Ketogenic dieters strip pharmacies of life-saving tests for diabetics
Diabetics across Australia are struggling to source an essential piece of equipment used to monitor their health, as urine-testing strips that measure the level of ketones in the body are being purchased in bulk by followers of the ketogenic diet.
Keto diet devotees keep track of their weight loss by monitoring the level of ketones in their body, which are a by-product of fat breakdown created when glucose is restricted.
They measure their ketones by using urine or blood-testing strips available in most pharmacies.
However the testing strips are also used by diabetics like Craig Johnson who can slip into a life-threatening condition called ketoacidosis when their ketone levels are too high.
“In eight years, I’ve had five onsets of it [ketoacidosis],” Mr Johnson said.
“Fundamentally it’s attacking your fat, but it’s harmful to your organs, it’s harmful to your body.
What is ketoacidosis?
- Without enough insulin, the body’s cells cannot use glucose for energy. To make up for this, the body begins to burn fat for energy instead. This leads to accumulation of dangerous chemical substances in the blood called ketones, which also appear in the urine.
- Ketoacidosis is related to hyperglycaemia. It is a serious condition associated with illness or very high blood glucose levels in Type 1 Diabetes.
- Ketoacidosis is a serious medical emergency that is life-threatening if not treated properly.
Source: Diabetes Australia
“I’ve had a few cracks at it and it’s not fun at all.”
Mr Johnson was recently hospitalised with ketoacidosis, which he believes he could have detected earlier with keto strips.
However, there were no strips available at his local pharmacist in the northern New South Wales town of Byron Bay.
“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 said.
“I ended up in Tweed Hospital for a few days because I was quite sick and even they had a shortage.
“One of the nurses said point blank it was due to the new, hip keto diet people were on. I found that a bit frustrating and weird.”
Fad dieters put diabetics at risk
South Grafton pharmacist, Michael Troy, who is also a member of the Pharmaceutical Society and Pharmacy Guild of Australia, said the shortage of ketone-testing strips had become widespread since the keto diet returned to popularity.
Mr Troy said he had been unable to buy keto strips in bulk for almost six months.
“It’s a supply issue. We just cannot physically get our hands on the stock from any of our wholesalers, so we’ve not been able to get the products to keep them in stock on the shelves,” Mr Troy said.
He is urging other pharmacists to follow his lead and keep keto strips aside only for diabetics.
“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,” he said.
The keto diet promotes the consumption of high levels of fat and aims to push the body into a state known as ketosis, which involves the burning of fat instead of carbohydrates.
Dieticians Association of Australia spokesman, Alan Barclay, said the keto diet was first popular in the 1920s, made a comeback in the 1970s, and was now back in fashion.
“There’s almost a 50-year cycle and if we think about it, there are three major nutrients in food; carbohydrates, fat and protein, and about every 10 years the fad diet of the day focuses on one of those nutrients by setting it out to be the bad guy or the good guy,” Dr Barclay said.
“I don’t think the ketogenic diet is a good diet because it’s extremely restrictive.
“The average person on it has less than 50 grams of carbohydrate in their food a day, which is very little. It’s equivalent to a slice of bread, half a cup of rice and a piece of fruit for an average adult.”
Diabetics urged to stock up
Diabetes New South Wales and ACT has also struggled to source keto strips in the past, but has now stockpiled the product to sell in their online store.
Educator Angela Blair advised all diabetics to keep a constant supply of strips in their medical kits.
“Rather than waiting until they’re sick, it’s really a good idea to have that product on hand and just keep checking the expiry date and replenish when you need to,” Ms Blair said.
Dr Barclay said he expected the problem to be solved when the next fad diet came along.
“We had about 15–20 years of demonising fat, now we’re well into the demonisation of carbohydrates, so there are two choices left: protein — and there’s a lot of junk protein around these days like protein bars — [and] the other possibility which I wish would happen is a focus on alcohol,” he said.
“Alcohol is the fourth macronutrient and it’s the number one source of discretionary kilojoules in the diet of Australians.
“I don’t know whether I Quit Booze would be a number one bestseller, but I wish it would.”