Ketosis: what it is, causes, symptoms and consequences

Ketosis is a process that can take place spontaneously or induced, from the so-called “ketogenic diet”. Keep reading and we’ll tell you more.

Ketosis can occur naturally in the body, for metabolic reasons, or induced through a type of diet. In this process, the body uses its own fats or those from food to produce energy .

It is said that this brings some benefits, for example, in the control of overweight. Although there are also some unwanted consequences related to gastrointestinal, metabolic and bone disorders.

Next we will know in more detail what ketosis is, how it occurs and what its symptoms are.

What does “ketosis” mean?

According to its etymology, this term comes from keto or keto (in Latin), which has to do with ketones. Added to the suffix -osis , which is a frequent formant in names of diseases, it denotes an abnormal condition, a degeneration, a wear and tear, or a disorder.

In short, the meaning of the word ketosis in the current field of medicine refers to a condition in which there is an abnormally high level of ketones in the body . Ketones are organic compounds that have a carbonyl group attached to carbon atoms.

According to research, in the absence of carbohydrates, fats are broken down for energy, producing ketone bodies in the liver. The best known are 3-hydroxybutyrate (3HB) and acetoacetate (AcAc). These are transported to the tissues to enable the proper functioning of the body.

Possible Causes of Ketosis

Ketosis occurs when the body begins to use fat as its main source of energy , instead of carbohydrates. Especially when these are not available in sufficient quantity.

There are several possible explanations or causes, which are as follows:

  • Energetic metabolism of lipids activated during pregnancy and also in childhood.
  • Diets in which there is a low consumption of carbohydrates.
  • Exercise or strenuous physical activity.
  • Lack of growth hormone.
  • prolonged fasting periods.
  • Diet very high in fat.
  • metabolic disorders.
  • Diabetes and hypoglycemia.
  • Alcohol poisoning.

Diabetes is a condition that has ketosis among its serious complications.

The Ketogenic Diet

The so-called ketogenic diet or keto diet is precisely done in order to burn fat, reducing the consumption of carbohydrates . This refers to sugars, flours and tubers, among others. At the same time, the consumption of good fats increases .

On such a diet, carbohydrate intake should not account for more than 10% of total calories per day. Thanks to this, the generation of ketone bodies should be increased.

Symptoms of ketosis

Whether due to dieting, metabolic, pathological or other reasons, due to ketosis changes occur in the functioning of the organism , which are manifested through various signs. The main ones are the following:

  • Weakness.
  • Headaches.
  • Loss of appetite.
  • Bad breath (halitosis).
  • Constant feeling of thirst.
  • Occasional nausea and vomiting.
  • Increased frequency of urination.
  • Constipation or, conversely, diarrhea.
  • Sensation of bitter or metallic taste in the mouth.

In particular, bad breath is experienced or perceived during fasting . Although this and other symptoms may disappear after a few days, once the body adjusts to the keto diet , for example.

On the other hand, urine and blood tests can detect the increase in ketone bodies. Ketosis is considered when their concentration is above 0.5 mmol/L .

However, this can vary according to the level of hydration. There may even be false negatives.

Does ketosis have benefits?

The ketosis process provides enough energy for the body to function , both physically and mentally. However, as a result of fasting or a low carbohydrate diet, the body can begin to burn stored fat.

This is good news for people who are overweight or obese. For this reason, there are studies in which it is stated that ketogenic diets can improve cardiovascular health, by reducing the percentages of body fat.

Ketosis has been associated with reducing the risk of developing various types of cancer , especially by reducing tumor size, according to some studies on the subject. In this sense, it is considered that glucose is a food for cancer cells.

Likewise, it has been found that ketogenic diets also provide benefits in the prevention and treatment of type 2 diabetes, improving the glycemic profile, insulin sensitivity and plasmatic levels of glycosylated hemoglobin.

The use of the ketogenic diet to treat neurological conditions , such as epilepsy, is in an experimental phase. And although the investigations report positive results, the neuroprotective mechanism of action is still not very clear.

Health consequences

Notwithstanding the above, ketosis also carries health risks . In this regard, due to some metabolic disorder, when the body fails to expel ketone bodies, it presents an elevation in their blood concentrations.

Then, metabolic acidosis can develop. And if the blood becomes too acidic, it affects the functioning of the organs, leading to coma and death.

Studies describe other health consequences of ketosis:

  • Gastrointestinal disorders: constipation, nausea and increased gastroesophageal reflux.
  • Metabolic Changes:  Increased serum cholesterol, hypocalcemia, hypomagnesemia, low carnitine, anemia, and deficiencies of selenium, copper, and other minerals.
  • Bone alterations: it can interfere with the metabolism of phosphocalcium and vitamin D, increasing the risk of developing osteopenia and suffering fractures.
  • Cases of renal lithiasis, pancreatitis and gallbladder lithiasis have been described.

However, there are some ideas surrounding ketosis that have no basis. For example, there is no evidence that the keto diet affects hair loss.

Ketosis stimulates the pancreas. This organ is one of the most affected by ketosis and this explains the effect on metabolism and diabetes.

Caution with diets

The ketogenic diet can be very restrictive, so the body will suffer at some point, either during the adaptation or if it lasts over time. For this reason, it is recommended not to extend it beyond 2 or 3 months, even with interruptions.

On the other hand, the ketogenic diet is contraindicated in certain cases . These include people over 65 years of age, pregnant or lactating women, patients with liver or kidney failure, cardiovascular disease, a history of stroke or gallstones.

Ketosis brings benefits, but also complications. It cannot be taken lightly. Therefore, it is worth remembering that this and any other diet should be done under the guidance and supervision of a health professional.

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