In recent years, ketones supplements—like our Julian Bakery InstaKetones—have gained significant attention primarily as a means to fast-track ketosis and, ultimately, fat loss. The wonder supplement has been shown to speed up the body’s ability to become ketogenic, which is an attractive notion considering the traditional, non-supplement path can require several grueling days of carbohydrate restriction and high fat intake. Though ketone supplementation has been of interest lately mostly in the fat loss realm (i), researchers have been studying its effects for decades and have learned how ketones—and the active ingredient, betahydroxybutyrate (BHB)—impacts brain health, glucose management, athletic performance and more. In this article we discuss some of the alternative potential benefits of ketone supplementation. Julian Bakery has taken the time to put together the best research from around the world all in one place!
Ketones and the Brain. Plenty of research has emerged on the benefits of ketones on the brain. Here’s a roundup of some of the most prominent studies.
Seizure Control. Many years ago, scientists were challenged with helping kids with epilepsy reduce seizure events when prescription medications were ineffective. Those kids were placed on a ketogenic diet, which proved effective at reducing symptoms for many of them. The mechanisms for why a ketogenic diet helped control seizures has been a mystery; however, scientists from Emory University recently suggested that it may have something to do with how the diet affects genes involved in energy metabolism in the brain. They believe that this helps stabilize neuron function, which controls seizures (ii).
Another study published in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism produced similar results (iii).
Diminished Cognitive Impairment. Brain function decline is considered a normal function of aging and can be accelerated in many—Alzheimer’s disease sufferers, for example. Several studies have assessed potential relationships between ketone supplementation and brain function preservation. Some scientists believe that this is the result of brain starvation and increasingly inadequate glucose metabolism. However, several studies have shown indications that the brain was better capable of utilizing ketones and thus potentially warding off functional decline (iv, v).
A symptom of Alzheimer’s disease is memory dysfunction. Understanding the potential benefits of increased blood ketones and improved brain health, scientists aimed to determine if a 6-week keto protocol would improve memory in individuals with mild cognitive impairment. Their study proved successful. At study completion, individuals who were placed into ketosis saw remarkable increases in memory performance compared with non-keto subjects. The keto group also experienced reductions in weight, waist size, fasting glucose and fasting insulin (vi).
Another series of studies looked at blood flow and the brain, which can become inhibited as we age. According to their data, the presence of ketone bodies seemed to offer a protective effect against reduced blood flow thereby preserving brain function while aging. One study in particular determined a 39% increase in cerebral blood flow after an infusion of BHB (vii). A second study showed that older adults with cognitive impairment who were given a BHB drink performed better on a paragraph recall test than those who took a placebo (viii).
Finally, a review produced by researchers from the University of Wisconsin in Madison and the University of Calgary Faculty of Medicine determined that ketones may help a wide range of neurological disorders like stroke, migraine, Parkinson disease, brain cancer, autism, and brain trauma (ix).
Free Fatty Acid Metabolism. As we’ve discussed, one of the most common reasons people have for supplementing with ketones is to lose weight. The goal is to put the body into a state of ketosis and thereby cause the body to turn to fat stores for fuel. One study that featured dogs found that BHB infusions resulted in elevated blood ketones and free fatty acid metabolism (x).
Many other studies featuring individuals participating in a low-carb, high-fat ketogenic diet showed significant weight loss (xi, xii, xiii).
Protein Synthesis. A common concern among individuals who fast is muscle loss and the body’s decreased capacity to synthesize protein. A study from the 1980’s showed that when individuals were given BHB, leucine burning was reduced and was better incorporated into skeletal muscle tissue. Essentially, individuals taking BHB seemed to experience greater muscle protein synthesis compared with those not taking it (xiv).
Another study from the Yale University School of Medicine yielded similar findings. The Yale researchers determined that BHB helped preserve body protein stores as the supplement became the primary source of fuel for the brain. Protein breakdown was far more prominent in fasted subjects who were not given BHB (xv).
Induces Ketosis Independent of Dietary Restriction. Historically, in order for the body to enter ketosis, significant dietary restrictions and fasting was required. Anyone who has undergone this process understands how difficult it can be to enter a ketogenic state and then maintain it long enough to see significant results. Fortunately, research shows that ketosis can be achieved rapidly through ketone supplementation and without significant dietary restrictions. Perhaps one of the most popular studies on the subject showed that rats who were given ketones supplements experienced a significant increase in blood ketone concentration without adopting a ketogenic diet (xvi). That said, as we’ve discussed in previous articles, combining ketone supplements with something like our IKDiet will yield quicker, more significant results.
Improved Athletic Performance. Exercisers and athletes often refer to ketone supplements as rocket fuel or other similar moniker. That’s because consumption has resulted in significant performance improvements. Those experiences are anecdotal, however a study published in 2016 supports their sentiments. The study featured 39 high-performance athletes who were given a pre-exercise ketone supplement. The results were promising. According to the data, subjects experienced significant improvements in athletic performance. The scientists suggest that this is because supplement ingestion signaled the body to use ketones for fuel. Ketones are thought to be a far superior fuel source than glycogen. Ketosis also resulted in decreased muscle glycolysis and lactate concentrations. These results held true even when the subjects also ingested carbohydrates and had elevated insulin levels (xviii).
One of the most remarkable studies to date on ketone supplements and performance was led by Dr. Dominic D’ Agostino. He was hired by the United States Navy to find ways to maximize the performance and water resilience of the Navy Seal team. Specifically, they hoped to find a solution to a hazardous problem in which the seals would have underwater seizures when using a closed circuit breathing device. D’ Agostino knew about the research on the ketogenic diet and how it helped minimize seizures in patients with epilepshy and so he theorized that a ketone supplement could hold the answer to the Seals’ problem. His theory proved successful in helping the Seals prevent seizures. He believes that this is a result of giving the brain a supply of energy and preventing brain metabolism. After seeing this in the Seals, he began to study how the supplements impacted physical performance. So far, the preliminary data has shown that those using the supplements experience great improvements in work output and performance. You can listen to an extensive interview with D’ Agostino on YouTube. He speaks specifically about his work with the Seals at about the 10:42 mark. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mXoy2u9PP_I
This is by no means an exhaustive list of the many benefits of ketone supplementation. And as interest continues to expand, so, too will the research and we will learn more and more about the power of ketones.