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.

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