Exogenous Ketones: Health Benefits and Side Effects

If you’re on keto diet and struggling to get into the optimal zone for Nutritional Ketosis, you might be wondering if it would be beneficial for you to use an exogenous ketone supplement.

If you’re not on keto yet, you might be thinking that exogenous ketones will help you get into the state of ketosis faster than if you just used keto-friendly foods.

Perhaps, you went over your carbohydrate tolerance or flat out cheated on the keto diet and now you need a quick way to recover.

Maybe, you’re on keto, and doing fine, but have heard good things about exogenous ketones and wondering if they can help you lose weight faster.

Ketones cannot be stored by the body.

They are a by-product that occurs as the liver breaks down triglycerides into fatty acids.

Fatty acids can fuel the liver during gluconeogenesis, but ketones cannot, so the liver dumps the ketones into the bloodstream to fuel the brain.

The brain can use ketones for up to 80 percent of its fuel needs, so getting your blood level for ketones up into the optimal zone for Nutritional Ketosis, 0.5 mmol/L to 4.0 mmol/L, is important to experience the benefits of ketosis.

And that’s where these exogenous ketones come in.

Supposedly, they can take the place of endogenous ketones and:

  • get you into the state of Nutritional Ketosis faster.
  • increase your energy and stamina.
  • improve mental clarity and performance.
  • decrease appetite and cravings.

But how true are the claims?

In this guide to exogenous ketones, we’re going to take a closer look at what these ketones are, their health benefits, side effects, advantages, and disadvantages.

We’ll also explain when these supplements are useful and when they’re not.

What are Exogenous Ketones?

There are two main types of ketones:

Endogenous ketones – Made by the liver during the process of separating the glycerol molecule from the back of a triglyceride.

This procedure is demand-driven.

Ketones are created internally, as needed, and is a natural process that occurs when you restrict the carbohydrates in your diet.

These types of ketones do not come from food.

Exogenous ketones – Made in a laboratory by attaching a ketone to a salt or molecule of alcohol.

The salty ketones are called ketone salts, and packaged by the manufacturer as a powder.

This powder is then mixed with a liquid by the dieter and drunk. The other ketone supplement is called ketone esters and already comes packaged as a liquid.

The salt used in ketone salts is three of the four mineral salts:

  1. sodium
  2. calcium
  3. magnesium

Ketone salts are cheaper to make than ketone esters are, but ketone esters are more potent than ketone salts. However, they taste terrible and are difficult to find commercially.

Ketone salts taste better than the esters and are more marketable, but they are far less potent.

This means that ketone esters can increase your ketone level in the bloodstream higher, up to 3.0 mmol/L, but the rise in ketones doesn’t last very long.

Ketone salts, on the other hand, won’t raise your ketone level very much, only between 0.3 mmol/L and 1.0 mmol/L, but the rise you get will last awhile.

Ketone salts come in a powdered form. You mix the powder with a liquid, such as water, and then drink it like a protein shake.

Due to the conversion to a liquid, ketone salts can leave the stomach fairly quickly, so marketing claims say they can raise your ketone levels within 15 minutes to an hour, depending on the brand.

The idea behind exogenous ketones is to raise the level of ketones in the bloodstream, which can help you get you into the optimal zone for ketosis.

Ketones can’t be stored by the body, so like your natural ketones, these oral salts will build up in the bloodstream and become measurable, as well as usable.

The body makes 3 types of ketones:

  1. acetoacetate ketones
  2. beta-hydroxybutyrate ketones
  3. acetone ketones

The acetoacetate ketones are the ketones you measure when you’re using urine test strips at the beginning of the Atkins Diet. These ketones are not as plentiful as beta-hydroxybutyrate.

Beta-hydroxybutyrate are the type of ketones that the brain uses best, and can be measured by a blood ketone meter.

Some of these ketones are also present in the urine, but the urine testing strips cannot detect them.

Most of the acetoacetate ketones the body makes are eventually converted into beta-hydroxybutyrate for use by the brain after you’ve been restricting carbs for a few days.

Acetone ketones are produced in much smaller quantities by the liver than acetoacetate or beta-hydroxybutyrate and are the ketones you give off in your breath and urine that produce that very distinctive smell.

Each ketone is used by the body differently.

After a few weeks on your low-carb diet, the beta-hydroxybutyrate ketones are most prominent, so these are the ketones that manufacturers use to make exogenous ketones.

However, these exogenous ketones are not carb blockers.

While the supplement will affect the number of ketones in the bloodstream, they do not affect the carbs you eat at all. You can’t use beta-hydroxybutyrate ketones right after you indulge in a cheat meal and expect the body to ignore the carbs you just consumed because that’s not what these supplements do.

Exogenous ketones mimic endogenous ketones, the ketones the liver makes, so the body treats them as if they were regular ketones.

This means that as long as exogenous ketones are around, the body will produce fewer natural ketones.

Health Benefits of Exogenous Ketones

Exogenous ketones claim to boost the effects of ketosis, which means you can experience:

Appetite Control – Scientists do not understand why the state of ketosis tends to dull the appetite, but this can be an important benefit for those who tend to binge on carbs.

Fewer Cravings for Carbs – Likewise, if you’re feeling deprived on Keto, a few extra beta-hydroxybutyrate ketones can help you say no to those chocolate chip cookies.

Consistent Energy – Since ketones can be used by the muscles to fuel activity when body fat isn’t readily available, energy tends to stay more consistent than it does when using glucose for energy.

On glucose, you’re going to get tired when your glycogen stores run low. Getting into ketosis faster will help you avoid feeling so tired.

Increased Physical Endurance – Endurance can improve when you’re using ketones for energy instead of glucose because the body will have more energy stores available.

Mental Clarity – Many dieters find that the extra beta-hydroxybutyrate ketones available for the brain help improve their comprehension skills.

Better Sleep – Some people sleep better when in the state of ketosis, but others find it more difficult.

Improved Mental Performance – If you have a sit-down desk job, you might see an increase in your ability to think through problems and get things done more quickly.

Much Better Mood – For those with insulin resistance, anything that relieves stress on the body will increase your feelings of well-being.

Better Athletic Performance – If you are on maintenance, extra ketones can improve your athletic skills, endurance, and abilities because consistent energy sources are always available.

All of these benefits may or may not be true for you. Everyone doesn’t experience the same results when taking endogenous ketones.

What these supplements definitely do not do is accelerate weight loss.

This is because weight loss is directly related to your energy deficit and has nothing to do with the level of blood ketones you have built up in the bloodstream.

At least, not directly.

Beta-hydroxybutyrate ketones do not make you burn body fat.

They are a form of energy that can be used by the brain and every cell in your body with mitochondria.

Muscles will use them when you have an ample supply, but this is not always beneficial.

The presence of ketones in the bloodstream is a life-saving act. Without them, the brain would die.

Weight loss occurs because the liver has to convert triglycerides into fatty acids for fuel, and it does that by pulling triglycerides out of your adipose tissues.

If triglycerides are not pulled out of your adipose tissues to fuel gluconeogenesis and low-intensity exercise, fat loss will not occur.

Side Effects Of Exogenous Ketones

Some of the side effects from using exogenous ketones include:

Higher insulin level – It is not true that you can’t have too many ketones.

In fact, if you raise your ketone level too high, due to supplementation, the body will secrete insulin to shut down ketone production until you have used up all of the excess ketones in your bloodstream.

Caffeine – Some supplements include a lot of caffeine, over what you’d get in a single cup of coffee, so some of the above benefits, such as an increase in energy or feeling of well-being, might be due to the caffeine, rather than the extra ketones you’re drinking.

High-Sodium – Since the most common type of exogenous ketones comes in the form of mineral salts, they are not suitable for those on low-salt diets.

Ketone salts are very high in sodium, about 700 mg, and sometimes, even more than that.

Gastrointestinal Distress – Depending on the amount of magnesium in the supplement, drinking ketone salts can cause gastrointestinal issues, such as cramping, stomach ache, nausea, or even diarrhea.

Degree of these side effects is dependent on the dosage.

To avoid stomach issues and gastrointestinal reactions when using ketone salts, start out using a very small dose, maybe only a quarter of a serving, and gradually increase the amount you take, as your body adapts to these beta-hydroxybutyrate supplements.

Advantages of Using Exogenous Ketone Salts

These supplements can make the transition from the Standard American Diet to a low-carb lifestyle easier to move into, so for some people, exogenous ketones can be a life saver.

By reducing the time it takes to reach ketosis, you can begin to experience appetite reduction and an upswing in mood right away.

Lower hunger hormones makes it easier to eat at a calorie deficit. The appetite suppression can lead to weight loss if you were eating too much before.

In addition, since these supplements contain sodium, calcium, and magnesium, you can also avoid the Keto Flu.

Keto Flu is not a virus, but is due to imbalanced electrolytes. If you’re experiencing constipation, headaches, muscle aches, diarrhea, or muscle cramps, you’re going to see an improvement with these supplements.

However, some people consider exogenous ketones a fairly expensive way to get those extra electrolytes.

Are Exogenous Ketones Keto-Friendly?

If you’re taking in a large amount of ketones by mouth, your body is going to begin to make fewer ketones for itself.

This can be counterproductive to weight loss if you’re taking the supplement to try and get into the optimal zone for ketosis and stay there for an extended period of time.

The optimal zone is about teaching your body to burn fatty acids for fuel over glucose, and if your state of ketosis is dependent on exogenous ketones, that isn’t going to happen.

Also keep in mind that ketone salts will only raise your ketone level slightly, so you’ll have to take the supplement consistently to see any benefits.

In addition, and much more important for keto dieters, the body will burn those extra beta-hydroxybutyrate ketones for energy, instead of body fat, which means that weight loss can slow down quite dramatically while using these supplements, and even stop completely.

The supplements also contain calories, so you’ll need to adjust your dietary intake to make up for those extra calories or you could actually gain weight by supplementing your keto diet with exogenous ketones.

Ketones contain about 4 calories per gram, the same amount as protein or carbohydrates have.

Serving size differs between brands, with some brands higher in calories than others due to the MCT oil added to the formula.

MCT oils cannot be stored in the body, so like ketones, they have to be used before body fat, so your weight loss will slow down.

To manage your ketone levels, you’ll need to consume more than just one serving per day, which can also be very costly in calories.

Final Thoughts

Exogenous ketones are not a good substitute for a well-planned ketogenic diet.

While they can be beneficial under certain circumstances, such as avoiding the keto flu, the majority of low carb dieters won’t see much benefit from taking them except for a boost in mood and well-being, unless you are not trying to lose weight and already eating at your maintenance level of calories.

On maintenance, the supplements can help you to stay in the optimal range for well-being and energy and will ensure that you’re getting an extra supply of sodium, calcium, and magnesium, but you will have to take several servings per day to enjoy those benefits.

On keto, the body is perfectly capable of making its own ketones, as needed by the brain, and finding alternative sources of glucose as well.

Helping the body to do its job better only results in the body creating fewer ketones than it was making before.

While this is fine for those who are not in the weight-loss phase of the Keto Diet, if you’re trying to ditch those excess pounds, you’ll want your body to use up as much body fat as possible.

Anything that interferes with body fat mobilization will slow down weight loss.

And in some cases, if you’re taking a lot of extra ketones in, you can even make your insulin resistance worse.

A much better plan for those in the weight-loss phase is to make sure you’re getting enough sodium, potassium, calcium, and magnesium in your daily diet — and let your body do the rest.

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