What is Ketosis?
Odds are you have heard some tidbits about ketosis at some point, and likely know it has something to do with eating minimal amounts of carbohydrates and plenty of fat.
Yet, many individuals don’t comprehend exactly what ketosis is in terms of physiological changes, nor do they know of the numerous health benefits it can have.
Luckily for you, we are going to cover all the essential science behind ketosis in this article. Even better, we will supply a handy summary of how you can quickly enter ketosis and reap the bounty of benefits it has.
At its core, ketosis is a natural metabolic process that your body utilizes fat for biological necessity during times of nutrient deprivation (specifically carbohydrates). Technically, this type of ketosis is referred to as “dietary ketosis”.
However, individuals with type-1 diabetes (i.e. those who do not produce insulin) may enter ketosis if they don’t use enough insulin. When ketones become critically elevated in diabetics due to lack of insulin, a life-threatening condition known as diabetic ketoacidosis may occur. This condition causes uncontrolled build up of ketoacids in the blood which drastically decreases blood pH.
It’s imperative to note that diabetic ketoacidosis is much different than dietary ketosis – both in terms of physiology and health ramifications. The former can be a lethal condition if left unchecked as it makes the blood abnormally acidic. Contrarily, dietary ketosis is safe and denotes that you have a healthy quantity of ketones in the body, which imparts a multitude of health benefits.
Physiology of Dietary Ketosis
Naturally, you might ask, “What is the outcome of ketosis?” When you consume a diet with nominal amounts of carbohydrates, your body flourishes on glucose/sugar for energy (which is why foods like candy provide short bursts of energy). In fact, this is why athletes, especially endurance runners, consume a generous amount of fast-acting carbs prior to sporting events.
Moreover, your brain usually uses glucose for energy and functional purposes on a carb-based diet. It is essential to note that basically all the carbohydrates you take in (regardless of the food source), aside from a few select exceptions, are broken down to glucose in the body. Certain carbohydrates are metabolized slightly differently, though, like dietary fibers, resistant-starches, and fructose (fruit sugar).
The metabolic pathway that breaks down carbohydrates to produce ATP (the energetic ‘currency’ of cells) is called glycolysis. When glucose isn’t replete in your bloodstream (such as during times of food/carbohydrate restriction), your body has to derive its energy from another nutrient source – usually adipose tissue (i.e. body fat stores). This is where ketosis comes into play.
When your body decides to use body fat for energy, a process known as lipolysis occurs. In so doing, your body breaks down fats/lipids to create free fatty acids that are sent to the liver and oxidized for energetic purposes. This ultimately is what causes ketosis; as a result/byproduct of lipolysis, ketone bodies (ketones) are synthesized. Thus, ketosis is a state in which your body has high production of ketones (specifically between 0.5 mMol/L and 1.5 mMol/L of ketones in your blood).
Pretty neat, right? But what exactly do ketones do? And why are they beneficial? Read on to learn answers to these questions and more!
What Are Ketones?
There are three primary types of ketones your body produces as part of fatty acid breakdown:
● Acetoacetic acid/Acetoacetate (AcAc)
● Beta-hydroxybutyrate (BHB)
Note that ketone, in chemical terms, is actually a broad term referring to an organic molecule with the structure R-C(=O)-R’, where R and R’ may be any type of carbon-based groups. There are countless ketones that exist in nature, many of which serve no/limited function in humans.
Therefore, in the context of ketogenic diets and ketosis, it is more appropriate to refer to acetate, AcAc, and BHB as ketone bodies. These ketone bodies can be used as an alternative source of energy by numerous tissues/organs in your body, including the brain. So what are the benefits of ketone bodies and being in dietary ketosis, you ask? Well, where should we start…
BENEFITS OF DIETARY KETOSIS
Arguably the main health benefit that ketosis imparts – and why it has been given so much praise in the past decade – is because of its impact on weight/fat loss. When you reach dietary ketosis, a variety of physiological adaptations occur, including increased breakdown of body fat (adipose tissue). As aforementioned, ketosis is the outcome of the body breaking down fat stores to produce energy. Naturally, this stimulates fat loss given that carbohydrates are not the preferred source of energy when you’re in ketosis.
Decreased Cravings for Food/Sweets
Research reviews reveal that when your body is producing ketone bodies regularly, your appetite for food decreases. Contrarily, consuming a carbohydrate-based diet plan can cause cravings to vary up and down in unrestrained manners, leading to increased risk of overindulging. As such, ketosis helps minimize food/sweets intake (which is ideal for a weight-loss diet).
HEALTH ADVANTAGES OF DIETARY KETOSIS
Besides enhancing weight/fat loss and stabilizing your energy levels, ketosis can have a strong impact on your brain function.
Ketosis for Enhanced Cognitive Function
For ages, researchers thought that the human brain needed glucose for optimum function. However, recent data suggests that tissue in the brain embraces ketone bodies for manufacturing phospholipids, which stimulate neuronal growth and myelination. As such, ketosis can enhance cognition and your mental acuity, whereas glucose may actually do the opposite.
Normally, as part of the aging process, your neurons tend to deteriorate and become slower at transmitting signals to each other. This can lead to deleterious mental conditions like Alzheimer’s disease and dementia.
Remarkably, though, ketosis can prevent and even reverse neurodegeneration. In fact, ketogenic diets have rapidly become a prominent form of treatment for neurodegenerative diseases, and even as an efficient solution for treating epileptic seizures in children.
Research shows that ketogenic diets can dramatically slow neurodegeneration and reduce inflammation in the brain. Contrarily, glucose may be a culprit of uncontrolled inflammation in the brain, which would speed the neurodegenerative process.
Ketosis for Better Physical/Athletic Performance
Ketosis can help boost athletic/physical efficiency through a range of mechanisms, primarily by making your body better at using fatty acids for energy. When you continually restrict carbohydrates, your body ends up being more efficient at using fat for energy, which implies you no longer depend upon short-term glucose reserves for exercising/physical exertion. Basically, you’ll be able to workout longer and harder as fats and ketones are remarkable sources of long-lasting fuel for your body.
Ketosis for Enhanced Health, Wellness, and Longevity
Research studies reveal that ketosis is an incredibly potent means of reducing risk of cancer. Cancer cells usually grow and replicate by metabolizing glucose; ketones, on the other hand, are not readily used by these cells for growth. In fact, many studies have shown the anti-tumorigenic benefits arising from ketosis.
Furthermore, findings contend that ketosis can reduce swelling in tissues throughout the body by blunting the effects of inflammation-promoting proteins called inflammasomes.
How to Quickly Enter Dietary Ketosis
To get your body into a state of dietary ketosis, you have to follow a ketogenic diet plan for several days (ideally no less than one week). This necessitates you consuming lower quantities of carbohydrates, normally less than 30-40 grams each day (although the specific value may vary according to your body’s physiology).
To enter, and stay in, ketosis means you will need to avoid foods such as:
● Sweets and candy
● Sugar-containing beverages (e.g. fruit juice, soft drinks, soda, etc.)
● Processed grains
● Food that contains high amounts of sugar/carbohydrates
Additionally, you will need to limit your consumption of otherwise “healthy” carb sources, consisting of foods such as:
● Whole grains (oats, rice, barley, etc.)
● Starchy veggies (e.g. carrots, sweet potato, and so on)
Your ketogenic diet will revolve largely on proteins, fats, and veggies instead of the above foods. Sticking to a proper ketogenic diet is the most practical and prudent way to enter ketosis and maintain it.
What Are the Signs of Ketosis?
Measuring the levels of ketones your body is quite simple really; you do not have to go to a medical professional or clinic to have tests done. In fact, a routine urine test with keto strips can be done in the comfort of your home.
There are also ketone body blood monitors you can purchase at most retail pharmacies or online that are quite similar to a blood sugar monitor. Measuring your ketone body production through blood monitor is more accurate and reliable than urine testing or breathalyzers.
With that being said, you don’t actually need to analytically test your body fluids to confirm that you’re in ketosis. There are various signs of ketosis that present themselves readily once you have been in ketosis for a brief period of time, including:
● Fruity smelling breath and urine (due to acetate production)
● Xerostomia (dry mouth)
● Feeling thirsty despite drinking adequate water
● Lowered appetite and cravings for sweets
It’s quite safe to say that if you present any two of those signs, you’re in ketosis.
What is Ketoacidosis?
Ketoacidosis is a dysfunction or glitch in the body where an extreme production of ketones occurs. It usually happens with people that have type 1 diabetes and don’t take their insulin. Symptoms like stomach pain, nausea, vomiting, and loss of awareness which eventually leads to coma. If not treated with urgency, can lead to death.
Many people (including healthcare professionals) end up mixing up ketosis and ketoacidosis due to the similar names and not researching the differences between the two terms.
Here’s what you need to know
If you have a normal working pancreas, it’s nearly impossible to get into the state of ketoacidosis. If ketone levels get dangerously high, the pancreas will generate insulin as a safety net to protect you from jumping into ketoacidosis. So if you’re healthy, it’s really a non-factor.
Long story short, as long as you aren’t diabetic, you’re probably safe from ketoacidosis.
What Does Ketosis Feel Like?
For the most part, being in ketosis as part of keto diet plan will feel ‘normal’ with a variety of added benefits. For example, many people note that they feel mentally sharper and are able to focus better while in ketosis. Digestion tends to be improved as well, since common food allergens like gluten and lactose are not typically part of a ketogenic diet.
Most individuals will also experience more stable energy throughout the day, since fatty acids and ketones are forms of long-term energy. When you subsist on a carb-based diet, you’re prone to blood sugar swings due to the inherent nature of carbohydrate/glucose metabolism.
A slight exception for being in ketosis is the initial week or two when you make the switch to a ketogenic diet. This phase of being in ketosis may bring about what is known as the “keto flu,” which makes you feel a bit lethargic and out of sorts for a brief period while your body adapts to new energy sources. Don’t fret, though, it passes quickly and you’ll feel much better once the transition is complete.
Ketosis vs. Ketoacidosis
When discussing the ketogenic diet plan, it’s important to distinguish ketosis from ketoacidosis, as the two are identical in origin but not the same physical state. Both involve higher levels of ketones in the body and fat metabolism. However, unlike ketosis, ketoacidosis is a life threatening medical condition often observed in diabetic patients that occurs when ketone levels in the body become poisonous.
Key Take-Home Points about Ketosis
Dietary ketosis is the outcome of your body producing a sufficient amount of ketone bodies. There are 3 main ketone bodies in humans: acetate, acetoacetate, and beta-hydroxybutyrate. These ketone bodies are made naturally as part of your body metabolizing fat (both from your diet and from body fat/adipose tissue).
Diabetic ketoacidosis (DKB) is not the same as dietary ketosis; DKB is a potentially lethal condition caused by insufficient insulin availability in a type-1 diabetic. It is much different, physiologically, from dietary ketosis, and requires medical attention.
You must limit carbohydrate intake to approximately 40g or less per day to reach a state of dietary ketosis. Some people will have to employ trial and error to figure out the correct limit of carbohydrates they can consume daily (e.g. smaller individuals may require less to stay in ketosis and vice versa).
Dietary ketosis has numerous health advantages and therapeutic benefits, extending from increased weight/fat loss, enhanced cognitive function, stable energy levels, lowered inflammation, and improved physical performance.
There are a variety of methods to measure your ketone levels, consisting of urine strips, blood analyzers, and breathalyzers. Urine strips are the most cost-effective for checking your ketone levels, however blood analyzers are the best option for accuracy and reliability (and worth the extra cost in our opinion).
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