Keto dieters stripping pharmacies of crucial tests

empty shelves

A pharmacist has called on colleagues to avoid selling urine-testing strips to dieters and keep them for people with diabetes

The ABC has reported on the rising interest in weight loss via the ketogenic diet, a low-carb, high-fat approach.

The growing popularity of the diet is having a flow-on effect to people with diabetes, reporter Samantha Turnbull writes, as dieters “strip pharmacies” of the urine-testing strips required for testing ketone bodies.

Keto dieters also use the strips to measure ketone levels, hoping to enter “ketosis”.

The Dietitians Association of Australia defines the diet as one “very low in carbohydrates and moderate in protein, meaning a high percentage of total energy (kilojoule) intake comes from fat”.

“As fat is the main source of energy being consumed, the body must then use this (that is, break it down) as its main energy source or ‘fuel’,” the Association says.

“When dietary fat is metabolised for energy, by-products called ‘ketone bodies’ (molecules that are made by the liver from fatty acids) are produced which are used up by the body’s tissues, muscles and the brain. This process is known as ‘ketosis’.”

 “True” keto diets involve 20-50g of carbohydrates per day, keeping them to less than 10% of total energy, it says.

South Grafton pharmacist Michael Troy told the ABC that he had been unable to buy bulk quantities of ketone-testing strips for nearly six months.

“I’ve checked across two different wholesalers and we’re struggling to get that product in stock,” he later told the AJP. “I’m sure there’s been an issue elsewhere in the region, or across the state, where pharmacies would also be struggling to stock the product.

“I’ve been having to turn away legitimate customers with diabetes who have not been able to test for ketone bodies,” Mr Troy said.

“I do now have some boxes in stock, which I am keeping aside – so if somebody requests it, I’ll question them, ‘do you have diabetes?’

“If they are, by all means, I’m quite happy to supply the patient as it’s a potentially life-saving product.

“But if they say, ‘I’m doing the keto diet,’ I’ll tell them that I’m sorry, I have to reserve these for people who have a medical need for the product.”

He encouraged other pharmacists around the country to take a similar stance.

“I think it’s part of our duty of care as pharmacists to ensure that medical products and devices are actually going to those who have legitimate health care needs and requirements for the product, and that we withhold those products if it’s not really required,” he said.

Mr Troy says that his motivation is not to condemn the ketogenic diet itself, rather to ensure that its adherents don’t disadvantage people with diabetes.

“I’ve actually seen some people who’ve had some remarkable success with the ketogenic diet over time,” he said. “Between them, two very good friends lost well over 100kg: one lost 70kg and another 40kg doing that diet.

“We don’t quite know what the long-term health consequences are, but we do know the long-term consequences of being overweight or morbidly obese, so it’s almost a case of pick your side as to the devil you know or don’t, with diets… but all I can see is that for two people I know, their quality of life is drastically improved.”

One of these friends saw the ABC article and contacted Mr Troy to tell him that urine-testing strips aren’t actually necessary to follow the diet anyway, he says.

“So I’d recommend other pharmacists direct their product to those who really need them.”

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