If you follow the ebb and flow of the dietary industry, then you have probably heard of the term “ketosis,” “ketones,” or “the ketogenic diet.” You generally hear reference to them when we talk about low-carb, higher fat diets. In a society where low-fat/no-fat is pretty much the accepted standard, this whole low-carb/high-fat concept can seem a little… out there. Especially when there is so much confusion about what ketones are and what they do. THEN, I start talking about the possibility of supplementing with ketones – and people get even more confused. So let’s unpack all of this, learn a little more about ketones, and why taking a supplement might actually be a good thing.
Let’s start with the basics.
What ARE ketones and what is ketosis?
When we think of the body’s natural fuel source, we think of glucose, or sugar. We know that our body needs to use sugar as a fuel, but what many people don’t realize is that fats can be an equally, and even superior, fuel source to the body. The process of ketosis refers to the body’s ability to use fats as its primary source of energy, over glucose.
When the body burns fat, it produces three bi-products of fat breakdown, β-hydroxybutyrate (BHB), acetoacetate (ACA) and acetone. These bi-products are called Ketones. This is a naturally occurring process and it’s what allows our bodies to survive during times of food restriction.
When an individual begins to follow a low carbohydrate diet, the body has to look for another fuel source, and it turns to fatty acids and fat stores to provide that much needed energy. The liver breaks down the fat, and releases ketones into the blood to be used by the brain and other organs to produce energy.
The interesting thing about ketones is that BHB may be a more efficient source of fuel for the brain than glucose, and because ketones are water-soluble substances, any excesses are eliminated through the urine (BHB and ACA), or the breathe (acetone).
WHAT ARE THE BENEFITS
The ketogenic diet first became popular as a treatment for seizures in children suffering from epilepsy, and the neuro-protective benefits of ketones came to light. As research into the process of ketosis expands, the list of benefits just continues to grow.
Weight loss & Blood Sugar Balance
This is one of the more popular, and desired, benefits from ketones. Ketones have been found to improve insulin sensitivity, lower and normalize blood sugar levels, contribute to an increased state of satiety and decrease food cravings. Individuals with high levels of ketones have been able to step away from the main-stream dieting idea that 6-meals per day must be the norm. Due to the increased level of satiety, you just eat when you’re hungry. No more calorie counting or food measuring!! All with significant weight loss benefits.
The improvement in blood sugar levels may also explain why ketones have been shown to benefit type II diabetics and women suffering from polycystic ovarian syndrome.
Energy levels and athletic performance have also shown significant improvement with higher levels of ketones. Ketones play a role in improved blood flow. They appear to enhance the function of the mitochondria (our energy power house), cause blood vessels to dilate, and lead to improved oxygen capacity, which can enhance athletic performance and improve motor performance. This is why ketones are often referred to as a “super fuel.” Ketones are also a powerful antioxidant, they have an anti-catabolic effect and help to preserve and promote muscle mass. Ketones have also been associated with an increase in branch chain amino acids (BCAA), which play a role in muscle growth.
The list of benefits from ketones is exhaustive. In addition to the weight loss effects and enhanced energy and muscle performance, ketones have been positively associated with:
Neuro-protective benefits in seizure disorders; ADHD; Alzheimer ’s disease, memory and cognitive function; Parkinson’s Disease and Multiple Sclerosis
Autism and improved behaviour and social impacts
Mood stabilization in bipolar disorder (type II)
Stroke prevention; cardiovascular disease; metabolic syndrome management; improved cholesterol levels
The benefits of ketones are obvious, so the question remains - what is the best way to increase your ketone levels?
Exogenous ketone supplementation
vs the ketogenic diet
The ketogenic diet is not new, and has been in practice for many years. It involves following a low carbohydrate (5-10%), moderate protein (15%-30%) and high fat (60%-75%) diet. The problem with the ketogenic diet is that many people find it quite restrictive and difficult to follow. This creates a problem for those who want to benefit from elevated ketone levels, especially children. In the past, dietary changes were the only way to bring your body into a state of nutritional ketosis.
However, today, we have access to the first exogenous ketone supplement, KETO//OS. The supplement blends BHB ketones with medium chain fatty acids, providing the body with ketones, without the need to follow a strict ketogenic diet. Studies are finding that supplementation with ketones is superior to the ketogenic diet. Even while following a Standard North American Diet (SAD), individuals are still experiencing the benefits of ketones via supplementation. However, it is thought that following a lower carbohydrate diet, not necessarily a strict ketogenic diet, will enhance the benefits of the ketone supplements, as your body becomes even more adept to using the ketones are a source of fuel.
The moral of the story? Ketones are something from with we can all benefit. The best part is that now we have an option to get them, without having to stick to the tough dietary guidelines. So throw out your low-fat yogurt, get off the yo-yo diet bandwagon, and give it a try.
Stay tuned for Keto Basics – Part II: Ketone Safety