Low carb and keto diets are everywhere. Ketones and the ketogenic diet are ubiquitous across all media platforms. Unfortunately, misinformation and confusing marketing is leaving people confused. What are ketones and what do they do? Where do ketones come from, and how do you use them? Are ketone supplements healthy or safe? Keep reading for everything you need to know about the health of natural and exogenous ketones.
A Quick Science Lesson
Before we get into specifics, we need to discuss cellular metabolism (AKA, the production of energy). The energy currency of the body is something called adenosine triphosphate or ATP. Produced in our cells to give us energy, it fuels all of our body’s processes. We produce ATP by metabolizing either sugar (glucose) or fats. The body converts glucose to ATP through a process called glycolysis. Glucose produces quick, easy energy. But, it only releases a small amount of ATP. Fat burning is a slower, more difficult process, but generates significantly more ATP per gram of fat oxidized.
The process of converting fats to ATP first requires beta oxidation, followed by the citric acid (or Kreb’s) cycle in the mitochondria. Another important distinction between our two energy substrates is that we have a limited ability to store glucose (as liver and muscle glycogen) but an unlimited ability to store body fat.
What are Ketones and Where do they Come From?
Ketones are produced as byproducts when the body burns fat for fuel via beta oxidation. Since the body’s main fuel source is glucose, the burning of fat for fuel only occurs under low carbohydrate conditions. With low carbohydrate intake and expended stored glucose, the body burns fat via beta oxidation and provides energy. “The liver produces ketones when blood glucose levels are low. The body begins to convert stored fat into ketone bodies, or ketones for energy. When the body starts burning stored fat, ketosis or fat-burning mode has been achieved” (1).
How do you produce ketones?
Conditions that induce ketogenesis – or production of ketones – include:
All of these situations allow the body to burn through stored glucose (called glycogen). Once that storage empties, the body taps into fat stores and starts burning predominantly fat for energy production. Ketosis is achieved once the body relies more on ketones for fuel than glucose.
Ketone Symptoms and Causes?
For some people, entering into ketosis (or using ketones for fuel) comes with some unpleasant, but temporary, side effects. These “keto flu” symptoms include:
- Bad breath
- Brain fog
- Mild flu-like symptoms
These symptoms occur when the body learns to transition to a different fuel source, and subsides once the body adapts. Some individuals experience more pronounced symptoms than others. Also, a significant genetic component influences how efficiently someone produces ketones. For those who struggle to get into ketosis, or simply want to ease the transition, exogenous ketones may help.
So far we’ve only discussed the body’s own production of ketones. But what about ketone supplements? Exogenous ketones are taken, rather than produced, by the body. They can act as a fuel source for the body to burn for energy, often ease the transition into ketosis and helps prevent the symptoms associated with the keto flu.
The exogenous ketone supplements available on the market are called ketone salts. They combine acetoacetate and/or beta hydroxybutyrate with sodium, calcium or potassium. The current literature on ketone salt supplementation shows that ingesting exogenous ketones causes a rise in blood ketone levels. This assists individuals trying to ease into ketosis without the keto flu. In addition, people who struggle adhering to a strict low carb diet take ketone supplements to reap similar benefits with slightly more carbs. Others take it for an energy boost between meals or pre-workout.
Some of the most popular exogenous ketone supplements available include: pruvit, Keto CaNa and Perfect Keto. As with all supplements, always check out the company and the ingredient list. Avoid any that include fillers, additives or artificial sweeteners.
Ketone salts alone only raise blood ketone levels, but not endogenous ketone production, according to current literature. Products that combine ketone salts with a ketogenic fat like MCT (or simply adding it in yourself) helps raise blood ketone levels, and increases endogenous production of ketones.
Do Ketones Promote Weight Loss?
First let’s clear this up right away: despite some clever marketing, ketone supplements alone do not cause weight loss. Exogenous ketones simply provide a form of energy for the body to use and raise ketone levels in the blood. That said, when in ketosis, you are burning fat for fuel. That fat can come from body stores or the diet. If you eat in a way that ensures burn body fat for fuel, and not just dietary fat, then weight loss also occurs. Though not a miracle weight loss supplement, if used correctly, ketones help you lose weight by a few different mechanisms.
Ketones are only produced when dietary carbohydrates are kept low enough to allow the body to tap into fat stores. Following a low carbohydrate diet is a fantastic way to reduce insulin levels and restore insulin sensitivity – two cornerstones of effective weight loss. Since exogenous ketones help ease your transition into a low carb lifestyle, they may improve compliance and reduce the side effects commonly experienced at the beginning of a ketogenic diet.
Burning glucose for fuel is quick and volatile, whereas burning fat produces a slow, steady stream of energy to the body. For that reason, in addition to stabilizing blood sugar and insulin levels, burning ketones for fuel may help with appetite regulation. Also, high fat foods typically consumed on a ketogenic diet are highly satiating and often prevent cravings.
Exogenous ketones, when combined with ketogenic fats like MCT’s (medium chain triglycerides) frequently results in the favorable side-effects of ketosis. Things like mental clarity, reduced appetite and cravings, improved sleep and easier weight loss often occur.
Ketones or ketone bodies are produced endogenously (by the body) when we metabolize fat. They also can be taken exogenously as a supplement. Ketones provide a steady form of energy for our cells. The state of ketosis refers to relying predominantly on ketones for fuel. Health benefit abound with ketosis: mental clarity, improved insulin sensitivity, glycemic control and weight loss. Getting into ketosis requires low glucose availability through low carb dieting, fasting, exercise. The use of exogenous ketones and MCT oil may help mitigate the symptoms of keto flu and make the transition into ketosis easier. So, are ketones good for us? Are they healthy Absolutely! Our body makes them every day!
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