Ketosis is a metabolic state in which the body produces ketones to be used as fuel by some organs so that glycogen can be reserved for organs that depend on it. It is important when looking for information on ketosis that it is not confused for ketoacidosis – a very unhealthy state of being. It is unfortunately all too common for information sources to conflate these two and thus pronounce ketosis as bad.
Because glucose is commonly accepted as the body’s primary fuel source, putting the body into a state where burning something other than glucose for fuel is subsequently regarded as a form of starvation. Yet, the human body has a well-defined mechanism for literally burning fat for fuel (I think it’s important to realize that even in the presence of glucose, some tissues in the human body still prefer to use fat for fuel. Ironically, the heart is one of those, despite the fact that the intended purpose of low-fat diets is to save your heart). When the body uses fat as energy, it’s in a state of ketosis.
When you stop eating glucose (ie: carbohydrates), your body begins the process of ketosis. In ketosis, the liver starts unpacking fat cells so that your body can use the fatty acids for fuel. It also produces ketone bodies, which the body also uses for fuel – especially the brain. The benefits of ketosis are numerous – lowered blood pressure, lower cholesterol, low triglycerides, improved insulin sensitivity, and weight loss without regard to calorie count. Other reported benefits are common – lack of hunger, lack of cravings, improved mood, lessened anxiety, and greater mental concentration. Variations on ketogenic diets are used to control various medical conditions including acne, heartburn and acid reflux, thyroid problems, epilepsy, and type 2 diabetes.
Negative side effects of a ketogenic diet include light-headedness, headache, lethargy, weakness, feeling cold, diarrhea, and nausea. These side effects are only temporary and go away once the body has fully made the switch from burning glucose to burning fat (within the first week). They are almost universally acknowleged as symptoms of withdrawal from sugar.
The body is very capable of regulating ketone bodies, so unless there is a major problem (Alcoholics and type 1 diabetics often have problems with ketone regulation), you should be just fine. For those people who do have a major problem, however, they can develop ketoacidosis. Essentially, their bodies no longer regulate the ketones in their blood, and they start building up. The more they build up, the more they change the acidity of the blood in your body, and that’s very dangerous. The complications of ketoacidosis include halitosis, extreme thirst, frequent urination, contant fatigue, dry skin, abdominal pain, difficulty breathing, and mental confusion.
If you’re looking to lose weight without eating less, improve your mood and mental acuity, or even to solve some common health issues like acne or acid reflux, a ketogenic diet (also called a homeostatic diet) may be exactly the right tool for you. Just keep an eye out for the symptoms of ketoacidosis, and you should have no problems at all once you get past those nasty withdrawal symptoms.