Ketosis supplements made in poor quality, have proven to lead to side-effects such as constipation and increased levels of cholesterol and triglycerides in men, and women may also experience amenorrhea or other disruptions to the menstrual cycle. This is why it is really important to know what combination of compounds you are consuming, particularly while you are on this very strict diet because the wrong balance can really mess with you in the long term and won't give you the high performance that you are looking for.
We designed a test for each of the chosen benefit claims and enlisted the help of four of our Diet Doctor teammates to try out the supplements and go through the testing. They were Jonatan and Giorgos from the video team, Emőke from the recipe team and Erik from the IT team. We had a mix of people who were naturally in endogenous ketosis during testing, and people who were not.
Those new to keto should be testing to see if their bodies are in ketosis, regardless of method. Testing, in general, is the most objective way to know if you’re in ketosis. There can be some subjective benefits of ketosis: appetite suppression, fat loss, low blood sugar, improvement in mental cognition and focus. But before recognizing these subjective benefits, it’s important to track and measure the level of ketones in the blood to ensure ketosis on a physical level.
The keto-esters are more appropriate for delivering higher doses of BOHB, but with repeated dosing can push the limits of taste and GI tolerance. There has been fairly extensive research on a compound 3-hydroxybutyl 3-hydroxybutyrate that is converted via hydrolysis and liver metabolism to yield 2 molecules of ketones, presumably mostly D-BOHB (Clarke 2012 and 2014). In a study involving lean athletes, an approximate 50 gram dose raised blood BOHB levels to 3 mM after 10 min and reached 6 mM by 20 min. Submaximal exercise resulted in increased ketone disposal from 2 to 3 hours and contributed significantly to whole body energy use during exercise (Cox 2016). This product has been shown to significantly reduce appetite after a single dose (Stubbs 2018) but its effect on body weight in humans over a longer period of time has not been studied, nor has its effect on blood glucose control been reported in humans with type 2 diabetes. However a single dose prior to a glucose tolerance test in healthy humans reduced blood glucose area-under-curve by 11% and non-esterified fatty acid area-under-curve by 44% (Myette-Cote 2018).
Sometimes waiting for your body to make the switch from carbohydrate metabolism to beta hydroxybutyrate metabolism (aka ketosis) can be an uncomfortable and lengthy process. Another way to get beta hydroxybutyrate into your system so your body is using “clean” energy is by taking it supplementally or through nutrition. A betahydroxybutyrate supplement is what can be used in this scenario. This is an exogenous ketone. Exogenous means you get it from outside of your body. Think EX = exit = outside.
Fasting blood samples were collected prior to all interventions. Following consumption of study drinks (details below), blood, expired gas and urine samples were collected at regular intervals for 4 h. Water was freely permitted and participants remained sedentary at the test facility throughout the visit. A subset of participants returned for samples 8 and 24 h after the ketone drinks (Study 1).
A lot of people who use ketogenic diets will include a regular (i.e. weekly) carb refeed meal. There are various reasons behind doing this. If you are doing a lot of glycolic based training, then the carb refeed can help bump up muscle glycogen levels and in turn boost performance. Others use these refeeds as a way to keep their thyroid health in check, and finally some people use these refeeds as a ‘cheat day’ – so that they can still enjoy the pleasures from carbohydrates!
As I mentioned before, this was by no means a scientific experiment carried out under lab conditions, and this means we can only draw tentative conclusions from any of the data. Nonetheless, carrying out the testing in the way described above should give most people a good idea of how well the ketone supplements show the noticeable benefits they are marketed to have and provide a clear enough basis for a decision on whether or not to buy them.
You may find a tiny amount here and there is ok (i.e., 2g of sugar with a meal full of fat may be ok). But if you are starting out I would recommend cutting all sugar from your diet, and most importantly avoiding any sugar consumption on an empty stomach. For best results track your ketone levels before and after meals to see the impact the food has on your ketone levels.
Other ingredients: Many of the supplements contain large amounts of caffeine – the supplement we tested from Prüvit contains the same amount as a 16 oz cup of coffee! Some supplements also contain malic acid, which is “known for its ability to increase energy and tolerance to exercise”. This leaves the nagging doubt: if the experiment shows an increase in energy and physical performance, for example, how do we know it is the (expensive) BHB causing the effect and not the (inexpensive) other ingredients?
Taking MCT oil (medium chain triglyceride) or coconut oil (contains 60% MCT) can help boost ketone production. This is because your body absorbs MCT very quickly as it bypasses the gallbladder and into the liver to be processed into ketone bodies. Make sure you’re getting unprocessed versions of coconut oil that is labelled as ‘organic’ or ‘extra virgin’. This, along with grass-fed butter, is what I add into my ‘bulletproof’ coffees.
I think almost everyone agrees with me when I say that the ketogenic diet is probably one of the most complex and difficult eating plans out there. Even when you’re not on a diet or trying to lose weight you still have to bring a lot of attention to detail. Getting into ketosis isn’t as important as we would think, but there are still 5 simple steps we can make to get into a ketotic state.
Because they’re so expensive, you want to make sure you pick a good one. Griffin and Langer say to ignore the companies that make these supplements sound too good to be true. Just like with any supplement, Griffin says it’s important to look at what’s in it. Beware of products with lots of fillers and instead go for one with a short, straightforward list of ingredients (Griffin likes the options from KetoSports).
While exogenous ketones (EK) are a newer supplement, having entered the market for consumers in just the past few years, scientists have been synthesizing ketone bodies in a lab since the 1960’s. They were useful for scientists studying their use for specific disease conditions, most notably childhood seizure disorders, though they were prohibitively expensive for consumers (1, 2).
The protocols carried out in these studies were approved by the the South West Frenchay NHS REC (15/SW/0244) (Study 1) and London Queen's Square REC (14/LO/0288) (Study 2 and 3). The studies were carried out in accordance with the recommendations of the Declaration of Helsinki, apart from pre-registration in a database. All subjects gave written informed consent in accordance with the Declaration of Helsinki.
If the color is close to the original beige of the test strip, it means there are few if any ketones in your urine and you’ll need to make some dietary tweaks. This may include eating less fat. That’s because if you have doubled down on the healthy fats your body may be rebelling. One way to tell is if you are constipated. If you think this is the case, ratchet back the fats by 50% and see if it makes a difference.
Another important difference between endogenous and exogenous BOHB is that most synthetic BOHB used in dietary supplements is a mixture of the two ‘D’ and ‘L’ isomers, whereas endogenously produced BOHB consists of just the D-isomer. Metabolically, the two isomers are very different, and current published information indicates that most of the energy and signaling benefits of BOHB derive from the D-form. This is potentially problematic because the L-isomers are not metabolized via the same chemical pathways as the D-forms (Lincoln 1987, Stubbs 2017), and it remains unclear whether humans can convert the L-form to the D-form.
Increased levels of BHB in the body were found to be associated with greater cognitive performance through better performance in memory recall tests12 on a study of 20 subjects with Alzheimer’s disease or demonstration of a mild cognitive deficit. Similarly, BHB ketone esters helped to reverse symptoms of Alzheimer's Disease in one clinical case study.13 More research in humans is needed, but the various hypotheses are backed up by strong animal data.
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