Ketoacidosis and the Keto Diet: Is There Any Relation?

Ketosis and ketoacidosis look and sound a lot alike, but they mean different things and their effect on the body is very different. One can help you live a longer, healthier life while the other can be life-threatening. Because of this confusion of terms, some people believe the ketogenic diet is “bad” or “dangerous,” but this assumption is simply not true.

What Is Diabetic Ketoacidosis (DKA)?

Ketoacidosis is also known as diabetic ketoacidosis (DKA). It is a potentially fatal condition that occurs when someone, usually a diabetic, has dangerously high levels of blood sugar and ketones. The combination turns your blood acidic and affects the function of many internal organs, especially the liver and kidneys.


Ketoacidosis vs. Ketosis

Being in ketosis simply means ketones are present in the bloodstream. Ketones are produced by the liver when your body is burning fat. Ketosis is not dangerous. Your body produces ketones when you follow a ketogenic diet or fast.

Causes of Ketoacidosis

The main cause of DKA is poor management of diabetes. Missing a dose of insulin or using the wrong amount can lead to DKA. Other causes of DKA are infection, illness, malnutrition, dehydration, and drug or alcohol abuse.

DKA can happen very quickly — in less than 24 hours — and requires immediate medical treatment. It affects people with Type 1 diabetes most commonly because their body does not produce insulin. Those with Type 2 diabetes can also develop DKA if their insulin production falls low enough.

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Symptoms of Ketoacidosis

A person who is following a ketogenic diet and is in ketosis may have bad breath. This is due to acetone, a ketone that gets excreted by the breath. It can smell fruity, but not in a pleasant way.

The symptoms of ketoacidosis are very different. Vomiting, extreme thirst, and stomach pain are all signs of DKA. The person may also seem confused and be short of breath. In fact, these symptoms are often the first sign that a person has Type 1 diabetes.

For people under the age of 24 who have diabetes, ketoacidosis is the leading cause of death. Somewhere between 2 and 5% of all people who develop ketoacidosis die as a result.

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Is There a Risk of Ketoacidosis on the Ketogenic Diet?

Very little. The exception would be for a person who has diabetes, but someone with diabetes needs to be vigilant about this condition regardless of diet.

Diabetics who are intentionally losing weight will often have ketones in their blood. This does not increase the likelihood of ketoacidosis so long as their blood sugar stays under control. The risk for DKA increases when blood sugar goes above 250mg/dL (14mmol/L). A blood ketone meter is used to test for this.

To be on the safe side, test your ketone levels and try to keep them under 3-5mmol/L.


In Conclusion

The ketogenic diet is a safe, effective way to lose weight and feel great. Its only relation to ketoacidosis is in the name. A ketogenic diet can be one of the healthiest things you can do for your body, so now that the confusion is cleared up, don’t let fancy words stand in the way of taking steps to a healthier lifestyle.

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