What are Exogenous Ketones and Should You Take them?
You’ve probably heard them mentioned on various keto diet blogs: exogenous ketones
There are many misconceptions surrounding exogenous ketones – they’ve been getting a reputation as a “magic bullet” or “shortcut” to ketosis, weight loss, and other health benefits…all without needing to follow a keto diet.
But is this really true? While they certainly have a variety of uses and benefits, we’re going to clear up the facts about exogenous ketones for you in this article (plus video).
Q&A Video on Exogenous Ketones
We recently did a rapid-fire questions round with Alex Cunningham from Perfect Keto, and he answered your most common questions on exogenous ketone supplements:
Here are the questions covered:
- It seems that it would help with brain power energy but not be helpful with weight loss as we would stop burning our own fat to make ketones… is that true?
- Why do exogenous ketones have to be so salty?
- Do they really get you into ketosis? And within an hour or so?
- Is it better to do ketosis naturally or with a supplement?
- What do you personally use ketone supplements for?
- What’s the difference between MCT oil and ketone supplements? Does MCT oil boost ketone levels?
- Can ketone supplements help you lose weight?
Alex was born and raised in San Francisco and graduated from Villanova University with a B.S. in Chemical Engineering. He’s passionate about nutrition, breaking down health myths, trends in the health food industry, the piano, and Bay Area sports. Alex is the Head of Partnerships for https://www.perfectketo.com/ketosummit/base”>Just click here to check it out.
What are Ketones?
Let’s go back to basics a bit…when you go on a Keto diet, you restrict net carbohydrate intake to below 20-25g per day.
And after a few days…
Your blood glucose levels fall as you deplete your glycogen stores and your cells can’t rely on glucose as their main fuel source anymore. There just isn’t enough to meet their needs.
You effectively force your body to start burning stored fat.
And one of the by-products of your liver breaki9ng down the fatty acids is ketone bodies.
While many of your cells can use fatty acids and glycerol directly as fuel, your brain cells cannot. And so in the absence of glucose, your body will send ketones to your brain to fuel it.
These ketones are produced in your liver through the breakdown of fatty acids in a process called ketogenesis.
What are Exogenous Ketones? And how are they different from those produced in your body?
There are actually two different types of ketone bodies….
The ones your body produces naturally are called endogenous ketones.
And the artificially produced ketones you take in the form of a powder/pill/oil supplement are called exogenous ketones.
Endogeneous ketones come in 3 varieties of molecule…
- Acetoacetic Acid
- Beta Hydroxybuyrate (this actually gets converted to one of the previous two molecules before your body uses it)
…while exogeneous ketones are usually in the form of Beta Hydroxybuyrate
- Why? Because it’s the easiest molecule out of all 3 natural varieties to turn into a nutritional supplement
Now that we’re clear about what the different types of ketones actually are, let’s dive into the different types of ketone supplements…
The 3 Types of Real Ketone Supplements (and a FAKE one)
If you’re looking out for keto supplements to buy, you’ll likely come across these four types.
Type 1 – Ketone Salts
This is the type that most folks who use ketone supplements end up buying.
They’re made of Beta Hydroxybutyrate combined with a salt (like sodium or potassium) and that’s where the name comes from.
Type 2 – Ketone Esters
These are currently used mainly in research by scientists – but you won’t be missing out on much by avoiding them.
Although they raise your blood ketone levels considerably more than ketone salts, they also have a very strong and unpleasant taste (making them hard to swallow) and can cause digestive distress.
Type 3 – Ketone Oils
The most common type of ketone oil is MCT oil (aka Medium Triglyceride Oil).
It’s slightly different to the other types of supplement, because MCTs aren’t actually ketones (although your body converts them into ketones).
Once the MCT oil enters your body, it gets transported to your liver, where it is broken down into ketones.
This means it doesn’t have such a rapid or strong impact on your blood ketone levels.
NOT REAL – Raspberry Ketones
These are a common sight in the supplement aisles of pharmacies and health stores – and they have nothing to do with ketone bodies or ketosis, and there’s no credible science suggesting it helps with weight-loss.
So which of these supplements is most effective for weight loss?
Well, a study compared all three of the legitimate ketone supplements and found that ketone esters were initially most effective… but by the time four weeks had gone by, the ketone salts had caught up.
But do you really need to buy ketone supplements at all?
You decide: in the next sections, we’ll go over what health benefits you can expect from ketone supplements and the best ways to use them.
A popular question that gets asked a lot is this…
Can you eat junk and just take exogenous ketones?
You’ll have seen plenty of articles on the health benefits of ketosis (and we’ve also got one you can check out if you’re curious).
And many bloggers seem to assume that supplementing with exogenous ketones will give you the same level of benefits as following a keto diet.
But that’s not true: raising your ketone levels by carb restriction (nutritional ketosis) gives you greater health benefits than simply taking exogenous ketones.
Nutritional ketosis vs Exogenous ketones:
Exogenous ketones could you give an increased boost in energy
You’ll likely feel a slight energy boost from taking ketone supplements.
Whether you’re taking ketone salts or MCT oil, your body can convert these into usable energy sources quite quickly which is why your energy lifts.
But in the long term, being on a healthy keto diet is still a better option. Eating well will help you regain the ability to use your body’s fat stores as fuel which frees you from the energy spikes and dips of having a glucose-dependent metabolism.
This metabolic flexibility means your body always has a supply of energy available, whether it’s from your fat cells or the foods you eat.
Exogenous ketones could provide greater mental clarity
Ketone supplements could also increase your mental clarity by providing this quick source of energy for your brain cells.
However, the real key to eliminating brain fog is the keto diet.
Lack of available glucose causes brain fog when you’re metabolically inflexible – your brain cells can’t switch to using ketones when there’s a dip in glucose levels.
By regaining the ability to use fat as a fuel source (also called becoming “keto-adapted”) you’ll have a clearer mind without being dependent on anything.
Exogenous ketones could aid in weight loss
It’s possible that taking keto supplements could reduce your appetite.
And feeling less hungry could prevent you from overeating and bingeing on high-carb foods.
But just relying on ketone supplements is not a great option if you’re looking for long-term weight loss especially since your body also needs nutrients as well as exercise, sleep, etc.
For more about losing weight on keto, check out our article here.
Exogenous ketones could have therapeutic benefits
While the research isn’t conclusive yet, please note that most of the studies with exogenous ketones revolves around ketone esters and typically involves a keto diet in addition to the supplements.
The BEST Ways to Use Ketone Supplements
Here are main occasions when ketone supplements can be useful:
When you’re experiencing keto flu
It can be tough getting started with keto – as your body adapts to using ketones instead of carbs for energy, you can feel irritable, fatigued and experience headaches. These symptoms are commonly known as keto flu.
Luckily, taking keto supplements can lessen the symptoms and make your transition into a keto lifestyle easier.
As an energy booster if you’re an athlete
Especially if you’re doing endurance exercise, taking ketone supplements can be useful for helping you exercise for longer. By increasing your ketone levels, your body can switch to using ketones after it’s exhausted all the available glucose – helping you keep going for longer without resorting to carb loading.
If you need to raise your blood ketone levels
For example, if you’ve dropped out of ketosis because you ate a meal with too many carbs, using ketone supplements combined with the keto diet could help you get back into ketosis faster.
To boost your brain function
If you need to quickly increase your mental productivity, try taking ketone supplements. It’ll give your brain a quick boost of energy in the morning to keep you focused.
Ready to start the Keto diet…?
Exogenous ketones can be a great addition to the Keto diet. But please remember that entering nutritional ketosis through your diet is much more beneficial than just using exogenous ketones.
If you’re ready to start eating a Keto diet, then check out our getting started article here.