I’m all for simple switches and bio-hacking if it makes achieving and maintaining optimal health easy but (and that’s a major but), only if it’s healthy to do or take. And while some things in the health space are popular, it doesn’t necessarily mean there is strong science and research to support it.
So, while the Internet buzz and social media may have you believing that taking ketone supplements is the miracle you’ve been searching for to induce immediate weight loss – unfortunately, powdered ketone drinks or pills may not be as miraculous as they are cracked up to be.
What is Ketogenesis?
The human metabolic state known as ketogenesis has existed as long as we have. If your brain is starved of its main fuel (glucose) your liver gets the signal to create its preferred fuel from fat (called ketones) when blood insulin is low; it’s kind of like a hybrid car reverting from gas to electric.
When we talk about ketosis we’re referring to the presence of ketones in the blood. Ketosis can be induced by strictly limiting carbohydrate intake, through fasting, and by engaging in prolonged exercise without carbohydrate intake. It may take from three days to as long as two weeks of following a ketogenic diet for your body to use up its stores of glycogen (the storage form of glucose) and begin to use ketones as fuel. During this keto-adaptation period, people may experience flu-like symptoms hence this temporary condition being dubbed “keto flu.”
Some practitioners have found that when patients are given an outside source of ketones, known as “exogenous ketones” they are able to boost the amount of ketones in their blood which makes the transition to using fat as fuel more tolerable. So, exogenous ketones may play a positive role in keto-adaptation, but hmmmm…what about the claims being made about their role in weight loss? And what is the implication of exogenous ketones on health – do their mere presence suggest anything other than a positive blood level of ketones?
Weight Loss: The Ketogenic Diet & Exogenous Ketones
Weight loss is one of the primary reasons many people attempt a ketogenic diet, and some research does show evidence of faster weight loss compared to a more traditional low-fat diet. However, this accelerated effect seems to disappear over time as the ketogenic diet can be can be a difficult plan to stick to. As far as exogenous ketones are concerned – though there may be mechanistic evidence in animals, there are currently no short-term or long-term studies in humans that have evaluated how exogenous ketones support fat or weight loss.
In my New York Times bestselling book Glow15 I talk about ketosis as a tool, not an end game. The state of ketosis is a positive way to boost autophagy, the body’s natural cellular detoxification process. I know that many of you are interested in real weight loss that is not a result of unhealthy measures or discomfort. The first step of any real weight-loss program is ridding the body of inflammatory toxic build up. One of the easiest ways I have experienced a real detox – a biological detox – is by combining fasting with ketosis. It just so happens that the metabolic changes and benefits of fasting occur when a body is in a natural state of ketosis.
This doesn’t mean consuming exogenous ketones to get more ketones in your blood is the way to necessarily do it; your body can achieve the natural metabolic state of using fat as fuel by simply implementing a couple of incredibly easy, simple, uncomplicated switches such as those in my book.
For example, in the absence of carbohydrates, your body will have to switch to making and burning ketones. Even if you don’t currently eat a diet full of good fats, your body is already familiar with this process because of your nightly overnight fast. If you go from 8 – 12 hours without food, which is a smaller window of intermittent fasting, your body will start using ketones.
One of my simple switches in Glow15 to help you with ketone production is to keep you on a ketogenic meal plan in the morning on “high” days, and on “low” days, you skip breakfast and break your fast at noon with a meal focused on good fats. Additionally, you will also cycle periods of high and low protein intake to further get your body accustomed to the metabolic state autophagy depends on. I call this method IFPC, and you can read all about how it works and how to do it in Glow15. The main point for you to know from this however, is that you can ramp up your ketones through both fasting and diet. While both of these strategies appear daunting, I promise you they are quite simple, and in just 15 days you will literally see physical changes occur before your eyes. I really want you to try it for yourself though – don’t take my word for it. You can only appreciate how amazingly the human body responds to lifestyle interventions by experiencing it firsthand!
In Glow15, you’ll find out how to incorporate all the delicious, once “forbidden” good fats that make food taste so delicious into your daily meal plan. Eating good fats in the presence of a lower carb diet has been shown to be a safe, effective and long-term solution to getting your body fat-adapted. It is this metabolic state I am interested in you achieving. The reason why is because once you become fat-adapted, it means your body can utilize good fats, a cleaner and more efficient fuel to burn versus glucose – a less efficient and definitely less healthier fuel as evidenced by a plethora of research on human metabolism. Following the rhythm of IFPC, along with my Fats First, Carbs Last strategy, will help you naturally produce ketones opposed to relying on them from external sources. Put another way, following the program in Glow15 creates the environment for your body to produce and thrive from ketosis.
So why or why wouldn’t someone want to utilize an exogenous source of ketones? After all, if using ketosis can help spur the transition of being fat fueled and ultimately the goal to achieve metabolic flexibility, shouldn’t we utilize this simple way to bio-hack our system and forgo fasting and a Fat First, Carbs Last approach?
First the Pro’s….
Exogenous ketones can be used beneficially:
- as a tool to help achieve ketosis during keto-adaptation.
- to help you get back into ketosis when you do eat carbs.
- to provide you with easily accessible energy.
- in those with epilepsy and other neurological degenerative diseases.
- as a fuel-source for aerobic athletes outside of dietary carbohydrate and fat.
And then the cons….
- simply help you reach ketosis. While it would be awesome if they did induce weight loss, that isn’t how they work.
- are not a panacea for no exercise and bad dietary habits, they are just a supplement to complement the ketogenic diet. Follow my Glow15 program for specific tips on how to properly use exercise to benefit you.
- with their promises of fat-burning and disease prevention, may be potentially damaging to an obese, insulin resistant population.
- can’t induce ketogenesis without changing your diet; while it is possible to elevate ketones without the low-carb stimulus, there is no net increase in ketone production, no decrease in insulin, and no net increase in fat oxidation.
- can reduce ghrelin, a hormone which subsequently reduces appetite, but isn’t it also possible that the commonly experienced nausea and gut discomfort of taking exogenous ketones contributes to some people’s experience of reduced appetite?
Personally, I am not a big fan of either a long term ketogenic diet or the use of exogenous ketones to maintain ketosis. When you follow my Glow15 lifestyle plan your body does not need to be in a constant state of ketosis to reap its benefits and activate your cellular clean-up crew. Remember, that this is because when you first wake, your body is already high in ketones. So, by skipping carbs for at least the first half of the day, you can take advantage of the autophagy process that has already been initiated, and prolong this nearly ketogenic state to further benefit from it. You can also use intermittent fasting as a tool to enhance ketosis too.
As I’ve said before, there are no quick fixes, miracle pills, or fad diets that will help you achieve your ideal weight overnight, and exogenous ketones are no exception. You want a lifestyle approach that is sustainable and beneficial to your overall health, including weight. I know I did, and it’s why I wrote Glow15. I wanted to thrive, not just survive…and that is also my hope for all of you!