What Does Ketosis Mean?

low-carb diets can cause ketosis

Today, many peo­ple on the Inter­net are urg­ing peo­ple to eat a “keto” diet. A keto diet is so high in fat and so low in car­bo­hy­drates that it caus­es peo­ple to go into a state of keto­sis. Keto­sis means that “ketone bod­ies” have built up in the blood­stream. Ketone bod­ies are chem­i­cals that are pro­duced by an alter­na­tive method of burn­ing fat. Keto­sis does not mean that you are los­ing weight. It real­ly just means that your liv­er is turn­ing a lot of pro­tein and oth­er non­car­bo­hy­drates to sug­ar. No human soci­ety has ever eat­en a keto­genic diet. So the long-term safe­ty of keto­genic diets is ques­tion­able.

The real Paleo diet was not keto

Many peo­ple claim that the keto diet is the nat­ur­al diet that peo­ple ate dur­ing the ear­ly stone age (Pale­olith­ic era). How­ev­er, most peo­ple in the stone age would have eat­en a heav­i­ly plant-based diet. They would have got­ten a lot of their calo­ries from starchy plant mate­r­i­al, such as roots and tubers. In fact, anthro­pol­o­gists have been find­ing starch grains in the tar­tar of the teeth of Pale­olith­ic skele­tons.

It is easy and safe to dig up roots and tubers. In con­trast, it is hard and dan­ger­ous to kill big ani­mals. Also, you can dig up a lot of roots and tubers in the time it takes to catch a fish. As a result, stone age peo­ple would have got­ten more than enough car­bo­hy­drate to keep them from going into keto­sis.

Even the Inuit did not eat a keto diet

Even the Inuit’s (Eski­mos’) tra­di­tion­al win­ter diet of fat­ty meats and fish did not pro­duce keto­sis. Stud­ies done in the ear­ly 20th cen­tu­ry found that the Inu­it did not get keto­sis unless they were fast­ing. The Inu­it were eat­ing raw meat. Some of their meat was fresh-killed. The rest had frozen imme­di­ate­ly after being killed. Unlike the meat you would buy at a super­mar­ket, this fresh or rapid­ly frozen meat still con­tained a starch called glyco­gen. The Inu­it also used a method of meat preser­va­tion that con­vert­ed some pro­tein to sug­ar. As a result, the Inuit’s tra­di­tion­al diet con­tained a sur­pris­ing­ly large amount of car­bo­hy­drate: enough to keep peo­ple out of keto­sis.

Low-carb diets cause rapid aging, early death

It is good that the Inu­it diet did not cause keto­sis. The Inu­it already had extreme­ly high rates of osteo­poro­sis, because of the meta­bol­ic aci­do­sis caused by their high-pro­tein diet. Adding even more acid, in the form of ketone bod­ies, would have made this prob­lem even worse. Eat­ing a lot of cal­ci­um, in the form of fish bones, did not solve this prob­lem. In fact, high-cal­ci­um diets actu­al­ly increase your risk for osteo­poro­sis.

Ketosis does not mean weight loss

Some “Paleo” advo­cates claim that keto­sis means that you are burn­ing fat and are there­fore los­ing weight. Some of them even claim that you can­not lose weight or burn fat unless you are in keto­sis, which is total non­sense. The Krebs cycle, which is the body’s nor­mal way of burn­ing fat, does not pro­duce ketone bod­ies. Hav­ing ketones in your urine does not even guar­an­tee that you are los­ing weight. To lose weight, even on a keto­genic diet, you must burn up more calo­ries than you take in. Even on a keto­genic diet, you can still gain weight. The burst of insulin that is released in response to eat­ing foods that con­tain pro­tein could dri­ve excess fat from the food into the fat cells.

Ketosis means that your liver is making a lot of sugar

The keto­sis does not mean that you are los­ing weight. It is sim­ply a sign that your liv­er is mak­ing sug­ar (glu­cose) out of pro­teins and oth­er non­car­bo­hy­drates. Your liv­er is work­ing so hard to make this glu­cose that it is using up one of the chem­i­cals that it needs for burn­ing fat com­plete­ly. As a result, some of the fat gets bro­ken down through an abnor­mal path­way that pro­duces ketone bod­ies.

Is ketosis harmful?

Dur­ing a fast, a lit­tle bit of keto­sis is good. Your brain can use a lit­tle bit of the ketone bod­ies as an alter­na­tive fuel. How­ev­er, the severe keto­sis that can occur in untreat­ed type 1 dia­betes is a life-threat­en­ing emer­gency. Before the dis­cov­ery of insulin, type 1 dia­betes always led to ketoaci­do­sis, coma, and death. Ketoaci­do­sis means that the keto­sis is so bad that it low­ers the blood pH. Dia­bet­ic ketoaci­do­sis is a com­bi­na­tion of high blood sug­ar, dehy­dra­tion, low blood pH, and an elec­trolyte imbal­ance. These prob­lems must be cor­rect­ed care­ful­ly, at the same time, in an inten­sive care unit.

In a healthy per­son, the ketone lev­els in the blood are usu­al­ly less than 1 mg/dL. Nor­mal­ly, the ketone body con­cen­tra­tion in urine is too low to show up on a test strip. You can boost your pro­duc­tion of ketone bod­ies by fast­ing or by eat­ing a low-car­bo­hy­drate diet. You can get into a state of keto­sis either way. How­ev­er, the effects of a fast are far dif­fer­ent from the effects of a low-car­bo­hy­drate diet. The Paleo advo­cates believe that eat­ing bacon and eggs—but no toast—would pro­duce the same effect as fast­ing. It is a fool­ish belief.

Sci­en­tists are only begin­ning to under­stand the poten­tial ben­e­fits of peri­od­ic fast­ing. Fast­ing is a sure-fire way to lose some weight. Fast­ing can also help to sup­press a run­away inflam­ma­to­ry response. A med­ical­ly super­vised water-only fast is also a use­ful first step in an elim­i­na­tion diet. The goal of an elim­i­na­tion diet is to iden­ti­fy which foods are mak­ing you sick.

Should you believe the Paleo hype?

Many peo­ple swear by the Paleo diet. They claim to have eat­en it for months or even years. They claim that it made them thin and healthy. Yet there is room for doubt. No soci­eties any­where on earth have eat­en a keto­genic diet. Also, the soci­eties with a high-fat, low-carb diet have rapid aging and a short life span. In con­trast, the peo­ple who eat a high-car­bo­hy­drate diet based on starch­es and veg­eta­bles can have long and healthy lives. The Chi­na-Cor­nell Oxford Project found that the less ani­mal-source food a pop­u­la­tion eats, the low­er its aver­age cho­les­terol lev­el is and the low­er its risk of death from chron­ic dis­ease is. Eat­ing even small amounts of ani­mal-source food is dan­ger­ous.

The side effects of the keto diet

A keto­genic diet can sup­press seizures in chil­dren with severe epilep­sy. Yet in those chil­dren, the diet can have side effects. It can cause dehy­dra­tion, con­sti­pa­tion, vom­it­ing, high cho­les­terol, and kid­ney stones. Some chil­dren have had severe side effects. These include heart rhythm prob­lems, inflam­ma­tion of the pan­creas, and loss of cal­ci­um from the bones. In short, a keto­genic diet is use­ful for man­ag­ing some rare but seri­ous dis­eases. How­ev­er, the keto diet s dan­ger­ous in the long run.

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