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What are ketones? Know how this chemical functions, its anatomy, symptoms, tests and more

Learn about ketones, their role in metabolism, structure, symptoms of imbalance, and diagnostic tests. Discover how ketones impact your health and more in our comprehensive guide.

Written By: Muskan Gupta @guptamuskan_ New Delhi Published on: May 27, 2024 15:54 IST
Image Source : SOCIAL What are ketones? Know how this chemical functions

Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal has filed a plea in the Supreme Court seeking an extension of his interim bail by seven more days on health grounds in a money laundering case linked to the excise policy scam. In his fresh plea, he stated that he has lost seven kgs since his arrest in March. Reacting to this Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) minister Atishi said that the Delhi Chief Minister's s sudden weight loss as well as high ketone levels are a matter of concern for doctors. "Initial tests indicated that his ketone levels were very high. Sudden weight loss and high ketone levels can be a sign of some serious diseases, including kidney damage, and cancer," the AAP minister added.

What Are Ketones?

Ketones, or ketone bodies, are chemicals produced by the liver during the breakdown of fats for energy. This process primarily occurs when carbohydrate intake is low, and the body switches to fat as its main energy source. Ketones are an essential alternative fuel for the body, particularly during fasting, prolonged exercise, or low-carbohydrate diets.

How Do Ketones Function?

When the body's glucose levels drop, the liver starts converting fatty acids into ketones. There are three primary types of ketones:

  • Acetoacetate (AcAc): The first ketone produced during fatty acid breakdown.
  • Beta-hydroxybutyrate (BHB): Formed from AcAc and is the most abundant ketone in the blood during ketosis.
  • Acetone: A byproduct of AcAc, which is exhaled through the breath.

These ketones are then transported to cells throughout the body, where they are used as a source of energy, particularly by the brain, heart, and muscles.

Anatomy of Ketones

Ketones are small, water-soluble molecules. They can cross the blood-brain barrier, making them an effective energy source for the brain when glucose is scarce. This unique property allows them to provide consistent energy during times when carbohydrate intake is limited.

Symptoms of Ketone Presence

The presence of ketones in the body can lead to various symptoms, especially if they accumulate in high levels. Common symptoms include:

  • Fruity-scented breath: Due to the release of acetone.
  • Increased thirst and frequent urination: As the body attempts to flush out excess ketones.
  • Fatigue and confusion: Especially if ketone levels become too high, leading to a condition called ketoacidosis.
  • Rapid breathing:  Another symptom of ketoacidosis, often seen in diabetic patients.

Tests for Ketones

Several tests can measure ketone levels in the body:

  • Urine test: A common method using test strips to detect the presence of ketones. This is a quick and inexpensive option.
  • Blood test: More accurate than urine tests, blood ketone metres measure BHB levels directly.
  • Breath test: Measures acetone levels, indicating ketosis.

When to Test for Ketones

Testing for ketones is essential in certain scenarios:

  • Diabetes management: Particularly in Type 1 diabetes, to prevent ketoacidosis.
  • Low-carbohydrate or ketogenic diets: To ensure the body is in a state of ketosis.
  • Unexplained symptoms: Such as frequent urination, excessive thirst, or unusual fatigue.

Ketones are vital chemicals produced during fat metabolism, serving as an alternative energy source when carbohydrate intake is low. While beneficial in many contexts, monitoring ketone levels is crucial, especially for those with diabetes, to avoid complications like ketoacidosis. Understanding the function, anatomy, symptoms, and testing methods for ketones helps in managing their levels effectively and maintaining optimal health.

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