One of the benefits of following a ketogenic (keto) diet is weight loss. But being on such a restrictive diet can be tough, and it may take a while before you can fully adjust to it.
So some suggest taking exogenous ketones, supplements thought to mimic ketosis without the need to follow such a strict diet. But is it safe?
The FDA does not regulate ketone supplements for their purity, safety, and effectiveness. Because of this, it’s best to talk to your doctor about your options. Your doctor can evaluate your overall health, electrolyte levels, and other blood parameters, as well as existing conditions and medications, to assess whether it is safe for you to drink ketone supplements.
What are potential side effects of ketone supplements?
Taking ketone supplements may cause the following side effects:
- Stomach distress: Ketone supplements may cause stomach upset and increased bowel movements.
- Electrolyte imbalance: Electrolytes are vital for your muscles to function properly and for your heart to maintain a normal rhythm. Ketone supplements can cause electrolyte imbalance, which is particularly harmful if you have a kidney disease that already affects your body’s ability to maintain balanced electrolyte levels.
- Hypoglycemia: Ketogenic diets can cause blood sugar levels to go too low. This is dangerous if you have diabetes and take medications that lower blood glucose levels. Extra ketones in the form of ketone supplements may lead to hypoglycemia (low blood glucose), which can make you feel fatigued and lethargic.
- Hypertension: Ketone salts usually contain sodium, which could be dangerous if you have high blood pressure (hypertension).
- Dehydration: Taking ketone supplements can heighten the effects of a keto diet and make you more likely to become dehydrated.
What are different types of ketone supplements?
Ketone supplements on the market are usually available in the form of either ketone salts or ketone esters.
Ketone salts are made by adding artificial ketones to electrolytes, such as sodium, calcium, magnesium, and potassium. These are usually found in a drink form or in powders or pills.
Ketone esters are the purest form of ketones and therefore the most potent. They work faster, as early as 10-15 minutes, as compared to the ketone salts, which take about an hour. Ketone esters also help maintain ketosis for a longer period of time. However, this form of supplement is both expensive and unpleasant-tasting.
Another item on the market is medium-chain triglyceride (MCT) oil, which is partially synthetic fat. This oil is converted into ketones in the liver.
Should you take ketone supplements?
Most people on a ketogenic diet aim to lose weight quickly by reaching ketosis. However, this low-carb, high-fat diet is difficult to follow consistently, and consuming over 50 grams of carbs a day can reverse ketosis and throw a wrench in your diet plan.
So people who find it difficult to follow a keto diet on a consistent basis may want to use ketone supplements to boost the overall process. People trying to improve their athletic performance may also use exogenous ketones to reduce lactic acid production after intense workouts and thus minimize muscle soreness.
However, the danger lies in trying to use ketone supplements as a quick and easy fix, depending on them entirely for achieving and maintaining ketosis. While ketone supplements can help with weight loss, they need to be accompanied by following a keto diet. So the bottom line is that instead of spending your money on ketone supplements, it’s better, and likely safer, to put that towards buying healthy, whole foods to include in your diet.
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Prins PJ, Koutnik AP, D'Agostino DP, et al. Effects of an Exogenous Ketone Supplement on Five-Kilometer Running Performance. J Hum Kinet. 2020;72:115-127. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7126257/
Stubbs BJ, Cox PJ, Evans RD, et al. On the Metabolism of Exogenous Ketones in Humans. Front Physiol. 2017;8:848. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/29163194/
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