Many people are confused about ketosis and ketoacidosis. We get this question all the time because many of you are fearful, you’ve heard how great the keto diet is but you’re afraid to start it because you don’t want to get ketoacidosis, you’ve heard it’s very dangerous and could be life threatening. Or you’ve got maybe type 1 or type 2 diabetes and you’re thinking you can’t do that because you might get ketoacidosis. Well in this article we will dispel some of the myths and tell you exactly what ketoacidosis is all about and really what the difference is between that and healthy and beneficial ketosis.
So what’s the difference between ketosis and ketoacidosis?
First of all, 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 in the blood called ketones.
Let’s dispel one myth. Some people think ketosis is dangerous and is an emergency state, however it’s very normal for the body. This is what our ancestors went through when they were either hunting and foraging at feast and famine, sometimes they ate lots of food, sometimes they ate nothing.
Think of it this way, your body is like a hybrid car. When you first start up a hybrid car you’re in electric mode and you’re typically going across the parking lot and, it doesn’t make much noise, it doesn’t make a sound, it just has that little bit of a hum. When you get on the highway it switches over to gas, so it’s very simple, one former fuel to another. Your body’s the exact same way, when it wants quick fuel it typically burns glucose for fuel, when it wants long sustained burning fuel you typically will burn ketones.
Ketones happen to be a better fuel source, so ketosis just simply means when your body runs out of glucose, it’s going to start burning something else, when the stored glucose that’s kept in your liver and your muscles is gone, your body flips that switch and it starts to burn fat for fuel and that’s really what we want to do.
So now let’s talk about ketoacidosis. Where does that come from? Well it’s typically also called diabetic ketoacidosis and this is a very dangerous condition to be in. That typically happens in type one and type two diabetics, although it’s very rare in type 2 diabetics, but it also could happen in patients who have illness or infection. So diabetic ketoacidosis or DKA happens when your blood sugar is very high and ketones build up to dangerous levels in your body.
There’s a couple of key things happening here, number one is that you have to have high blood sugar, number two, if you’re typically type one or type two diabetic, you really have a very low to no insulin. So what does that mean? Insulin is a hormone that stores things. So what it does is it takes your blood sugar, it shuttles it into your cell so your cells can use it for fuel. If you have high blood sugar and no insulin or very low insulin, you’re not going to get that blood sugar into the cell to be burned, so the cell is going to not have any fuel and it will start using ketones.
So what happens is when you can’t get the sugar into your cell, ketones start to rise in the body, so this is what the difference is. Ketosis is a normal state of the body when the ketones tend to be low, ketoacidosis is a very acidic state when you have high amounts of sugar, very low amounts of insulin, and very high, much higher than in ketosis, amounts of ketones.
Where do you want to be when you’re in ketosis in the normal state or when you’re in ketoacidosis, in an abnormal and dangerous state? Anywhere from 0.5 to about 3 millimolar blood ketones, that’s what we call nutritional ketosis, that’s where you’re in therapeutic ketosis. When you start to get above 3, you get into that range and your ketones are that high, that’s when you are at dangerous levels. When you’re checking your ketones on a regular basis, you don’t have to worry about this.
Don’t worry about getting into ketoacidosis when you’re on the ketogenic diet, because it really is much more beneficial and it prevents ketoacidosis from happening, because you’re keeping your sugars down if you’re keeping your carbs down, where in ketoacidosis your sugars are very high so that’s a very distinctive feature very high sugars in ketoacidosis, very low sugars in the ketogenic diet.
Let’s talk about some of the many benefits of the ketogenic diet. So weight loss, it was developed to help patients with epilepsy, you’re looking at things like disease prevention, like heart disease, cancer, diabetes. We know about the fact that cancer loves sugar, so when you reduce sugars like in the ketogenic diet and increase your healthy fats, that prevents cancer. Why? Because cancer cells only can metabolize sugars, they cannot metabolize fat. If you want to eliminate heart disease, diabetes, Alzheimer’s improves on the ketogenic diet.
You get more mental clarity and greater energy. In fact, your brain runs really well off of ketones and what it does is very high mental clarity, high mental acuity. You don’t have to worry about the brain fog you typically do, and the crashes that you get when you’re on a glucose diet. So obviously in comparison to ketosis are there any health benefits to ketoacidosis? No, definitely not. In fact, it’s very detrimental.
Now let’s discuss the symptoms. Well, some great symptoms when it comes to the keto diet is weight loss, better mental clarity, energy increase, all kinds of great symptoms. When it comes to the symptoms of ketoacidosis, this is what you have to watch out for. Exhaustion, fatigue, mental confusion, nausea, vomiting, if you’re experiencing things like that, that is becoming a medical emergency. It’s very different than what we call keto flu.
Keto flu is different because these are things that your body’s experiencing as it’s detoxing. Yes, you might have some mental confusion, but it’s simply because your body is used to burning sugar for fuel and now it’s having to turn fat, so you don’t have that sugar up in your brain like typically. You might have a little bit of loss of energy at first, because your body has to flip that switch towards burning fat for fuel, so there are some symptoms early on when you first start the ketogenic diet but they go away quickly. They go away within a week.
What about the dangers? There is no danger to the ketogenic diet, ketogenic diet or ketogenic lifestyle is totally healthy, this is our genetic blueprint, this is the way our ancestors have been eating for hundreds of thousands of years. What about ketoacidosis? That’s a medical emergency. You can face comma, you can face death, so you need to make sure that if you’re type one diabetic you have to make sure you’re doing your keto diet correctly.