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
Usually, you’ll find exogenous ketones in the form of powdered ketone salts. Less common are ketone esters, which are the purest form of ketones. Griffin says they work quickly (in 10 to 15 minutes, as opposed to an hour for the salts) and effectively, but they’re more expensive, have a more-revolting taste, and are harder to find (HVMN is one U.S. company that sells them). People also use medium-chain triglyceride (MCT) oil — or partially manmade fats — to put the body into a state of ketosis.
There’s some support that exogenous ketones can be helpful for people already dutifully following the keto diet — but research has been limited. One thing we know for sure: These aren’t a get-thin-quick solution. “I think people are drawn to a quick, easy fix, kind of a magic bullet supplement, and it’s not that this won’t contribute to weight loss, but it’s not that magic bullet,” Griffin says.
This research is a good reminder to discuss with your doctor before taking any supplements. Given the widespread use of calcium supplements, more research is required before any final conclusions can be drawn. Several ketone companies have tried to avoid the large sodium loads but instead relied on a bump in the calcium content from the BHB ketone salts, seemingly without consideration for the aforementioned results. Calcium BHB will likely absorb slower compared to sodium BHB due to digestion and absorption kinetics. For those looking to optimize brain uptake of ketones, this probably isn’t the best strategy (as uptake is directly proportional to the levels in the blood). Be cautious of supplements running from the sodium and chasing the calcium BHB instead, and make sure you factor that into your overall daily needs.
The ‘carb-sparing’ effect from BHB suppresses the break down of muscle glycogen. This leads to lower lactate levels. When increasing exercise intensity, fat oxidation (burning) reaches a limit. At that point the muscle burns carbohydrates as fuel. But when consuming Ketone esters, the body does not make this switch. This suggests Ketones are being used instead. 11
There’s debate raging about which dietary tactic is the god particle for making you leaner, faster and healthier. How the ketogenic diet option squares off against the low carb route is vital for understanding the ways in which exogenous ketone supplements work. To get into ketosis the natural way, you need to keep your carb intake low enough for long enough for your body to begin using use fat as fuel. Your liver then converts a portion of that fat into energy molecules called ketones. These work together with glucose as a fuel source, but can actually kick in faster, allowing your body to operate more economically during lengthy, high-energy exercise efforts.
The second ketone ester compound was developed at the University of South Florida. This is a diester of AcAc and BDO. In rodents, this ketone ester raises blood D-BHB to 1-4 mM and blood AcAc to up to 5 mM.19 There is one published study of this ketone ester in humans; results showed a 2% decrease in 31 km cycling time trial performance.16 This may be due to the high rate of side effects of this ester studied. Other factors may have been low levels of BHB (<2 mM), the short, high-intensity time trial used, or the use of AcAc vs. BHB.
I (Kim) researched the topic and planned and ran the experiment under the guidance and supervision of Dr. Andreas Eenfeldt, who touched base with me every step of the way to check the experiment design and execution for scientific rigor (to the greatest degree possible) and who has edited this writeup for quality and trustworthiness reasons. I also consulted with other keto experts and researchers to gather feedback both on the experiment design and the results data. They are referenced in the text when this was the case.
If you are new to ketosis and don’t know much about it, it is a metabolic state, where your body preferentially uses ketones (instead of glucose) for energy. This can lead to a host of different health benefits. If you’d like to learn more about ketosis, what ketones are, and how to benefit from these, feel free to read through our guides: What is Ketosis? What is the Ketogenic Diet? What Are Ketones?
Studies show that exercising depletes both liver and muscle glycogen faster than fasting . For example, swimming for an hour and a half depletes the same amount of glycogen as a 24-hour fast. However, it's a good idea to eat a tiny amount of carbs and protein before and after a workout to prevent muscle damage. Your body can break down proteins in your muscles if glycogen stores get depleted during workouts.
Improved cognition: Elevated plasma ketone concentrations divert the brain to utilize ketone bodies for synthesis of phospholipids, which drives growth and myelination. Normally, glucose would be the preferred substrate, which is much less efficient.14 BHB seems to act as a signal for neuronal pathways. These enhance synaptic plasticity, cognition and neuronal stress resistance. 15 In rat studies, ingestion of a ketone ester for 5 days improved their spatial learning and memory. 16.
It's also important to note that you probably should follow a low carb diet or ketosis diet when using this product. Your brain prefers glucose as fuel because it's easier for the body to metabolize from food, so if you are eating a standard American diet of 100g+ carbs per day, or excessive protein, this won't help you lose weight, even with exercise because you'll have more than enough glucose to power your brain. Carbohydrate restriction, moderate protein, and lots of good healthy fat is what puts your body into ketosis.
On day 29, rats were sacrificed via deep isoflurane anesthesia, exsanguination by cardiac puncture, and decapitation 4–8 h after intragastric gavage, which correlated to the time range where the most significantly elevated blood βHB levels were observed. Brain, lungs, liver, kidneys, spleen and heart were harvested, weighed (AWS-1000 1 kg portable digital scale (AWS, Charleston, SC)), and flash-frozen in liquid nitrogen or preserved in 4 % paraformaldehyde for future analysis.
If you noticed that you're not getting into ketosis quick enough, chances are you're not eating enough fat. Eating plenty of healthy fat is essential in inducing ketosis. One reason why this is so is that your body makes ketones from fat. The other reason being that fat is highly satiating, so your body won't slow down or start breaking down muscle for fuel.
The problem? Exogenous ketone supplements work by flooding your bloodstream with ketones. But unless you’re also eating a ketogenic diet (and producing a steady stream of ketones naturally), those supplemental ketones won’t stick around forever. “The benefit of exogenous ketones is limited due to their excretion through the urine,” explains Madge Barnes, MD, family medicine specialist with Texas Health Family Care. In other words? They’ll only work for a few hours until you pee them out. As a result, you need to keep on supplementing—which can get expensive. Twenty single-serving packets of Prüvit’s Keto//OS MAX Pure Therapeutic Ketones, for example, cost $130. (The company doesn’t specify how often you should take them.)
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
Ketoacidosis is driven by a lack of insulin in the body. Without insulin, blood sugar rises to high levels and stored fat streams from fat cells. This excess amount of fat metabolism results in the production of abnormal quantities of ketones. The combination of high blood sugar and high ketone levels can upset the normal acid/base balance in the blood and become dangerous. In order to reach a state of ketoacidosis, insulin levels must be so low that the regulation of blood sugar and fatty acid flow is impaired.
It’s not clear that the Weir coefficients used to estimate EE are relevant for someone in ketosis, let alone someone ingesting exogenous BHB. (The Weir formula states that EE is approximated by 3.94 * VO2 + 1.11 * VCO2, where VO2 and VCO2 are measured in L/min; 3.94 and 1.11 are the Weir coefficients, and they are derived by tabulating the stoichiometry of lipid synthesis and oxidation of fat and glucose and calculating the amount of oxygen consumed and carbon dioxide generated.) While this doesn’t impact the main observation—less oxygen was consumed with higher ketones—it does impact the estimation of EE and substrate use.
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