Science

An In-Depth Look at The Ketosis Metabolism: What Happens Inside Your Body

Published on: August 18, 2019

ketosis metabolism

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Your metabolism plays an important role in your survival. It is a process where nutrients are combined to produce the energy your body needs to function. If your metabolism is high, you burn more calories at rest. When it’s low, you burn fewer calories [1]. The keto diet is known to fix your metabolism by putting your body in a ketotic state. Here’s what you should know about it.


Ketosis and Metabolism

We often assume that attaining a calorie deficit is the way to lose weight. The truth is that the concept of “calories in, calories out” does not really paint the whole picture. It has become an overly simplistic approach to attaining health. Furthermore, it fails to address these important factors:


  • Nutrient content. Whole foods offer more nutrients than processed foods and they lead to a healthier gut [2].
  • Food and hormones. The foods that you eat impact your hormones differently. For instance, refined carbohydrates increase your risk of insulin resistance and cause weight gain [3].
  • Macronutrients and appetite. Macronutrient composition increases or decreases your appetite. Several studies suggest that dietary fats induce greater fullness than other macronutrients [4].

ketosis and metabolism

How ketosis affects metabolism

Nutritional ketosis is being used as a tool to improve metabolic health.

When a person follows a modern dietary pattern that’s high in sugary drinks, processed foods, and refined grains, that person’s body mainly uses carbohydrates for fuel. Carbohydrates are broken down into glucose which will then be used by your brain and other tissues.

However, when that person follows a low-carb, high-fat, and moderate-protein ketogenic diet, their body produces an alternative fuel source called ketones from fat breakdown. For as long as glucose supply remains short, ketone bodies supply the body with constant energy. Ketone bodies cross the blood-brain barrier to energize the brain, and they can be utilized immediately by your heart, muscles, and kidneys [5].

In fact, ketone bodies provide more energy than glucose, and this becomes especially important during times of caloric deficit [5]. Your body responds differently to nutritional ketosis in that your insulin sensitivity improves, serum triglycerides are lowered, and blood glucose is kept at low normal levels. This in turn gives your pancreas a rest from releasing so much insulin, protecting you from and even reversing the trend of type II diabetes.


ketosis effect on metabolism

Metabolic Benefits of Ketosis

What happens when you enter and maintain ketosis through a well-formulated ketogenic diet? As a normal metabolic state, what are the benefits of ketosis? Here are some of them:


1. Increased fat loss

It’s interesting to note that ketogenic diets are linked to a greater fat loss during weight reduction than other diets. Studies conducted on ketone bodies reveal that keto diets boost your fuel molecules and improve your energy metabolism [6].

Another reason for the significant fat loss in ketosis is the use of the body’s stored fat for gluconeogenesis. When your body needs glucose, lipase breaks down fat to release glycerol, and glycerol gets converted to glucose [6].

There was a study conducted to determine the metabolic impact of ketogenic diets and hypocaloric (low calorie) diets in obese children and adolescents. Results revealed that although a keto diet and very low-calorie diet reduced the fat mass, weight, waist circumference, and fasting insulin, it was the ketogenic diet that greatly improved weight loss and metabolic parameters [7].

Furthermore, the researchers concluded that a keto diet can be a safe alternative for weight loss [7].

keto-diet-boost-your-fuel-molecules

2. Modulation of inflammation

Chronic or long term inflammation in the body is linked to many diseases such as obesity, heart disease, stroke, rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, cancer and Alzheimer’s [8, 9, 10].

High levels of C-reactive protein (CRP) in the body, which is reflective of inflammation, have been shown to predict the likelihood of Type 2 Diabetes, many forms of cancer, and probably Alzheimer’s [11].

While there are medications that reduce inflammation, these carry potential side effects and there’s also evidence that ketosis lowers inflammation [11].

One explanation is that the major ketone body BHB prevents the creation of pro-inflammatory compounds in the first place. A randomized trial was conducted to compare 2 diets: a ketogenic diet and a low-fat, high-carb diet. After 12 weeks, the ketogenic diet showed a greater anti-inflammatory effect. The inflammation biomarkers were greatly reduced among those who followed a ketogenic diet [11].

A study conducted on Alzheimer’s Disease revealed that BHB lowers neuroinflammation by activating the receptor hydroxy-carboxylic acid receptor 2 [12].


Group-of-seniors-exercising-together

3. Increase in longevity and lifespan

Most people are on a quest to increase their life expectancy. And it’s no secret that optimal metabolic health is the key to attaining that goal.

There is a growing body of research suggesting the potential of ketosis to boost your lifespan. Let’s take a look at the available research studies conducted on human and animal subjects.

Mitochondria, the “powerhouses” of your cells, affect the longevity of organisms. They are responsible for breaking down nutrients and turning them into energy [13]. Nutritional ketosis increases mitochondrial mass (mitochondrial biogenesis) [14]. It also protects the cells from damage through a process called mitohormesis [15].

Periods of fasting also stimulate ketosis by decreasing insulin and glucose concentrations in the blood and increasing the concentration of free fatty acids and ketone bodies [16]. A study on mice published by the National Institute on Aging showed that mice that had a longer fasting period were healthier overall and lived longer. This was regardless of what the mice ate and the number of calories they consumed [17].


woman-checking-blood-with-a-lancet

Measuring Metabolism in Ketosis

Now that you know what happens in ketosis, how do you actually identify that you’ve already achieved this metabolic shift? Here are various ways to test:


1. Blood glucose levels

Testing your blood glucose levels while following a keto diet is a simple and affordable way to ensure that you don’t get kicked out of ketosis. Your blood glucose spikes when you eat high-carb foods.

You want to make sure that your blood glucose stays within low normal levels. Various ways to test for blood glucose include fasting blood glucose, oral glucose tolerance test (OGTT), postprandial glucose test (PPG), and Hemoglobin A1C.


2. Blood ketone levels

It makes sense to know how high your ketone levels are simply because an increase in ketone levels indicates that you are in ketosis. When it comes to monitoring ketones, blood testing is considered the most accurate means of measurement.

blood-testing-is-the-most-accurate-means-of-measurement

When you are in a fed state, your blood ketone levels should be around 0.2 mmol/L [18]. When you are in a ketotic state, your ketone concentrations can be between 0.5 and 2 mmol/L [19]. Take note that blood ketone testing measures BHB as BHB rises in the blood during ketosis [20].

Other methods to test for ketone levels are urine testing and breath testing. These methods are less accurate although you can also use them if you prefer to.


3. Glucose Ketone Index

Perhaps this is the first time you are hearing about the Glucose Ketone Index or GKI for short.

The GKI is a simple yet excellent way to measure the effectiveness of nutritional ketosis on your metabolic health [21].

Basically, your GKI ratio shows you the relationship between your blood glucose and ketone levels. That way, you get to appreciate how they work together to affect your health. As you might have guessed, determining your GKI requires a glucose meter and ketone meter.

To calculate your GKI, use this formula: (glucose level/18) / ketone level.

Study shows that lower GKI values signify therapeutic efficiency of a ketogenic diet than with higher values. Metabolic management is achieved when your glucose levels are low and ketone levels are high [21].


Conclusion

A ketogenic diet shifts your metabolism to a normal state called ketosis. Scientific evidence shows that ketosis prevents health issues and increases your metabolic health by increasing ketones, decreasing inflammation, and keeping your blood glucose and insulin under control.

Furthermore, determining your ketone levels, glucose levels, and a glucose-ketone index helps you ensure you receive the most benefit from the keto diet and optimal overall health.


Takeaways

  • Your metabolism is essential for your survival. The ketogenic diet helps improve your metabolism by allowing your body to thrive on ketones.
  • The metabolic benefits of ketosis include an increased rate of fat loss, lower inflammation, and increased longevity.
  • There are two ways to check whether you are in ketosis: ketone test and the glucose ketone index test.

References:

  1. Harvard Health Publishing. Does Metabolism Matter in Weight Loss? 2015 July - https://www.health.harvard.edu/diet-and-weight-loss/does-metabolism-matter-in-weight-loss
  2. Dunn R. Science Reveals Why Calorie Counts Are All Wrong. 2013 September 1 - https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/science-reveals-why-calorie-counts-are-all-wrong/
  3. Basciano H, Federico L, Adeli K. Fructose, insulin resistance, and metabolic... View all references

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