What is diabetes and is the ketogenic diet a good idea? Around the world, people are trying the keto for diabetes. What does the research say? Can the ketogenic diet improve blood sugar levels and regulate hormones like insulin?
What is Diabetes?
Diabetes is a medical condition that impacts how your body processes glucose — the simplest form of sugar.
Your pancreas produces a hormone called insulin. In a healthy body, insulin acts as a key that opens the door to cells that allows glucose in. Glucose is used for energy by cells, but if insulin can’t unlock the door, then cells risk starvation.
With diabetes, your body doesn’t produce enough insulin and can’t properly convert glucose into energy. This causes glucose to build up in the bloodstream, leading to high blood sugar levels that can damage the cells, tissues, and organs of the body over time.
1) Type 1 Diabetes
If you have type 1 diabetes, your pancreas either doesn’t make any insulin or it only makes a small amount. Normally, your immune system is supposed to fight off harmful viruses and bacteria, but with type 1 diabetes, your immune system attacks the cells of your pancreas that produce insulin.
2) Type 2 Diabetes
With type 2 diabetes, your pancreas does produce insulin, but insulin receptors are desensitized to insulin binding, which leads to reduced signaling. The pancreas will increase insulin secretion to try and overcome this issue, but over time, it will become so overwhelmed that insulin secretion will decrease.
Prediabetes refers to the warning zone where your blood sugar levels are above average, but not high enough to be diabetes. Consider prediabetes a beacon signaling that your blood sugar levels need to be managed and controlled to prevent diabetes from developing.
4) Gestational Diabetes
Gestational diabetes refers to high blood sugar levels and issues with blood sugar regulation in pregnant women. Women with gestational diabetes have an increased risk of getting type 2 diabetes in the future.
What are the health risks of diabetes?
Diabetes can increase the risk of various health complications, such as:
- Heart and vascular disease
- Stroke and blood clots
- Kidney disease
- Slow-healing injuries or wounds
- Weakened immune system
- Hearing impairment
- Nerve damage or neuropathy
- Retinopathy, which might lead to blindness
Chronically high blood sugar levels might also prevent effective cell regeneration and the healing of damaged cells.
In addition to lifestyle changes like losing weight, being physically active, and relieving stress, the ketogenic diet has shown promise when it comes to all types of diabetes .
What Does the Research Show About Keto and Diabetes?
The ketogenic diet is most renowned for its propitious research on epilepsy, but studies abound reveal how this metabolic shift can benefit diabetes. The research on keto and diabetes is encouraging and ongoing. The high-fat content and reduction in carbohydrates can potentially alter how your body stores and uses energy, easing the symptoms of diabetes.
With keto, your body converts fat into energy, instead of sugar. Keto can improve and regulate blood sugar levels and reduce the need for insulin. With less sugar, there’s less need for insulin. A degree of carbohydrate restriction is often recommended for diabetics since carbohydrates turn to sugar in the body and certain carbohydrates can cause high blood sugar spikes.
Studies show keto improves glycemic and blood sugar control results in medication reduction and discontinued insulin requirements, even when compared to other diets, such as low-fat and low-glycemic diets [4,5,6,7].
If you have too many ketones, you might be at risk of developing diabetic ketoacidosis (DKA). Ketoacidosis is most common in type 1 diabetes. Metabolic ketoacidosis is caused by high blood ketone levels due to an underlying condition. A normal healthy individual won’t become acidotic by going keto.
If you have concerns or you have diabetes and you’re on the ketogenic diet, you can test your blood sugar levels throughout the day to make sure you’re staying in your target range. You can also check your ketone levels. If you have diabetes or another medical condition, it’s best to consult your doctor or medical practitioner before trying the ketogenic diet.
Remember, ketoacidosis is a medical emergency. If your blood sugar is above 240 mg/dL, the American Diabetes Association recommends testing for ketones. Warning signs of diabetic ketoacidosis include:
- Frequent urination
- Consistently high blood sugar
- Dry mouth
- Breathing difficulties
Have You Used Keto for Diabetes?
Share your diabetes health transformation story with our keto community.
1) National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases. What is Diabetes, https://www.niddk.nih.gov/health-information/diabetes/overview/what-is-diabetes
2) American Diabetes Association. The Path to Understanding Diabetes Starts Here, https://www.diabetes.org/diabetes
3) U.S. National Library of Medicine. Diabetes, https://medlineplus.gov/diabetes.html
4) Westman, E. C., Yancy Jr., W. S., Mavropoulos, J. C., Marquart, M., & McDuffie, J. R. (2008). The effect of a low-carbohydrate, ketogenic diet versus a low-glycemic index diet on glycemic control in type 2 diabetes mellitus. Nutrition & Metabolism, 5(36), https://doi.org/10.1186/1743-7075-5-36
5) Paoli, A., Rubini, A., Volek, J. S., & Grimaldi, K. A. (2013). Beyond weight loss: A review of the therapeutic uses of very-low-carbohydrate (ketogenic) diets. European Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 67, 789-796.
6) Saslow, L. R., Mason, A. E., Kim, S., Goldman, V., Ploutz-Snyder, R., Bayandorian, H., Daubenmier, J., Hecht, F. M., & Moskowitz, J. T. (2017). An online intervention comparing a very low-carbohydrate ketogenic diet and lifestyle recommendations versus a plate method diet in overweight individuals with type 2 diabetes: A randomized controlled trial. Journal of Medical Internet Research, 19(2), DOI: 10.2196/jmir.5806
7) Hussain, T. A., Mathew, T. C., Dashti, A. A., Asfar, S., Al-Zaid, N., & Dashti, H. M. (2012). Effect of low-calorie versus low-carbohydrate ketogenic diet in type 2 diabetes. Nutrition, 28(10), 1016-1021. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.nut.2012.01.016
8) Le, A., Yeganeh, M., Buhas, D., Trempe, M., & Myers, K. Monocarboxylate transporter-1 deficiency results in severe metabolic acidosis with ketogenic diet in early onset absence epilepsy: Case report. Seizure. 2020, (74):31-32. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.seizure.2019.11.008
Steph Green is a writer, researcher, and singer/songwriter with a passion for all things wellness. In 2016, after four years of struggling with her own health problems and painful autoimmune disease, Steph developed a life-changing and extensive knowledge of keto, nutrition, and natural medicine. She continues on her healing journey and enjoys helping others along the way.