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Ketones and Their Role in Health

Ketones and Their Role in Health

Keto dieters everywhere are trying to increase their ketone levels. But why would they want to do that, and what are ketones anyway?
 
Ketones are chemicals the body makes by breaking down fat when glucose is unavailable. The main reason why anyone would want more ketones is that they're involved in fat burning. Another reason being that a growing body of research shows that ketones positively impact health [1].
 
There are different ways you too could increase your ketone levels. But first, it's good to learn more about these beneficial compounds and about the healthy ways to utilize them.
 
In this article, we explain what ketones are, how they're formed, their benefits and side effects, how to increase them, and ways to measure them.

What Are ketones?

Ketones, also called ketone bodies, are water-soluble molecules the body makes as an alternative fuel to glucose. Your metabolism makes 3 different types of ketones:
 
  • Beta Hydroxybutyrate (BHB)
  • Acetoacetate (AcAc)
  • Acetate (Acetone)
 
Acetoacetate and 3-beta-hydroxybutyrate are the two main and most abundant ketones, while acetate is the least abundant ketone in the body. Ketones are always present in the blood, but their levels increase when you sleep, fast, and exercise [2]. During an overnight fast, for example, ketones supply 2-6% of your body's energy [3].
 
Ketone levels can rise to supply 50% of your body's and 70% of your brain's energy needs [4]. When this happens, you are in a metabolic state called ketosis. Ketosis can happen only if you fast for a really long time or if you reduce your carb and protein intake. Eating no more than 50 grams of carbs and 60 grams of protein is enough to stimulate ketosis.
 
Ketones also exist in supplement form as exogenous ketones. Exogenous ketones are synthetic, meaning they're made in a laboratory. They help people get into ketosis quickly and much easier than with diet alone.

How Are Ketones Formed?

Your body normally relies on glucose for energy. It gets its glucose from carbohydrates and proteins. Glucose is the body's preferred fuel because it is easy to convert to energy and even store for later use. But glucose runs out quickly and even releases harmful free radicals along the way [5].
 
If you starve your body of carbs for just one day, it will need to use liver and muscle stores of glucose (glycogen). The liver stores enough glycogen to fuel your brain for 12 hours of carb deprivation [6]. After that time has passed, your body will need to start spending its most valuable energy reservoir – fat tissue. However, if you eat a lot of fat while limiting carbs, your body will prefer this fat for energy production.
 
Now comes the fun part. In the 24-48 hour window of carbohydrate deprivation, your liver begins converting fatty acids from food or fat stores into ketone bodies. This process is called ketogenesis and is a huge metabolic switch that all keto dieters want.

Ketone Benefits

There are many reasons why someone would purposefully want to induce ketosis. Weight loss is one reason, but better mental clarity, greater energy, improved blood sugar control, and cancer risk reduction are other great reasons why you too may want to consider increasing your ketones.

Researchers once believed ketones to be toxic and bad for health. Newer studies prove this was a big misconception, and that ketone bodies are actually good for you. Bellow are the ketone benefits explained in detail.

  • Weight loss– The body needs to burn fat in order to make ketones, so naturally ketosis leads to weight loss. Studies also show that ketones suppress appetite, further boosting weight loss [7].
  • Diabetes control– Low-carbohydrate diets such as ketogenic diets are proven to work on lowering blood sugar levels and insulin resistance [8]. Newer studies show that the BHB ketone bodies lowers inflammation, which also helps with diabetes control [9].
  • Brain power – Ketogenic diets were originally designed to treat epilepsy and are proven to protect brain neurons [10]. This neuro-protective effect of ketones also manifests as a sharper mind, greater focus, and increased mental energy.
  • Resilience– Ketone bodies provide powerful and constant energy. Even studies show that they preserve performance and resilience much better than glucose [11].

Cancer prevention– Cancer cells thrive on glucose so depriving them of their food is a viable way to treat and prevent cancer [12]. This fact has made the ketogenic diet popular among those at risk of cancer.

Researchers once believed ketones to be toxic and bad for health. Newer studies prove this was a big misconception, and that ketone bodies are actually good for you. Bellow are the ketone benefits explained in detail.

  • Weight loss– The body needs to burn fat in order to make ketones, so naturally ketosis leads to weight loss. Studies also show that ketones suppress appetite, further boosting weight loss [7].
  • Diabetes control– Low-carbohydrate diets such as ketogenic diets are proven to work on lowering blood sugar levels and insulin resistance [8]. Newer studies show that the BHB ketone bodies lowers inflammation, which also helps with diabetes control [9].
  • Brain power – Ketogenic diets were originally designed to treat epilepsy and are proven to protect brain neurons [10]. This neuro-protective effect of ketones also manifests as a sharper mind, greater focus, and increased mental energy.
  • Resilience– Ketone bodies provide powerful and constant energy. Even studies show that they preserve performance and resilience much better than glucose [11].
  • Cancer prevention– Cancer cells thrive on glucose so depriving them of their food is a viable way to treat and prevent cancer [12]. This fact has made the ketogenic diet popular among those at risk of cancer.

Ketone Side Effects

While ketones are good for you, they also come with their own bucket list of side effects. Most people experience something called the "keto flu" when increasing their ketone levels. But the keto flu is more a result of carbohydrate withdrawal than the increase in ketones. The body is simply trying to adjust to its new fuel source and you will experience this as a range of flu-like symptoms.
 
Keto flu symptoms include:
  • Fatigue
  • Brain fog
  • Leg cramps
  • Sleep problems
  • Nausea
  • Stomach pain
Some of the keto flu symptoms are also the result of electrolyte imbalances. Electrolytes are minerals like sodium, potassium, chloride, calcium, and magnesium that regulate the heartbeat, help muscles contract, and balance body fluids. You lose electrolytes when first going keto because higher ketone levels have a diuretic effect.
 
Another common side effect of increased ketones is the infamous keto breath. Often described as fruity, keto breath happens in the first few weeks of ketosis. The ketone Acetate is responsible for giving keto dieters the keto breath because it leaves the body through the lungs.

How to Increase Ketones

You can raise your ketone levels in three ways:
  1. Through fasting
  2. Through a ketogenic diet
  3. With the help of exogenous ketones
Short fasts lead to negligible ketone production. Longer fasts lasting several days raise ketone levels significantly. You would need to starve yourself to reach ketone levels high enough to be in ketosis. Nevertheless, fasting is a great tool that can help you get into and maintain ketosis when used alongside other ketone-boosting strategies.
 
A more reliable and easier approach to increasing ketone levels is the ketogenic diet. It involves reducing your carbohydrate and protein intake and increasing your fat intake. This diet leads to a rise in ketone levels within one week and can keep ketone levels high indefinitely. Ketogenic diets don't have to involve calorie restriction, and they're quite sustainable.
 
Exogenous ketones don't' work as well as fasting and following a ketogenic diet. Nevertheless, they're a valuable tool for keto dieters and anyone interested in increasing their ketone levels. Exogenous ketones make the transition to a ketogenic diet easier, and they provide a quick dose of ketones after breaks from ketosis.

Measuring Ketones

Keto dieters like to measure their ketone levels to make sure they're in ketosis. People with type I diabetes also benefit from regular ketone level monitoring. This is because type I diabetes can, in rare cases, lead to dangerously high ketone levels.
There are three ways to measure ketone levels:
  1. Blood tests – By far the most reliable way to measure ketones is with a blood test. Unfortunately, the devices and strips used to measure blood ketones are on the more expensive side. If you want accurate ketone measurements, then you'll have to splurge on a ketone blood monitor.
  2. Breath tests – If your breath smells fruity, then you're probably in ketosis. But that's not the only way to test your breath for ketones. There are ketone breath analyzers that you can order online and that test for acetone levels in your breath. They're pretty accurate; although, not as accurate as blood tests.
  3. Urine tests– Most ketones your body makes are in the blood. Only a small amount is excreted in urine, and this is why urine tests can't tell you your ketone levels accurately. Nevertheless, urine tests are the more budget-friendly way to see if you're in ketosis. You can get several-months' worth of supply for less than $10 on keto urine strips.

Summary

Ketones have garnered quite a bit of attention from health communities. But they've actually been around since forever. These water-soluble molecules are the result of evolutionary adaptation to help us survive when food is scarce. Today, we also know that ketones play an even bigger role in our health: they boost weight loss, improve health, and prevent diseases.
 
For all these, and many other reasons, you may want to look for ways to use ketones to your advantage. Ketogenic diets, exogenous ketones, and prolonged fasting are ways you can increase ketone levels in order to lose weight, improve mental acuity, or prevent diseases.
 
In short, ketones have a lot to offer in terms of health benefits. Give ketones a shot and see how you will personally benefit from them.

References:

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