The tragic death of 26-year old Helen Anderson has been widely reported in the press this week. This is a stark and timely reminder of the dangers of ketosis when dieting.
In normal circumstances we get energy by breaking down sugar (glucose) molecules in the blood, muscle and the liver, a process called oxidation. However, in circumstances where glucose is in short supply, as in a low-carb or VLCD diet, the body utilizes a different route to obtain energy, by the oxidation of fatty acids – a process called β-oxidation. This breakdown of fatty acids results in several breakdown products which, taken together, are called ketone bodies – or ketones. Many of today’s popular diets, especially VLCDs (Very Low Calorie Diets) and those involving reduced carbohydrate intake, involve an element of ketosis. Indeed some diet organizations actually encourage ketosis which (so they claim) will promote weight loss.
In reality, there is no evidence to suggest that ketogenic diets produce greater loss of weight than other less extreme forms of diet. A key problem is compliance; VLCD and low-carb diets are associated with a lot of unwanted side-effects including nausea, headaches, dizziness and unpleasant breath. Recent evidence has also shown an increased risk of bone disease, kidney stones and heart problems. Moreover, when prolonged, ketosis can result in dangerous changes in blood chemistry resulting in serious illness or – as in the case of Helen Anderson – unexpected death.
Organisations which continue to extol the virtues of ketosis may care to reflect on this sad tragedy and take the trouble to acquaint themselves with the recent science on this subject. Those embarking on a weight-loss programme would be wise to steer clear of any company claiming that ketosis is a benign and potentially helpful side-effect of their diet. Ketosis is unnecessary, unpleasant and potentially dangerous.
Dr David Ashton BSc MD PhD - Healthier Weight Centres