What causes ketones?
The presence of blood ketones can be caused by high blood sugar levels (above 240 mg/dl) and this occurs more frequently when the person is ill with a cold, fever, infection or under stress. When people have an infection, immune system cells need to fight viruses and bacteria, causing the body to stress. Stress forces the adrenal glands into secreting more cortisol, a hormone that raises blood glucose levels, facilitating the formation of fat cells, compressing the arteries and blood vessels and accelerating the heart rate. Given that glucose levels tend to rise when people with Diabetes get the flu or an infection, it’s very important for them to monitor their blood glucose levels more frequently to ensure these don’t rise too much (hyperglycemia). If blood glucose levels are too high, more insulin will be required to metabolize excess glucose in the bloodstream.
Ketones appear in the body when, due to a lack of insulin, cells can’t use glucose as a fuel source and instead body fat stores have to be used as an energy source. This process, where cells are forced to use fat as fuel, is known as lipolysis. The waste products of this process (lipolysis) are poisonous substances called ketones.
When people with or without Diabetes follow rich protein diets (which are high in protein and very low in carbohydrates) cells will have to steal energy from fat and blood ketones will appear because the body won’t have enough carbohydrates which are the glucose sources for the organism. The presence of ketones in people without Diabetes is known as ketosis. Excess ketones in people with Diabetes is called ketoacidosis.
When the body doesn’t have enough glucose because its levels are low (hypoglycemia), the body will have as well to steal energy from fat, which is why there’ll be ketones in the blood. However, this situation will not produce ketoacidosis because as the Hypoglycemia is counteracted, the glucose levels will be back to normal and the cells will have enough glucose to use it as a fuel source.
There are three basic reasons why ketones are produced:
- A lack of insulin, which is used to metabolize carbohydrates. Therefore your blood sugar levels will rise (hyperglycemia) and won’t be used as fuel for the cells. Also remember that when you’re sick you may need more insulin.
- Low blood sugar (hypoglycemia). When your blood sugar level drops too much, the cells won’t have enough glucose to function and will have to use fat as fuel.
- Low carbohydrate intake from people following a high protein diet, which is also low on carbs, or who’ve lost their appetite because they feel ill.
It’s important for every person with Diabetes to know the causes and symptoms of every emergency that can occur related to Diabetes control, which are, hypoglycemia or low blood sugar levels, hyperglycemia or high blood sugar levels and ketoacidosis or high blood ketone levels. It’s also important for them to know how to counter these promptly and thus prevent any of these situations from becoming dangerous.
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