Diabetes is a leading cause of death among Americans. Studies are ongoing to find more effective treatments that can help manage and reverse this disease.
Due to the side effects of diabetes drugs, many patients are looking for natural ways to keep their blood sugar levels in check.
The latest buzz surrounds the keto diet. Is the keto diet good for diabetics?
Studies suggest that a low-carb, ketogenic diet can help manage and reverse the disease. As well as prevent weight gain.
Today, we explore these claims and find out whether pre-diabetics and type 2 diabetics can benefit from a diet that restricts carbohydrates.
Understanding Type 2 Diabetes
People with type 2 diabetes experience bouts of high and low blood sugar levels. Diabetes develops mainly due to the abnormal rise of blood sugar or glucose coupled with the body’s inability to quickly move the sugar out of the bloodstream.
Blame it on insulin. Insulin is a hormone that helps move glucose from the blood and store it in the cells for use as energy.
When the body does not produce enough insulin or is unable to use it as it should (insulin sensitivity), it disrupts the cycle of removing sugar from the bloodstream.
The result is a built up of glucose which is converted into fat. In addition to causing various symptoms and increasing the chance of weight gain, persistent high blood sugar levels (hyperglycemia) can lead to a condition called diabetic ketoacidosis. More on this down the page.
This condition can cause serious harm for people with diabetes.
These and other factors play a key role in diabetics being eager to find out how a keto diet can help them to manage their blood sugar, weight, and overall health.
What is The Keto Diet?
Excess carbohydrates in the daily diet is linked to blood sugar spikes, hyperglycemia, and weight gain in diabetics.
As such, the introduction of the keto diet promises to make it easier to manage diabetes symptoms.
The keto diet is essentially one that focuses on significantly reducing carbs and increasing fats and proteins.
The suggested daily carb intake here is about 20-30 grams for the average person. This is about the amount of carbs in a slice of bread!
For this reason, people on the diet are encouraged to eat foods with no more 5% carbs per serving.
By doing this, you starve the body of carbohydrates, thereby forcing it to burn fats to get energy by a process called ketosis.
While diabetics who are overweight or at risk of obesity may find it beneficial to go keto, one main concern is whether the diet places them at risk of developing ketoacidosis.
What is Ketoacidosis?
Ketoacidosis in diabetics occurs when insulin insufficiency and elevated blood sugar causes the body to produce high levels of blood acids known as ketones.
Remember, ketoacidosis is not the same as ketosis.
Ketosis is the body’s reaction when it is forced to use fat to fuel the body. Notwithstanding, forcing the body into a state of ketosis may result in a build-up of ketones.
Ketones are chemical substances made in the liver and are the main source of fuel while on the ketogenic diet. When too much is produced, they can spill over to the urine and blood.
High levels of ketones in diabetics may throw the system into a state of ketoacidosis. However, some experts say that the levels of ketones do not rise high enough to cause acidosis.
Side Effects of Diabetic Ketoacidosis
The side effects of diabetic ketoacidosis (DKA) include:
- Dry mouth
- Fruity breath
- ConfusionTrouble breathing
- Weakness or fatigue
- Excessive thirst
- Frequent urination
- Pain in the abdomen
- Nausea or vomiting
However, DKA is more common in people with type 1 diabetes and rarely occurs in type 2 diabetics.
Type 1 diabetics do not produce any insulin at all.
Nevertheless, DKA is a life-threatening condition that may cause liver and kidney damage if the blood becomes too acidic.
The bottom line is, although it rarely occurs, it is possible for ketoacidosis to develop in people who have type 2 diabetes.
DKA may also occur from taking too much or too little insulin, infections, illness, improper diet, alcohol abuse, and taking certain drugs.
What is The Link Between The Keto Diet and Type 2 Diabetes?
A study published by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) found that a low-carbohydrate, ketogenic diet (LCKD) may be effective in improving glycemia and hemoglobin A1c (HbA1c) as well as reduce the need for type 2 diabetics to take medications.
Starving the body of carbs and making it burn fat for fuel also helps with weight loss.
Although putting the body in ketosis is effective in lowering blood glucose, patients taking diabetes medication while on this diet should be closely supervised by their doctor.
Benefits of The Keto Diet for Diabetics
Despite the rare risk of ketoacidosis, there are several benefits the keto diet offers if it is followed and managed carefully.
Lower blood glucose levels
Eating high carb meals causes a spike in blood sugar in people with diabetes. This is one reason why your doctor may advise you to reduce carbohydrates.
Going on the keto diet can help you lower blood sugar to healthy levels without compromising your intake of other macronutrients such as fats and proteins.
Fewer carbs also mean less chance for blood sugar spikes.
People on this diet experience a steady flow of energy, less hunger, and are able to concentrate longer.
The study published by the NIH also reported that the keto diet had positive effects on weight and resulted in improved glycemic control among the participants of the study.
The finding may be especially helpful for prediabetics who can develop type 2 diabetes from being overweight.
Reduced need for medication
Additionally, people experienced a reduced need for diabetic medication, including insulin.
However, because the diet severely restricts carbs, it is crucial for you to be closely monitored by your doctor.
Disadvantages of The Keto Diet
The following disadvantages or side effects should be considered before embarking on the diet.
The side effects are usually short-term and improves as the body gets used to the new way of eating.
Although it rarely occurs in type 2 diabetics, there is still a risk of DKA from the overproduction of ketones in the body while you are in a state of ketosis.
Diabetic ketoacidosis often requires treatment in severe cases.
Being in a state of ketosis can cause bad breath. This happens when a waste product known as acetone is removed from the body through the breath and urine leading to smelly breath.
Fatigue or tiredness
The steep reduction of carbs along with the rapid loss of water and salts in the body can cause you to feel tired and fatigued.
Although this is normal, it can make it difficult to continue the diet, particularly in the first 7-14 days.
Electrolytes may be used to increase energy.
The keto diet is a significant change to the types and amounts of foods you eat.
As such, digestive problems such as diarrhea and constipation may occur in the early stages of dieting.
Your body should adapt to your new food regimen within a week or two.
This happens when blood sugar levels drop to 70 milligrams per deciliter (mg/dL) or less.
Hypoglycemia (low blood sugar) symptoms such as hunger, headaches, dizziness, anxiety, and mood swings may occur.
Impact on medication
If you’re taking a certain medication for diabetes, not eating enough carbohydrates may result in health complications.
You can discuss this factor with your doctor prior to starting the low-carb diet.
Long-Term Side Effects of The Keto Diet
This diet is meant for short-term use.
Continuing it for an extended period could lead into these long-term side effects:
- Possible weight increase after the diet ends
- Vitamin and mineral deficiencies
- May affect athletic performance
- May cause blood vessel damage (usually by indulging in high sugar foods)
Can The Keto Diet Reverse Type 2 Diabetes?
Going keto seems to be highly effective in lowering blood glucose, reducing HbA1c, and promoting weight loss in patients with type 2 diabetes.
Many studies have shown the cutting out the junk and exercising has been effective in managing and even reversing type 2 diabetes.
However, the side effects and risk of ketoacidosis may account for why some doctors shy away from talks about the keto diet and type 2 diabetes.
The Bottom Line
The keto diet may be well suited for people who are obese and want to shed several pounds quickly.
It may also be good for diabetics seeking to manage their weight and blood glucose levels the natural way.
However, the diet is highly restrictive and has various long and short term side effects.
Moreover, the risk of ketoacidosis needs to be carefully considered. If you decide to use it as a short-term diabetes management tool, you may still need to continue taking your medication.
Always talk with your doctor or healthcare professional before starting this or any other diet. Your doctor can discuss the benefits and risks and help you decide if the keto diet is right for you.
Remember, everyone’s body is different.