What Is Ketosis? - Definition & Symptoms

Instructor: Danielle Haak

Danielle has a PhD in Natural Resource Sciences and a MSc in Biological Sciences

What is ketosis? It's actually a normal part of your body's metabolic processes, but sometimes things get out of balance, and too many ketones begin building up. Learn how this happens, what the symptoms are, and how it's treated.

What is Ketosis?

Ketosis is actually a normal part of your body's metabolic processes. Your body derives energy from breaking down the food you eat, and a lot of your initial energy comes from carbohydrates. However, when the body no longer has any carbohydrate stores to draw upon, it will begin burning fat for energy. This results in a buildup of ketones.

So if, for example, you are on an extremely low-carb diet, your body will switch to make energy through the process of ketosis. Ketosis can also be triggered on purpose to help burn fat levels. However, high levels of ketones in the blood can sometimes hurt your body, because it leads to dehydration and alters the chemical composition of your blood.

Symptoms of Ketosis

You can test your body's ketosis levels by buying strips that test your urine for four types of ketones that can be present. High ketone levels can be dangerous because they actually alter your blood, making it more acidic (known as ketoacidosis). If the blood becomes too acidic, it is no longer compatible with the body, and it can cause coma or even death.

Inducing ketoacidosis is possible when there is an over-consumption of alcohol, extreme fasting or starvation, or over-active thyroid functioning. If a diet is well-balanced, low carbohydrate consumption should not induce ketosis; however, avoiding carbohydrates all together can lead to problems. Proper hydration is important all the time, though it is particularly important during dieting of any kind. Diabetics are at risk of extreme ketosis when their insulin levels are too low, and this is known as diabetic ketoacidosis.

Common symptoms of ketoacidosis include intense thirst or dry mouth, excessive urination, feeling tired, difficulties breathing, abdominal pain, dry or flushed skin, nausea, confusion, or fruity-smelling breath. If any of these symptoms appear, one should seek professional medical attention.

Common symptoms of ketoacidosis

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