Anyone and everyone who's heard about the keto diet has also heard about keto BHB – a supplement that promises to amplify your keto diet results. Just some of its promised benefits include increased energy, improved brain functioning, and better workouts.
But what exactly is keto BHB, where does it come from, is it safe, and what's the evidence behind the promises?
We answer all of that and more here.
In a nutshell, it's one of three ketones produced in large amounts during ketosis.
The other two are acetone and acetoacetate. Beta-hydroxybutyrate or BHB is the most abundant and most active of the three ketones .
An interesting thing about BHB is that it is not really a ketone chemically speaking. But because it functions just like a ketone in many metabolic processes, researchers decided to place it under the "ketones" umbrella term.
BHB comes in two forms:
Endogenous BHB is a compound produced inside your body during ketosis. Your liver makes it by breaking down fat and converting fat first into acetoacetate and then into BHB. However, your body is always producing small amounts of BHB during things like an overnight fast or strenuous exercise . It's just that you'll have greater levels (0.5-3 mmol/L) of BHB in your blood when you're in ketosis than during a short fast.
On the other hand, exogenous BHB is the synthetic form of BHB produced in the laboratory. There are two types of exogenous BHB:
BHB salts contain a synthetic form of BHB bound to minerals such as sodium, calcium, magnesium, and potassium . This helps buffer its acidity and help with absorption. BHB esters are made through fermentation and are bound to an ester instead of a salt. Only one ketone ester is commercially available, and most exogenous BHB you see on the market are BHB salts.
In short, no.
The terms "keto BHB" and "exogenous ketones" refer to the same thing: BHB supplements.
The first goal of the ketogenic diet is elevating blood ketone levels. Studies show taking BHB supplements does exactly this .
With that in mind, you may have asked yourself if that means you could skip the whole low-carb thing and just take a BHB pill.
If only it were that simple.
The thing with exogenous ketones, just like with any dietary supplement, is that they are not meant to be a quick fix. Instead, they're meant to complement your diet and lifestyle to help make it easier and more efficient.
Besides easing your way into the keto diet, exogenous provide additional benefits:
A lot of people develop flu-like symptoms when starting a keto diet. Taking exogenous ketones can help offset the keto flu by fueling your body while it's transitioning into ketosis .
Keto diet experts recommend boosting salt (sodium) intake on this diet . That's because the keto diet makes your kidneys excrete more salt. Most exogenous ketone supplements contain enough sodium and other electrolytes to help with this .
Just like your body's own ketones, exogenous ketones can help improve the health and functioning of your central nervous system .
A study involving 8 healthy men taking exogenous ketones after a workout found that these supplements boost muscle growth compared to placebo . However, the study used ketone esters instead of salts.
Exogenous ketones may also help fuel your workouts . These supplements need less oxygen than glucose to produce energy, and they may help you exercise longer as a result.
Ketone supplements can also curb hunger and help with weight loss according to recent research . Weight loss is a goal for many people on a keto diet, and hunger curbing with the help of ketone supplements can help you reach your goals.
Some keto BHB supplements also contain additional ingredients like caffeine, electrolytes, or a combination of different ingredients for added benefits and to enhance the effects of these supplements.
The FDA says that BHB in its various forms as "generally recognized as safe (GRAS) ."
Their safety was also tested in many animal and human studies, and most people seem to tolerate these supplements well. However, we know little about what qualifies as a safe dose.
Some studies that involved very small children found that relatively large doses (1g per kg of body weight) of exogenous BHB were safe . Some studies even found no issues at doses of 4-8g daily . Most keto BHB products on the market seem to contain even more BHB than that .
However, you probably don't need to worry about going above any safe dose.
You see, most studies on exogenous ketones use ketone esters, but most consumers can get their hands on only ketone salts. Studies show that ketone salts have a lower bioavailability at around 50% compared to esters . And while that may sound like you're throwing money away, keep in mind that manufacturers take this fact into account with their products to make them both safe and efficient.
As would be the case with any supplement, you want to take necessary precautions when mixing exogenous ketones with your favorite drink.
Here are some safety tips to bear in mind:
Check how much sodium your keto BHB product contains. The recommended daily intake for this mineral on a keto diet is 3-5g daily . Some keto BHB products can contain up to 3g of sodium per daily serving, which can easily put you above the safe limit.
Sodium and potassium are two of the most important electrolytes in your body. Keeping them in balance is important for good health. Check if your keto BHB contains potassium and make sure your diet supplies 3-4g of this important electrolyte.
Exogenous ketones rarely cause any side effects, but you'll still want to take it easy if you're new to these supplements. Let your body become accustomed to exogenous ketones before increasing your dose to avoid stomach upset and other side effects.
If you have diabetes, make sure to use these products only under medical supervision. Exogenous ketones lower blood glucose levels, which can be dangerous in uncontrolled diabetes .
BHB supplements rarely cause any side effects. Some people report gastrointestinal problems like:
However, these problems are rare, and you can correct them easily by lowering your dose or taking exogenous ketones with food or a nutritious drink.
Exogenous ketones can be a handy tool in many scenarios. But they may not be necessary in some cases, even if you're following a keto diet.
Here's when investing in these products makes sense:
For some people, the keto flu is too much to bear and the reason they jumped off the keto bandwagon. If that's your case, then exogenous ketones can help. They provide energy while your body is trying to make the switch from sugar burning to fat burning.
Exogenous ketones are energy in pill/powder form. They're especially good for mental energy but athletic performance as well. If you feel like you need a boost, give these supplements a try.
The keto diet should be enough to help suppress your appetite. But if this is not the case, then exogenous ketones can help curb hunger for easier weight loss.
We already mentioned that exogenous ketones stimulate muscle building. The keto diet is a low-carb, moderate-protein diet, which isn't all too great if you want serious gains. Exogenous ketones can make up for this lack.
Cheat days, trouble keeping carbs low, and many other reasons can keep you out of ketosis. Some people like to correct keto diet mishaps and mistakes with exogenous ketones, which help them stay in ketosis while they're learning to stay keto.
And, of course, you should also try exogenous ketones if you believe you can reap their many promised benefits. As already said, there's evidence they may work for greater mental and physical energy, hunger suppression, weight loss, and more.
Supplements are handy helpers when you're on a diet such as keto or need a bit of a health boost.
In the world of keto diet supplements, exogenous ketones take the lead because it helps raise ketone levels, which is the main goal of this diet.
But keto BHB is no magic bullet.
It's simply a useful tool when you need to get into ketosis smoothly and even stay there when you make diet mistakes. These supplements may also enhance the benefits of this diet. But even if you're not on a low-carb lifestyle, you can benefit from exogenous ketones.
Make sure to speak to your doctor before buying these products to check if they're safe for you to use. Also, keep your intake within the recommended daily limits and eat healthy while you're taking them.