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One of the new buzz words in the diet and nutrition arena is ketosis. People are asking each other: What is ketosis? Are you in ketosis? What does ketosis feel like? Is ketosis safe? How long should it last? Lots of questions surround the issue of ketosis and, so apparently do the number of opinions from both health professionals and those who have followed the ketogenic diet.
What is ketosis?
Ketosis is a normal state of being in which the body doesn’t have enough carbohydrates from food intake to provide energy for cells to burn for energy. Therefore, when you dramatically reduce your carb intake, your body makes ketones, which are a byproducts of the natural ketosis cycle and which burn fat rather than carbs.
What you should know about ketosis
Some people talk about ketosis as if it were the holy grail of weight loss and improved cognitive function. They have been led to believe there is something special or alluring about ketosis. The truth, however, is that ketones are substances that we need to monitor closely, especially if you have other health issues. For example, when people have uncontrolled diabetes, the development of ketosis is an indication they are not using enough insulin. Ketosis can be a dangerous situation for individuals if ketones accumulate and the toxins cannot be eliminated properly and promptly.
The state of being in ketosis may make some people feel more alert or help them lose weight, but it does not work the same way for every person. In fact, the process of entering and being in ketosis is typically associated with some unpleasant symptoms often referred to collectively as ketosis flu. Those symptoms can include fatigue, dizziness, difficulty focusing, nausea, irritability, stomach upset, sugar cravings, and difficulty falling asleep and can last for several days to 4 to 6 weeks or longer.
In some cases, ketosis goes too far and develops into ketoacidosis. This toxic condition is characterized by an accumulation of ketones in the bloodstream, which turns acidic. Ketoacidosis can cause coma or death.
What is cyclical ketosis?
A growing number of experts are suggesting that people who want to try the ketogenic diet consider cyclical ketosis. Cyclical ketosis means that you consume foods that put you in ketosis for some days and then consume other foods that bring you out of for a number of days, on a cyclical basis.
According to an expert on the ketogenic diet, Dr. Josh Axe, DNM, DC, CNS, the human body was not designed to remain in a state of ketosis indefinitely. Instead, he recommends cycling—which you can do by alternating days of consuming high levels of carbs and low fat with eating low amounts of carbs and high levels of fat. This approach, says Axe, “is very helpful for supporting you in achieving your health and weight loss goals.”
Ketogenic diet cycling also allows you to replenish your glycogen (carb) supply, support recovery from vigorous physical exercise, and restore your energy levels. A possible approach, says Axe, might be staying on a strict ketogenic diet for three days and then loading up with carbs (no more than 100 grams) on two days. This variation “can achieve and maintain your ideal weight and health for a lifetime.”
Is ketosis safe?
Experts offer a wide range of opinions about the safety of the keto diet. Some warn that once you enter ketosis, you begin to lose muscle along with water weight. Others emphasize that it can damage the heart and even be detrimental to overall health. A number of experts note the keto diet can be especially dangerous for anyone with underlying kidney or liver problems.
The bottom line is that ketosis is safer for some people than for others. It is a tool rather than a life time dietary program. If you feel fatigued, weak, restricted, or otherwise uncomfortable with the dietary plan, stop the program. Talk to your healthcare provider about your options.