People with diabetes have enough challenges without having to race against fad dieters to secure life-saving supplies. But that’s what is happening for some people with diabetes in Australia, where the ketogenic diet has prompted those on the new eating plan to stock up on ketone strips, a necessary testing supply for those with type 1 diabetes.
The ketogenic diet, if you haven’t heard, is a high fat, moderate protein, and very low carbohydrate diet designed to get people eating more like our paleolithic ancestors. The restricted carb intake eventually puts the body into a state of ketosis. This means that, in the absence of sufficient carbohydrates, the body begins to burn fat, which produces ketones that the body can use for fuel. The process is called ketosis.
Ketosis is mildly uncomfortable at first, but generally safe and very effective for burning body fat. The diet is touted by celebrities and health-food gurus alike, and while there is disagreement about the overall health benefit and sustainability of the diet, those who follow it do experience weight loss, and many report great strides in overall health. Ketogenic dieters use ketone testing strips to see if they’ve successfully reached ketosis.
But while it’s possible for the general population to burn fat as fuel and maintain a safe state of ketosis without overproducing ketones, those with type 1 diabetes don’t have the insulin necessary to signal the body to stop producing ketones. People with type 1 diabetes can go on producing ketones until their blood reaches toxic levels. Without insulin, type 1’s can go into diabetic ketoacidosis, a potentially fatal condition.
All this to say that it’s important for people with type 1 diabetes to be able to check ketone levels in their urine, not to see if they are losing weight, but to see if they need to go to the hospital.
So when Craig Johnson, who has type 1 diabetes, visited his local pharmacy to find they were out of ketone testing strips, he was understandably frustrated. Mr. Johnson has experienced diabetic ketoacidosis five times in his eight years of diabetes, and he describes it as “no fun at all.”
Mr. Johnson believes he could have avoided his last hospital stay if his pharmacy hadn’t been out of ketone strips. “The chemist informed me that the day before some bloke came in and bought 10 boxes and I said ‘Why the hell would you let him buy 10?’,” Mr Johnson reported. He said that there was even a shortage of testing strips during his hospital stay. One of the nurses told him the shortage was due to the popularity of the ketogenic diet.
Pharmacist Michael Troy said that Australia has experienced a shortage of ketone-strips since the rise in the popularity of the ketogenic diet, and he hasn’t been able to buy the strips for about six months—they’re simply not available from the pharmacy’s wholesalers. Mr. Troy is urging other pharmacists to do as he is doing and stash the strips to sell only to people with diabetes. “Don’t get me wrong, weight loss is a great thing, but weight loss compared to a life-threatening diabetic condition? I know which side of the fence I’d rather the products [be] directed towards,” Mr. Troy said.
Diabetes organizations in Australia are now stockpiling testing strips to sell to people with diabetes online, and urging those with the condition to keep strips on hand rather than wait until they’re sick.
Alan Barclay, spokesman for the Dieticians Association of Australia, expects that the supply will go back to normal when the next diet craze takes over, and he hopes the next one will encourage people to abstain from alcohol. “I don’t know whether ‘I Quit Booze’ would be a number one bestseller, but I wish it would,” he said.
Regardless of how it happens, we hope that the supply in Australia normalizes soon, for the sake of everyone’s safety and sanity.
Katie Taylor started writing in 5th grade and hasn't stopped since. Her favorite place to pen a phrase is in front of her fireplace with a cup of tea, but she's been known to write in parking lots on the backs of old receipts if necessary. She and her husband live cozily in the Pacific Northwest enjoying rainy days and Netflix.