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When Does Ketosis Occur?

author image Adam Cloe Ph.D./M.D.
Adam Cloe has been published in various scientific journals, including the "Journal of Biochemistry." He is currently a pathology resident at the University of Chicago. Cloe holds a Bachelor of Arts in biochemistry from Boston University, a M.D. from the University of Chicago and a Ph.D. in pathology from the University of Chicago.
When Does Ketosis Occur?
A woman holds a blood test meter in her hand. Photo Credit: Images_By_Kenny/iStock/Getty Images

Ketosis is marked by the presence of ketones in your blood. Ketones are produced as part of your body's natural metabolic processes, but high levels of ketones may be a sign of malnutrition or low insulin levels. On the other hand, some diets aim to cause ketosis to help with weight loss or to control epilepsy.

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Ketones are produced by your body when you break down fats to use as energy. Fats are typically your body's "backup" energy source, because carbohydrates can be burned for energy more quickly. However, when you do not have enough carbohydrates to supply all of your body's energy needs, your body will turn to other sources of energy, such as your fats. Your fats are broken down into ketones, which can then be used as a source of energy for your cells.

Diabetic Ketoacidosis

One thing that can cause ketosis is diabetic ketoacidosis. Diabetic ketoacidosis occurs as a result of type I diabetes, which causes your pancreas to produce little or no insulin. Diabetic ketoacidosis is caused by extremely low insulin levels, which prevents your cells from effectively using the glucose in your blood. As a result, your cells will break down fats for energy, resulting in ketosis.

Dietary Ketosis

Ketosis can also occur due to a diet that is very low in carbohydrates. Extreme carbohydrate reduction also forces the metabolism of fats for energy. This is the basis behind many of the "low-carb" diets such as the Atkins diet. A specialized diet that is designed to induce ketone production can also be used to treat some cases of epilepsy.


One of the side effects of ketone production is acidosis. When ketones are produced, the body also produces extra levels of acidic substances. This can lower the pH of your blood, which is a measurement of the balance of acids and bases. The balance of acids and bases in your blood is carefully regulated, and acidosis can cause your tissues to malfunction. Acidosis can also cause you to breathe more quickly, as rapid breathing reduces the level of carbon dioxide in your blood, which also reduces the amount of carbonic acid in your blood.

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