Are Keto Supplements Safe?

Introduction

When the lure of a fresh baked loaf of bread or some crunchy crackers becomes too great and you indulge in carbohydrates you might be concerned that you’ve kicked your body out of ketosis.  When this happens, some people take Keto supplements in order to keep their body in a ketogenic state.  

Are these Keto supplements safe?  Should you take them?  The jury is still out when it comes to scientific research; however, the following article will highlight the potential pros and cons of Keto supplements as well as any dangers that you should be aware of.  

What types of Keto supplements are available?

There are two main Keto supplements on the market today.  Both are what’s known as exogenous ketones.  Exogenous means outside and basically refers to manmade chemical ketones that you can ingest in order to boost your blood ketone levels.   These supplements contain man made ketone beta-hydroxybutyrate (BHB).  Your body makes BHB naturally when you follow the Keto diet or you fast.  

Your body also makes another form of ketone known as Acetoacetate (AcAc).  This form of ketone cannot be turned into a supplement because it’s too chemically unstable.  Although it can be created in the lab, it quickly breaks down into acetone which is released into the air.  This means that the only ketone you’ll find in exogenous ketone supplements is BHB.  We’ll get into more on this later. 

When it comes to exogenous ketones, you have the option of taking them in a salt form or in as ketone esters.  Ketone salts are easier to find and they tend to be less expensive.  These salts are made by bonding ketones with a salt such as magnesium, potassium or sodium.  When you ingest ketone salts it takes your body roughly one hour to turn them into ketones. 

The other form of exogenous ketones is esters.  These have a terrible taste and they’re expensive and difficult to find.  However, they’re the purest form of ketones available.  It takes your body roughly 15 minutes to turn ketone esters into ketones in your blood.  They’re much faster acting than the ketone salts.  When you ingest ketone esters, you’re also delivering a higher dose of the BHB ketone into your body than you can achieve with ketone salts.  

Are Exogenous ketones safe?

A large portion of the answer to this question relies on what you’re using the exogenous ketones to achieve and where your body is positioned in terms of ketosis.  Someone that is trying to eat a high carb diet while taking enough exogenous ketones to keep their body in ketosis will be in a greater danger than someone that is trying to supplement an existing state of achieved ketosis with some extra ketones.

Ketone salts contain different dangers than ketone esters, but both have the potential to be harmful to your health.  If you’re attempting to keep your body in ketosis with the help of ketone salts and you’re not willing to reduce your carb intake naturally then it will take an incredible number of exogenous ketones.  At the levels of salt you’d be required to ingest you risk damaging your kidneys and renal function as well as effecting the pH levels of your blood.  It would take a lot of salts to cause damage and you’d probably have to take them for a long time, but ingesting too much sodium, potassium and magnesium is not good.

When it comes to ketone esters, too much is also not a good thing.  The taste alone would turn you off of taking a lot of this supplement; however, esters can cause discomfort in your gut.  If you take a high dose of ketone esters you might find yourself running to the toilet frequently.

That being said, there have been very little scientific studies done on the long-term effects of exogenous ketones.  Those that have been done hint at positive effects of taking a small dose of the supplements in terms of cancer prevention, Alzheimer’s treatment and increased cognitive function.  However, the studies have only been done on animals to date so it’s too early to tell. 

It’s safe at this point to be cautious when it comes to exogenous ketones.  If you are already following a carb restricted diet and you wish to use exogenous ketones as a way of boosting or enhancing your results, then you should be safe as long as you stick to the recommended daily dose.  Always speak with your doctor before adding any supplement into your diet.  They can help you determine a safe dose and they can monitor you so that if the ketones are doing more harm than good you can stop taking them as quickly as possible.

Are exogenous ketones effective?

Whether or not they’re safe, a completely separate question is do they even work?  If they don’t work, then there’s no point in putting your health at risk taking them.  The lack of scientific studies makes it difficult to come up with a definitive answer, but as with the safety of them, a lot depends on how you’re using them.

These supplements may be able to provide your body with a boost of BHB ketones; however, what they lack is AcAc.  When you achieve a nutritional state of ketosis through limiting carbohydrates you produce both BHB and AcAc ketones.  You lose some of the AcAc ketones when they break down into acetone that’s released through your lungs and kidneys.  A lot of the remaining AcAc is absorbed by the muscles and turned into BHB.  

You might be wondering what you need AcAc ketones for if they ultimately turn into the BHB ketones that can be found in exogenous supplements.  It’s a good question and one that needs further study; however, there’s a key difference between the BHB that’s produced naturally in your body and those that are produced in chemical form.

Natural BHB contains only D-isomers while the synthetic form contains both L-isomers and D-isomers.  Isomers are molecules that have the same number of atoms, but they can have different configurations which means their properties can be different as well.  This is the case with the D-isomer and L-isomer in BHB.  They have very different metabolic effects on your body.

It is the D-isomer in BHB (the one that’s found naturally in the ketones your body produces) that has the benefits when it comes to energy creation on Keto.  The L-isomer (that’s a part of endogenous ketone supplements) doesn’t offer the same benefits and it’s unknown as to whether your body can use it or convert it to the more useful D-isomer.

Unfortunately, there are far more L-isomers than D-isomers found in exogenous ketone supplements.  This means that you have to ingest a greater amount of the supplement in order to see real benefits.  If you’re not following the Keto diet in terms of carb reduction already then you’d have to ingest far more supplements than your taste buds or body could handle in order to see the benefits that you could get from nutritional ketosis.

That being said, if you’re already following the Keto diet, you might want to think about adding some exogenous supplements to your diet.  It might help improve your energy levels which would help you reach your exercise and athletic goals.

Should you use Keto supplements?

The majority of people who use Keto supplements do so whenever they slip up and eat too many carbs.  Your body can naturally achieve a state of ketosis if you give it a few days after a slip.  However, Keto supplements offer the appeal of speed with the salts working within an hour and the ester working in as little as 15 minutes.  The majority of us could wait for our body to naturally return to ketosis; however, it’s easy to see why you’d want to just take a swig of water with ketone salts or ester in it in order to get back on track quickly.

It’s important to consider the cost of exogenous ketones.  They can cost upwards of $1/gram of delivered ketones.  This means that when used purely as a supplement you could end up paying $50 a week on your extra ketones.

In addition to the cost, there’s the taste.  Neither supplement it friendly to your taste buds and the esters are particularly nasty.  There’s a good chance you could buy the supplement and the taste is so bad you won’t even be able to use it.  

Keep in mind the ingredients in your supplement if you do buy one.  Try to keep the ingredient list as small as possible and avoid as many preservatives and strange chemical additions as you can.  You should also be mindful of the science behind Keto supplements.  Right now, the jury is still out on whether or not they’re effective so you might be buying an expensive placebo that doesn’t really help your Keto journey.

Conclusion

Keto supplements aren’t dangerous unless taken in high levels so you should not use them as a way of cheating the Keto system to have your cake and eat it too.  There haven’t been enough studies done to show the long-term effects of taking Keto supplement; however, you’re probably safe taking a small amount.  The taste and expense of these supplements will turn the majority of people off.  If you’ve slipped on your Keto your best bet would probably be to just get back on the horse again and be patient with your body over the couple of days it will take you to return to a state of ketosis through reduction of your carbohydrates.

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