If you are following a ketogenic diet, practicing intermittent fasting or just cutting down on carbs, beta hydroxybutyrate ketones (BHB) may be something you’d like to know more about.
What are Beta Hydroxybutyrate Ketones?
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When you adopt a diet that includes protein and fats, but is very low in carbs, including sugar, your liver produces its own ketones, known as endogenous ketones. Endogenous is Latin for within. When ketones made in the lab are supplemented into the diet they are known as exogenous (outside) ketones.
In addition to their energy-giving and endurance-boosting properties, there is clinical evidence to suggest that BHB ketones may help with neurological conditions such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease, also with migraine symptoms. They have been found to be a useful option in diabetes management and also to help those getting to grips with a low carbohydrate diet to stay on track, whilst reducing the more unpleasant symptoms of a different dietary regime.
BHB for Fat Burning and Energy
For many people who need to lose a significant amount of weight, the keto diet is one which shows results. First making its world stage debut in the early 2000s with the Atkin’s Diet, keto has now become a method of weight loss involving an extremely low quantity of carbohydrates but a high amount of fat. This eating regime puts your body into a state known medically as ketosis.
Under normal dietary conditions your cells burn glucose for energy, but when there is no glucose, the energy comes from your body having to burn fat stores, and this is the way ketosis works. Your body produces beta-hydroxybutyrate (BHB) naturally but when in ketosis it produces much more, burning up fat stores to sustain energy levels.
It sounds easy but achieving and sustaining a state of ketosis requires very strict discipline and a huge amount of determination. This is where exogenous ketones can support your efforts to burn fat. If, once you’ve reached the stage where ketosis has kicked in, BHB is taken as a supplement, it may help you to stay on course with the diet and, at the same time, still give you the energy to exercise and work out regularly.
Taking BHB can only help with fat burning if you are already in a state of ketosis, or if you are working towards a very low carb or keto diet. Exogenous ketones in your bloodstream will then help your cells burn fat and provide an energy boost. They may also give improved mental focus as well as helping to curb cravings for sweet and carb-laden foods.
It’s worth bearing in mind that from a nutritional point of view, following a ketogenic diet may have great results in terms of weight loss but it shouldn’t be regarded as a forever diet. Your body needs a balance of nutrients to be healthy long term.
What is Ketosis?
In evolutionary terms, ketosis is a process which evolved to allow human beings to survive during periods when food was scarce. Without ketosis early man would have starved to death during times such as midwinter when plant- food sources were scarce. Molecules, now known as ketones, allowed us to survive on our own store of body fat. Science has discovered that these molecules have certain other benefits as well as warding off starvation.
When ketones take over as your main source of fuel you are said to be in a state of ketosis, and this means that you are burning stored body fat instead of the body’s preferred fuel which is glucose taken from carbohydrates in the diet. These carbs include sugary and starchy foods which get broken down into simple sugars and stored in the liver and muscles as a substance known as glycogen. When on a low carb diet, you reach the point when very little glucose is left to be used as fuel, so the body begins to break down fat stores to be used as a kind of glucose which comes from triglycerides.
Ketones are molecules which are produced as a by-product from the process of body fat breaking down. When you starve your body of carbohydrates, blood sugar reduces, insulin levels drop, glucagon and cortisol increase, and fatty acids are released into the blood by a process known as lipolysis. The increase in fatty acids in the blood are then taken in by the liver to be used in the production of ketones.
There are three types of ketone:
- acetoacetate (AcAc)
- Beta-hydroxybutyrate (BHB)
When you are in a state of ketosis, you have raised levels of these ketones in your blood. Of the three, the most stable ketone is BHB which can be transported through the bloodstream to other organs and tissues. AcAc tends to be broken down in the blood where it is converted to acetone, a waste produce of the metabolic process, and this is excreted in the breath, hence the slight aroma of pear-drops or nail varnish often noticed in those following the keto diet.
BHB for Athletic Performance and Endurance
BHB has been found to improve endurance and energy during periods of exercise. It also boosts fat burning without causing muscles to waste. Your body burns carbohydrates for fuel when you are active, but when you restrict your own supply of carbs then your body will begin to break down fatty acids to use as fuel. Ketones are the by-product of this process.
Following long spells of exercise, or if you are fasting or on a low carb diet, ketosis will occur naturally, but this is not a quick and easy route as your body needs time to adapt to a low carb diet. During this transition you won’t be able to perform at your best and that’s why some athletes are now choosing to supplement with exogenous ketones. The addition of BHB helps you to stay in ketosis more efficiently and without some of the debilitating symptoms of carb withdrawal.
Whether or not a ketogenic diet is suitable for your goals depends greatly upon what you are aiming to achieve in your athletic performance. It may be wise to discuss your nutritional plans with a medical professional who specialises in sport nutrition to make sure you are following the most safe and effective route to meet your needs.
BHB for Neuroinflammation
Recent evidence shows that age-related metabolic dysfunction plays a part in the onset of impaired cognitive function, including memory loss, dementia, and Alzheimer’s disease. Changes in metabolism, such as a ketogenic diet, may positively alter cognitive ability and due to these findings, along with the discovery that BHB can effectively cross the blood-brain barrier, means further investigation is going ahead to find out whether there is a way in which BHB can reduce the severity of Alzheimer’s disease.
The Keto diet is already a recognised treatment for epilepsy but until recently the exact science as to why it should help was unknown. Research has now discovered that the benefits are due to alteration in gut bacteria owing to the low carbohydrate, high fat nature of the diet. Scientists have also found that when the altered bacteria are removed from the gut of the subject under review, the benefit of fewer seizures is also removed.
Laboratory trials have revealed that when the altered bacteria are transplanted into the gut of another epileptic sufferer, they appear to give the same benefits, but without the necessity of following a low carb diet. This presents interesting possibilities for future research with human participants.
Memory and Focus
BHB ketones have been found to improve memory, mood, and focus. Supplementing with BHB may also reduce the risk of mild cognitive diseases and early stages of dementia. There is a possibility that taking BHB could even help recovery from memory impairment. The reason for these benefits is that certain neurological disorders are associated with a lack of glucose which is the brain’s main fuel. In this situation ketones are the only alternative fuel and therefore dietary supplements of exogenous ketones provide promising support to help with energy needs during times of neurological crisis.
Research is also finding evidence that ketosis induced by exogenous ketones may help arrest damage and improve cognitive and motor performance in events such as seizure, mild impairment and neurotrauma.
Science Daily reported on research carried out in 2021 and published in The Journal of Physiology, stating that ketone supplements may be a new method of protecting and improving brain health in people with obesity. It is known that those who are significantly overweight are at a greater risk of developing cognitive impairment and neurodegenerative diseases. The study revealed that giving a ketone supplement three times a day for 14 days increased blood flow to the brain and had a beneficial effect on working memory and processing speed in obese adults.
For dietary help and advice when suffering with, or caring for, anyone with dementia or neurological impairment, the British Dietic Association web page on Nutrition and Dementia has useful information along with contact details for further help and support.
BHB to Help Manage Blood Glucose Levels
Ketones are known to lower blood glucose levels so can be a support in the management of diabetes. There are two kinds of diabetes: type 1 usually occurs early in life and can be genetic. Type 2 (Mellitus) is more likely to present in later life, often after 50, but also in younger people due possibly to early obesity. Type 2 diabetes if often triggered by life-style issues such as lack of exercise, together with the prolonged habit of eating too much refined carbohydrates (including sugar).
The reasons for this happening are to do with the body’s ability to convert glucose from food into energy. This process is usually taken care of by the pancreas which produces a hormone called insulin. When you have diabetes, your pancreas makes insulin, but your cells cannot use it properly. When this happens, your pancreas works hard to produce more insulin but because cells cannot assimilate it, the extra insulin builds up in your blood and gradually the pancreas gives up the fight.
Research studies have found that a diet low in carbs, or a keto diet, has a good effect on stabilising blood glucose and this could result in a reduction of diabetes medication. Some dietitians recommend a keto diet for people with type 2 diabetes because with this type of diabetes the body does still produce some insulin, but it doesn’t work as well as it should. If you have type 2 diabetes, you need to eat fewer carbs as they will convert to glucose and increase your blood sugar levels. Because the keto diet reduces intake of dietary carbs it may be a helpful method of helping yourself control blood sugar.
Diabetes UK have some information on their website on safely following a low carbohydrate diet for anyone with either types 1 or 2 diabetes.
NOTE – If you have diabetes, and are following a keto diet, you should monitor your ketone levels carefully. This can be done with a simple home test kit. If too many ketones build up in the blood stream, they may become toxic and can lead to a condition called ketoacidosis.
Also known as DKA, ketoacidosis is a condition that can arise if ketone levels in the blood become too high. An excess of ketones can poison the body and this situation can develop very quickly, often overnight or certainly over a period of about 24 hours.
Ketoacidosis most often crops up in those who have type 1 diabetes, but it can also occasionally occur with type 2. High levels of ketones in the urine and high blood sugar are both warning signs of ketoacidosis.
The most common trigger for ketoacidosis is often an insufficient amount of insulin, maybe due to missed doses or too little insulin being administered. Other, less common, triggers are drug misuse, physical trauma, emotional trauma, stress.
Early warning signs of ketoacidosis are abdominal pain, confusion and difficulty concentrating, flushed skin, excessive thirst, fruity breath, frequent need to pee, feeling sick and/or being sick, shortness of breath.
Prevention and treatment of ketoacidosis
Ketosis rarely affects those who eat a balanced diet with regular meals. The dangerous time is when calorie and carb intake is drastically reduced. Other vulnerable times are when pregnant or when exercising for a long period of time.
If you are diabetic and choose to put your body through ketosis, there is a risk of high acid levels. These can be dangerous unless they are closely controlled and monitored.
Medically, DKA is considered an emergency as it can result in diabetic coma. Paramedics or emergency health workers will treat with fluid replacement to rehydrate the body and dilute excess sugar in the blood. They will also give electrolyte fluids to help maintain heart, muscle, and nerve function. Insulin will be given to reverse the problem that caused the ketoacidosis. A stay in intensive care usually follows emergency treatment.
Keto or Carb Flu
Although the ketogenic diet has many followers and devotees due to its weight loss potential, it can have certain undesirable side effects. One of the downsides of the diet is keto flu or carb flu. This condition arises when certain symptoms are experienced by some people when they begin to follow the keto diet. The symptoms can present in a similar way to conventional flu but are caused by the body trying to adapt to a new diet, and particularly to the fact that there are very few carbohydrates to burn.
Because of the carbohydrate deficit, the body is forced to burn ketones for energy rather than its ‘go-to’ fuel of glucose. Ketones take over as the main fuel when following a very low carb diet or fasting diet and this is referred to as ketosis. This condition is triggered when less than 50g per day of carbohydrates (including sugar) are consumed. Because this sudden restriction of its usual fuel shocks the body, it can cause symptoms that are similar to withdrawal from certain addictive drugs or substances such as caffeine.
Although many people may make the switch to a ketogenic diet without any undesirable effects, others may experience any of the following symptoms:
- muscle aches and cramps
- poor concentration
- sugar cravings
Symptoms don’t generally last for more than about a week, although for some people they could last longer. There are various ways of self-help to ease the symptoms and get through the transition more smoothly:
- Drink plenty of water
- Glycogen is the stored form of carbohydrate, and it binds to water. When carbs are reduced in the diet, glycogen levels fall, and water is lost from the body. If you keep yourself hydrated it will help ease feelings of fatigue and muscle cramps. This is even more important if you are suffering with sickness and diarrhoea.
- Limit strenuous exercise
- If you are having muscle pain it is a good idea to give your body a rest from high-impact exercise. Stick with walking, yoga, or leisurely swimming instead.
- Try to get enough sleep
- Reduce carbs very gradually and eat more fat
- The switch-over to a low-carb diet can cause you to have cravings for such foods as bread, pasta, biscuits, and cakes. If you introduce extra fats into your diet this will help you to lose these cravings.
- Certain fats have health-giving properties, and these are mainly those known as unsaturated fats. Some foods containing healthy fats are avocados, olives and olive oil, nut and seed oils, nuts, and the omega oils in oily fish, such as salmon, mackerel, and sardines. These fats may be included in your diet without risk to your cholesterol levels.
- Supplenent with BHB
- Consider trying BHB ketone salts as a supplement to help support your chosen diet plan without the carbohydrate withdrawal symptoms.
Supplementing with BHB Ketone Salts
Because BHB triggers the body into using fat stores for energy, it may prove effective if you are considering a low carbohydrate, high fat eating regime or keto diet. It is also a helpful supplement to support intermittent fasting methods of diet
A summarised explanation of why this works is that the body’s energy source comes from burning carbohydrates, converted by the metabolism into glucose, or from fat converted by the body into ketones.
Some of the benefits of supplementing with BHB exogenous ketones:
- BHB exogenous ketones help kick-start the body into using its fat stores for energy.
- BHB is a highly effective supplement for anyone following a low carb, keto, or intermittent fasting diet. Limiting carbs can reduce energy levels, but BHB ketones help lessen fatigue and ease the symptoms nicknamed carb flu.
- Ketogenic diets may help to reduce appetite by regulating hormones.
Our BHB Exogenous Ketones supplement is blended with organic cacao nibs, natural chocolate, and sea salt flavouring. It contains no sugar and is sweetened with a little stevia. An added advantage is that the organic cacao nibs are high in natural antioxidant properties.
Read more about BHB Exogenous Ketones.
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