What are Ketones?

Your body normally has a mix of energy sources from carbohydrates proteins and fats. Carbohydrate foods include grains like pasta, rice, bread and fruits, dairy and starchy vegetables. Usually, half or more of a person’s food intake is carbohydrates, so that is a primary energy source. When we eat carbohydrates, our body breaks them down into glucose. Glucose is then used as energy. Ketones are molecules made in the body when fat is used as an energy source instead of glucose.  

Ketosis  

Ketosis refers to the presence of ketones in the blood. Ketosis occurs when you are consuming little to no carbohydrates or no food at all. With no food or carbohydrates, the body no longer has quick access to glucose, so it switches to fat. Using fat as energy makes ketones which are also known as ketosis. Those usually on the ketogenic diet have ketosis.  

Diabetic Ketoacidosis 

Diabetic Ketoacidosis (DKA) is a serious complication of type 1 diabetes. Those with type 1 diabetes have no insulin production and have to take it as a medication. If they don’t take their insulin, the blood glucose becomes very high in their blood. They need insulin to allow the blood glucose into the cells. With no insulin, the body thinks it is starving, even though the blood glucose levels are very high. This triggers the use of body fat as an energy source. Although it sounds the same as ketosis, the blood ketones become very high instead of moderately elevated. The extremely high ketone levels cause the pH of the blood to change, becoming acidic. This is very dangerous for those with diabetes, as ketones can further damage the organs. To prevent this, those with type 1 diabetes need to frequently monitor their blood glucose levels and take their insulin.  

Ketosis vs Ketoacidosis  

Ketosis is the scientific name for the process in our body when fat is used instead of glucose for energy. During ketosis, our body relies on ketones whereas ketoacidosis is a deadly change in the blood pH. Ketosis can occur in anyone who is fasting or eating a very low carbohydrate diet. Ketoacidosis can occur in those with type 1 diabetes and is the rate in those with type 2 diabetes. If you want to check your ketone levels, you can request a urinary or blood test at your physician’s office. If you have diabetes and want to follow a ketogenic diet, talk to your doctor or health care provider first  

References: 

American Diabetes Association. DKA (Ketoacidosis) & Ketones. https://www.diabetes.org/diabetes/complications/dka-ketoacidosis-ketones 

Blair O’Neill & Paolo Raggi. The Ketogenic Diet: Pros and Cons 

https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/31805451/