Is Ketosis Safe? The Million Dollar Question Answered
There’s a common misconception that being in a state of ketosis may be harmful to the body. This misconception arises because nutritional ketosis is being confused with ketoacidosis and the two things couldn’t be more different. Is ketosis safe? You bet!
What is Ketosis?
Nutritional ketosis is when the body burns its own fat as its primary fuel source. For a person to enter a state of nutritional ketosis, they will need to be eating a low carbohydrate diet. This is because in order for the body to switch from sugar burning mode (which is its default setting whilst carbohydrates are being consumed) to fat burning mode, the body needs to deplete its stores of stored sugar (glycogen). I was shocked to learn that in a fully grown adult, there’s only about 5g of glucose (sugar) in their entire blood stream, which is about one level teaspoon! When excess sugar is consumed, the body converts excess sugar to to fat, and stores it as a backup fuel supply. The fat is stored and deposited as body fat – enabling the body to access it as a fuel source if glycogen levels were to drop in the future.
When carbohydrates are consumed, the pancreas is stimulated to excrete insulin. Excess glucose in the blood stream is toxic and the body does everything that it can to get rid of it. Insulin’s job is to send a signal to the brain to tell the body to be in sugar burning mode in order for the body to get rid of the excess sugar circulating in the blood stream. Whilst there is excess sugar present, the body will never switch to fat burning mode. Whilst a person consumes high amounts of carbohydrates and excessive protein, their glycogen levels will never deplete enough to send the signal from the brain to switch fuel burning modes, preventing the kickstart of nutritional ketosis. This is due to decreased levels of ketones in the blood combined with the presence of insulin that acts as a blocker.
Insulin resistance can be described as “carbohydrate intolerance”. I found this description very enlightening whilst listening to a recent podcast on Living La Vida Low Carb, by Dr. Jay Wortman. He then goes on to state that as a person develops insulin resistance, their body makes more insulin in order to regulate their blood glucose levels. This can then lead to hyperinsulinemia because the pancreas is creating excessive levels of insulin to process the glucose and burns itself out, meaning that it’s no longer able to regulate blood sugar levels by processing the excess glucose via insulin. High blood sugar levels over a prolonged period of time will result in insulin resistance and can lead to hyperinsulinemia too. If left untreated, insulin resistance will undoubtedly lead to metabolic syndrome, heart disease, obesity and type 2 diabetes. For these people, ketosis is not only safe in this context – it could be used to prevent serious illness developing later in life.
What is Ketoacidosis?
Ketoacidosis is an extremely serious condition that all type 1 diabetics are at risk from. It occurs when there are high levels of both ketones and glucose in the blood. The inability for a type 1 diabetic’s pancreas to secrete insulin results in no signal getting sent to the brain to tell the body to process the glucose in the blood. This means that the level continues to rise as sugar is consumed, creating toxic levels in the blood stream with devastating consequences. The combination of high levels of ketones and glucose turn the blood acidic making the condition extremely dangerous and life threatening.
What is the difference between Ketosis and Ketoacidosis?
The key difference is that a state of ketosis means the presence of ketones and lower glucose levels in the blood. Ketoacidosis means high levels of both ketones and glucose in the blood. If the glucose levels of a healthy person did rise, the pancreas would secrete insulin naturally to process the glucose. By burning it as its primary fuel source and converting any excess into fat stores as an emergency fuel source its level would reduce in the blood. A type 1 diabetic needs to administer insulin manually in order for their body to process the glucose because their pancreas is unable to produce the insulin naturally. If a type 1 diabetic was to consume a high carbohydrate meal and not administer insulin, ketoacidosis would occur and their blood would become toxic and acidic. If left untreated, they would slip into a coma, with possible fatal consequences.
So, is ketosis safe?
Yes Ketosis is safe. Now crack on and enjoy the lean body, clarity of mind and additional health benefits that come from being in a state of nutritional ketosis!