of INSUFFICIENT INSULIN, and can come to fruition in one day or less. Blood sugar levels skyrocket, but because there is no insulin to get the sugar out of the bloodstream and to the body’s cells, the body thinks it’s starving. As an emergency response, it starts to rapidly breakdown fat and protein, which produces ketones at a significantly greater rate than what happens does during ketosis.
In this situation, the body cannot regulate the level of ketones to stop them becoming too high (as opposed to ketosis, in which it can). As a result, the blood becomes highly acidic, which causes symptoms like confusion, rapid breathing and abdominal pain. It can also cause the breath to smell sweet, and lead to vomiting and dehydration. If medical attention is not quickly sought, someone experiencing DKA can become unconscious, or even die.
Ketosis is your body’s natural reaction to an on-going, very low carb diet. It’s the ultimate goal on the ketogenic diet, which is often followed to help people shed kilos fast. But just because it might help with weight loss, doesn’t mean it’s for everyone (and there are some people who should certainly avoid it, like those with type 2-diabetes). Ketoacidosis, on the other hand, is a serious medical emergency often only occurring in people with type 1-diabetes and it requires urgent medical attention.