Exogenous ketones are created in a lab to accelerate both physical and mental performance. These ketone drinks were actually used in pro cycling races back in 2015, trading at prices that would make using your kidney as a bartering tool seem like a cut price deal. Fortunately, they’ve now come down in cost and are used often in between meals as a way of blackmailing your body into getting into ketosis way faster.
Ketone supplements contain exogenous ketones—synthetic ketones made in a lab. Most use a type of ketone called beta-hydroxybutyrate (BHB), which is the same as the ketones the body produces naturally. “We’re literally biohacking," says Amie Heverly, who began taking a ketone supplement called Prüvit last year and now works as a promoter selling Prüvit products. "You’re not adding a foreign substance to your body, because BHB is identical to what your body would naturally produce,” she explains.
The ketone supplements were associated with a 5.4% decrease in physical performance while the artificially-sweetened, non-caffeinated beverage I used as a placebo was associated with a 20.3% increase: a big difference in favour of the placebo. Before you go rushing out to buy some, remember that this experiment was not performed under fully-controlled, laboratory conditions, and we were working with too small a group to prove that the placebo caused an increase in physical performance. But what we can say is that we couldn’t find any correlation between ketone supplements and an increase in physical performance in this experiment. According to Brianna Stubbs, some of the work currently being done on new kinds of ketone salts is starting to show more promise in relation to physical performance, so there may be better news on this down the line.
However, we will not be commenting on ketone esters since there are big differences between them and ketone salts, and the ketone salts are the ones that have been heavily commercialized and marketed to the public over recent years. Ketone esters may be more difficult to market due to their having an unpleasant taste. We may look more deeply into the esters in the future.
Many of us avoid foods like processed meats and cheeses or salted nuts because of their high sodium content. However, processed carbohydrate sources can have equal or higher amounts of sodium per serving. An ounce of salted pretzels has over four times as much sodium as an ounce of salted peanuts. Just because we can’t taste the sodium doesn’t mean it isn’t in there. Flavors from other ingredients like sugar and spices can make it difficult to identify salt as a dominant flavor.
There is also evidence that individuals who adhere to a low-carbohydrate or ketogenic diet may require higher sodium intakes. Due to their low carbohydrate contents, these diets reduce insulin levels. Since one of insulin’s roles is to decrease the excretion of sodium in the urine, low-carbohydrate and ketogenic dieters excrete more sodium than normal, and are encouraged to salt their meals to increase their sodium intake.
For anyone who wants to get a bit more technical, research by Stubbs and colleagues shows that BHB shuts off lipolysis (fat breakdown). With endogenous ketosis there are many other factors that stimulate lipolysis meaning that a kind of balance is reached and lipolysis stays constant. But with exogenous ketosis those factors stimulating ketosis are not present, so the overall effect of the ingested BHB is to decrease lipolysis.
Effects of ketone supplementation on blood glucose. a, b Blood glucose levels at times 0, 0.5, 1, 4, 8, and 12 h (for 10 dose) post intragastric gavage for ketone supplements tested. a Ketone supplements BMS + MCT and MCT significantly reduced blood glucose levels compared to controls for the duration of the 4-week study. BMS significantly lowered blood glucose only at 8 h/week 1 and 12 h/week 3 (b) KE, maintained at 5 g/kg, significantly reduced blood glucose compared to controls from week 1–4. BD did not significantly affect blood glucose levels at any time point during the 4-week study. Two-Way ANOVA with Tukey’s post hoc test, results considered significant if p < 0.05. Error bars represent mean (SD)
Getting enough sleep not only helps in the production of growth hormones vital for muscle growth, but it plays a particular role as already discussed. If you’re intermittently fasting then sleep is crucial is helping you sustain the fast. 6-10 hours of your day will be dedicated to sleep, helping you to reboot and not think about food during this time. That means less time for you to actually be fasting! Stress is another factor – if we don’t get enough sleep, we’ll tend to feel more stress and agitation throughout the day. Ensuring that we’re well rested plays a huge part in keeping down cortisol levels so that are insulin and blood sugar levels don’t spike.
But there have also been studies done showing that the Inuit Eskimo’s do not actually reach a state of ketosis. This is due to numerous factors. One being that the diet the eskimo’s eat ‘would not be expected to cause ketosis, because the calculated anti-ketogenic effect of the large protein ingestion was somewhat more than enough to offset the ketogenic effect of fat plus protein.”
Plenty of supplements make you a fractionally better sportsman and these are no different. The synthetic exogenous ketones helped Olympic-caliber cyclists cover an average of 411 additional meters during a 30-minute time-trial, which resulted in a two percent increase in overall speed, found a paper in Cell Metabolism. That can be the difference between feeling the glorious tug of the winner’s ribbon across your chest or rolling in with the stragglers.
Plus, take a look at this promotional video from Prüvit. It claims that “ketones make the fat melt off your body”, which is simply not true (I’ll get back to this later). It also claims that if you wanted to reach ketosis naturally, you would either need to work out 10x harder and longer or be like one of the “extreme people” who “biohack their bodies” to get into ketosis, which “can take weeks or months”. For me, this is irresponsible. A keto diet can be simple and enjoyable, but this video makes switching to a healthy, real food, keto diet sound extreme and difficult while promoting an easy way out in the form of a drink. And that’s just bad advice.
The other potentially important distinction between nutritional ketosis and chemically-induced ketosis is the potential metabolic role played by liver AcAc production and redox status. Although the ratio of BOHB to AcAc in venous blood is typically 80% to 20%, classic studies by Cahill (1975) have observed important hepatic vein and peripheral arterio-venous gradients for this ratio in keto-adapted patients. What these observations imply is that the liver produces a higher proportion of AcAc than is found in the peripheral blood, and that this is due to uptake of AcAc in peripheral cells (principally muscle) with re-release as BOHB. In the process, the reduction of AcAc to BOHB produces NAD+, which is beneficial to mitochondrial redox state and mitochondrial function (Verdin 2015, Newman 2017).
Should We Use Exogenous Ketones? Ketosis serves a purpose, and it’s probably why we’re able to survive on this planet. Being able to go without eating and use stored fats for energy is a survival tool and possibly far more as we’re now seeing with the keto diet. But it’s probably not a good idea to constantly take exogenous ketones and eat a high carb diet (high blood glucose levels). It’s not natural for the body to have high blood glucose and use ketones. This is a personal opinion, so
Great information. And apparently I have found out what my problem is. I got into Keto a few weeks ago. Transitioned into ketosis after a week, and then had to travel….while I followed a keto diet as best I could, (I took your powdered MCT Oil with me and it is great), but I did fall out of ketosis. Now it’s been 2 weeks and I can’t seem to get back into ketosis.
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We demonstrated that therapeutic ketosis could be induced without dietary (calorie or carbohydrate) restriction and that this acute elevation in blood ketones was significantly correlated with a reduction in blood glucose (Figs. 2, ,33 and and4).4). The BMS ketone supplement did not significantly induce blood hyperketonemia or reduced glucose in the rats. The KE supplemented rats trended towards reduced glucose levels; however, the lower dose of this agent did not lower glucose significantly, as reported previously in acute response of mice . MCTs have previously been shown to elicit a slight hypoglycemic effect by enhancing glucose utilization in both diabetic and non-diabetic patients [86–88]. Kashiwaya et al. demonstrated that both blood glucose and blood insulin decreased by approximately 50 % in rats fed a diet where 30 % of calories from starch were replaced with ketone esters for 14 days, suggesting that ketone supplementation increases insulin sensitivity or reduced hepatic glucose output . This ketone-induced hypoglycemic effect has been previously reported in humans with IV infusions of ketone bodies [90, 91]. Recently, Mikkelsen et al. showed that a small increase in βHB concentration decreases glucose production by 14 % in post-absorptive health males . However, this has not been previously reported with any of the oral exogenous ketone supplements we studied. Ketones are an efficient and sufficient energy substrate for the brain, and will therefore prevent side effects of hypoglycemia when blood levels are elevated and the patient is keto-adapted. This was most famously demonstrated by Owen et al. in 1967 wherein keto-adapted patients (starvation induced therapeutic ketosis) were given 20 IU of insulin. The blood glucose of fasted patients dropped to 1–2 mM, but they exhibited no hypoglycemic symptoms due to brain utilization of ketones for energy . Therefore, ketones maintain brain metabolism and are neuroprotective during severe hypoglycemia. The rats in the MCT group had a correlation of blood ketone and glucose levels at week 4, whereas the combination of BMS + MCT produced a significant hypoglycemic correlation both at baseline and at week 4. No hypoglycemic symptoms were observed in the rats during this study. Insulin levels were not measured in this study; however, future ketone supplementation studies should measure the effects of exogenous ketones on insulin sensitivity with a glucose tolerance test. An increase in insulin sensitivity in combination with our observed hypoglycemic effect has potential therapy implications for glycemic control in T2D . Furthermore, it should be noted that the KE metabolizes to both AcAc and βHB in 1:1 ratio . The ketone monitor used in this study only measures βHB as levels of AcAc are more difficult to measure due to spontaneous decarboxylation to acetone; therefore, the total ketone levels (βHB + AcAc) measured were likely higher, specifically for the KE . Interestingly, the 10 g/kg dose produced a delayed blood βHB peak for ketone supplements MCT and BMS + MCT. The higher dose of the ketogenic supplements elevated blood levels more substantially, and thus reached their maximum blood concentration later due to prolonged metabolic clearance. It must be noted that the dosage used in this study does not translate to human patients, since the metabolic physiology of rats is considerably higher. Future studies will be needed to determine optimal dosing for human patients.
Ketone Bodies are then used by tissues as a source of energy3 through a pathway that leads to formation from β-hydroxybutyrate of two molecules of acetyl CoA, which are used finally in the Krebs cycle. It is interesting to note that the KBs are able to produce more energy compared with glucose because of the metabolic effects of ketosis—the high chemical potential of 3-β-hydroxybutyrate leads to an increase in the ΔG0 of ATP hydrolysis.3
Until there is more definitive information on the necessary blood levels and the differing proportions of BOHB an AcAc to optimize cellular and organ functions, it will be difficult to specify the dosing and duration of supplemental ketones. However for fuel use, and very likely for exercise performance as well, sustained blood levels of BOHB in the range of 0.5 mM to 1.0 mM are likely to be required. This is achieved physiologically by an estimated ketone production of 50-100 grams per day in a keto-adapted human.
Although several studies have linked calcium supplementation with an increased risk of heart attack and heart disease, other studies have not found the same association. For example, a study on calcium supplementation (1000 mg/day) in postmenopausal women indicated a reduced risk of hip fracture, but no increase in cardiovascular disease or mortality in the supplement group, compared to the placebo group. Another study found no effect from calcium supplementation (600 or 1200 mg/day) on abdominal aortic calcification.
Full disclosure: after carrying out the background research, I was already, as you might imagine, feeling a little less neutral about these products. You may have noticed a hint of that in part 1 of the 2-part video series we made about the project (watch part 2 at the top of this page!). However, and although this was by no means a controlled scientific study under laboratory conditions, we designed the experiment in a very objective way. The aim was to give the supplements the best possible chance of showing the benefits they are claimed to have.
BHB isn’t just an energy source for the brain–it has other effects which promote brain health. BHB can trigger the release of chemicals called neurotrophins, which support neuron function and synapse formation. One of these neurotrophins is called BDNF (brain-derived neurotrophic factor), which is a protein in the brain associated with cognitive enhancement, alleviation of depression and reduction of anxiety.10
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