Odds are you’ve heard the word “ketosis” at some point, and likely know it has something to do with eating low amounts of carbohydrates. Still though, many people don’t grasp what exactly ketosis means from a physiological standpoint, nor do they understand the vast benefits it can have.
Lucky for you, we will cover all the pertinent science of ketosis in this article. Better yet, we will give you an overview of how to reap the benefits of ketosis in your daily life!
At its most basic, ketosis is a natural metabolic process that your body uses to survive during times of food restriction (especially carbohydrate restriction).
Technically, this type of ketosis is referred to as “nutritional ketosis”; people with type-1 diabetes may achieve ketosis by not using sufficient insulin. If ketones build to a critical point in the body in diabetics, a condition called diabetic ketoacidosis may result (which usually requires medical attention).
It’s crucial to understand that diabetic ketoacidosis is not the same as nutritional ketosis. The former can be a life-threatening condition if left uncontrolled as it makes the blood very acidic. Nutritional ketosis is safe and means having a healthy amount of ketones in the body, which imparts many benefits.
Normally, your body thrives on glucose (sugar), which is why carbohydrates provide bursts of energy. In fact, this is why athletes, especially endurance runners, stock up on carbohydrates before sporting events.
Moreover, the brain typically uses glucose to function. It’s important to note that pretty much all the carbohydrates you consume (regardless of the food source), aside from a select few, are broken down to glucose in the body. The process of breaking down carbohydrates to produce ATP (the energetic ‘currency’ of cells) is called glycolysis.
However, when glucose isn’t readily available in the blood stream (usually due to carbohydrate restriction), the body must get its energy from your adipose tissue (fat stores). Through a process called lipolysis, the body liberates fatty acids so they can be sent to the liver and oxidized for energy. As a result of this process, ketone bodies are created (thus the name “ketosis”).
There are three main types of ketone bodies your body produces when ketosis takes place:
- Acetoacetic acid/Acetoacetate (AcAc)
- Beta-hydroxybutyrate (BHB)
These ketone bodies can be used as an alternative source of energy by many tissues in the body. So what are the benefits of ketosis, you ask? Well, where to begin…
The main reason ketogenic diets have received so much praise in recent years is due to their beneficial effects on fat loss. When you reach nutritional ketosis, a variety of physiological adaptations take place, including:
- Increased breakdown of body fat. As noted earlier, ketosis is the result of the body breaking down fat stores to produce energy. Naturally, this encourages fat loss since carbohydrates are no longer the preferred source of energy.
- Reduced hunger and appetite. Research shows that when your body is producing ketone bodies regularly, your food cravings are lower. Contrarily, consuming a carbohydrate-based diet can cause appetite to fluctuate up and down in uncontrolled manners, leading to increased risk of overeating. As such, ketosis helps reduce overall food intake and speed the fat loss process.
- Improved blood sugar regulation and insulin sensitivity. Typical Western diets contain a large amount of refined carbohydrates, which often results in blood sugar swings and resistance to the effects of insulin.Ketosis, on the other hand, actually enhances the effects of insulin and helps stabilize blood sugar values. This means your body is better at partitioning nutrients to favorable tissues, such as skeletal muscle, and you’re less likely to suffer from energy crashes.
Besides enhancing fat loss and stabilizing energy levels, ketosis has a wide array of health benefits..
- Cognitive benefits: For decades, researchers thought that our brain thrived on glucose for optimal function.However, recent data suggests that brain tissue actually embraces ketone bodies for synthesizing phospholipids, which encourage neuronal growth and myelination. As such, ketosis can enhance cognition and mood, whereas glucose may do the opposite.
- Neuroprotective properties: As we age, neurons tend to degenerate and become slower at transmitting signals to each other. In turn, we become more likely to develop health conditions like Alzheimer’s or Parkinson’s diseases.Interestingly, though, ketosis (ketogenic diets) have grown rapidly as a form of treatment for neurodegenerative diseases, and even as an effective remedy for seizures in children.Research shows that ketosis can drastically slow neurodegeneration and inflammation in the brain. Contrarily, glucose can accelerate inflammatory response in the brain and speed the neurodegenerative process.
- Athletic performance enhancement: Ketosis can help enhance athletic performance through a variety of mechanisms, chiefly by making the body ‘fat-adapted’.When you restrict carbohydrates consistently, your body becomes more efficient at using fat for energy, which means you no longer depend on short-term glucose reserves for athletic performance. Basically, you’ll be able to train longer and harder as fatty acids are a superior source of long-term energy.
- Cancer-fighting properties: Research shows that ketosis is an incredibly potent cancer fighting state (even in malignant tumors). Cancer cells typically thrive on glucose for replicating and growing; ketones, on the other hand, are not readily usable by these cells. In fact, one study found that ketone bodies increase the survival rates of mice with systemic cancer by as much as 70% in comparison to control mice.
- Anti-Inflammatory benefits: Research suggests that ketosis can reduce inflammation in tissues throughout the body by blunting the effects of inflammation-promoting proteins called inflammasomes.
To get your body into a state of nutritional ketosis, you need to follow a ketogenic diet regimen. This means you will be eating lower amounts of carbohydrates, generally less than 40 grams per day (although the exact value will vary by individual).
Adhering to a proper ketogenic diet means avoiding foods such as:
- Candy and sugar-laden snacks
- Sugary beverages like soda and fruit juice
- Refined grains
- Any foods that are high in sugar/carbohydrates
Moreover, consuming healthy carbohydrate sources is generally advised against as well; including foods, such as:
- Whole grains
- Starchy vegetables (e.g. potatoes, carrots, etc.)
Advances in dietary supplementation means you can also consider using an exogenous ketone supplement to rapidly help your body achieve the benefits of ketosis.
Measuring the levels of ketones your body is producing is quite simple actually; no need to go to a doctor to have tests done. A simple urine test with keto strips can be done at home.
There are also ketone monitors you can buy that measure blood ketones much like a blood glucose meter, although they tend to be pretty expensive.
Some simple cues that suggest your body is producing nominal amounts of ketones are:
- Fruity, acetone smelling breath
- Dry mouth/increased thirst
- Less hunger/appetite
- Nutritional Ketosis is the process by which the body produces ketone bodies as a byproduct of fatty acid metabolism.
- Diabetic ketoacidosis is dangerous condition induced by insufficient insulin supply in type-1 diabetics. It is not the same as nutritional ketosis.
- There are three main ketone bodies in humans: acetate, acetoacetate, and beta-hydroxybutyrate.
- You must restrict carbohydrate intake to roughly 40g or less per day to reach a state of nutritional ketosis. Some people will have to employ trial and error to figure out the proper amount of carbohydrates to consume.
- Nutritional ketosis has many health benefits, extending from increased fat loss, enhanced cognition, reduced inflammation, and improved athletic performance.
- There are a variety of ways to measure your ketone levels, including urine strips, blood monitors, and breath analyzers. Urine strips are the most affordable, but blood monitors tend to be the most accurate/reliable.