What Are Ketones and How Does Ketosis Work In Your Body?
Ketones — It sounds like a musical term one uses when tuning a piano to help maintain a harmonic balance.
Far from musical, ketones do however play a very important role in keeping a different type of instrument balanced, tuned and ready for any type of performance: your body.
The musical analogy may seem a little far fetched, but when considering that your body is made up of many different instruments all working in sync, it’s not hard to view us as individual orchestras.
To ensure your body continues to play along at the optimal level, a lot of things have to happen, both inside and out. Ketones are part of that inner orchestra, and when you understand what ketones are and do, you’ll understand their critical importance.
What Are Ketones?
First and foremost, we need power. A lot of it. And the human body is very good at using what you put inside it to fuel its needs.
The primary fuel source is glucose, which is a sugar created from your body breaking down proteins and carbs, among other things. Glucose is the starting point and what your body draws from first to keep itself energized.
Glucose, however, is limited, and that’s where ketones make their entrance.
When your body runs out of glucose to convert, it turns to either fat being consumed or fat stores already in your body. The molecules that are created from this process are called ketones and the body in turn converts these for use as fuel.
Often considered a more efficient fuel source than glucose, ketones serve another purpose besides energy production.
Weight loss — Because they burn fat, ketone centered diets have become increasingly popular due to their dramatic fat loss potential.
Ketosis and Ketone Types
This fat burning process is referred to as ketosis. Simply put, it’s the state your body enters when it begins using ketones instead of glucose as its primary energy source in your brain and muscles.
Fewer carbs and more fats help jumpstart ketosis, with the liver breaking down the fat stores.
When your body enters ketosis, it produces three types of ketones:
- Acetoacetate – Produced from fatty acid breakdown, this ketone converts to beta-hydroxybutyric acid or acetone.
- Beta-Hydroxybutyric Acid (BHB) – Although not a true ketone, it is still considered one due to the manner in which it functions. It is formed from acetoacetate and ultimately is what the brain uses for fuel. These are generally the basis for ketone supplements (more on that below).
- Acetone – This ketone is generated as a by-product of acetoacetate and is quick to break down. Typically expelled as waste, it also creates a very distinctive odor from your breath.
With the promise of weight loss, ketones have become a very popular subject with individuals looking for an edge in dropping pounds and leading healthier lives. There are several things to consider when starting on a ketone-centric regimine.
First, because your body is not always in ketosis, a boost to your ketone levels may be necessary, particularly when consuming proteins or with a higher carb intake than usual. These can be found by way of exogenous ketones supplements, which are basically powdered forms of ketones ready for instant use.
This definition is important as it distinguishes ketones made outside your body (exogenous) versus those that are made inside your body by your liver (endogenous). A good way to remember this is:
- Exo – as in exit or outside the body.
- Endo – as in entrance or inside the body.
First introduced in 2014, ketone supplements are typically derived from BHB as it is the most efficient ketone utilized by the body. They come in three types:
- Salts – Natural supplements, the BHB is bound to salt to help with absorption. All commercially available ketone supplements are salt based. These can be in the form of Magnesium BHB, Calcium BHB, or Sodium BHB
- Ester – Usually synthetic, ketone esters are not mixed with any other compound. Not commercially available, these ketones are used for research purposes.
- Medium Chain Triglyceride (MCT) Oil – MCT oil is an indirect method of promoting ketosis. MCT must be carried to cells for processing, which then are broken down into ketones. MCT oil is also high in calories, which some believe is counterproductive when looking to burn fat (but that’s debatable).
It should be noted here that raspberry ketones, a supplement commonly mischaracterized as a ketone, are not in fact a ketone. Raspberry ketones are a natural compound that give raspberries their unique smell and taste. Although recent studies have shown a lot of promise in the lab using raspberry ketones as a potential weight loss agent, they do not promote or assist with ketosis. The efficacy of this product is questionable though in the real world.
In addition to the weight loss benefits, there are several other health advantages to introducing ketone supplements to your dietary plan. Studies have shown that ketone bodies may possibly possess anti-inflammatory qualities, boost mitochondria function (source), and may improve spatial memory.
However, as with most supplements and medicines, minor side effects have been associated with exogenous ketone bodies, including but not limited to gastrointestinal (GI) distress. Overall though, most of these are mundane in nature and dissipate as the body acclimates to the supplements. For taking ketone supplements it is recommended to start with a very small dose (¼ of a dose) and work your way up to let your stomach adapt to the new substance. You should always consult with your physician before starting any new supplement, diet or exercise routine.
Diets, Testing and Risk Factors
As expected with anything related to weight loss, the keto diet has become hugely popular in recent years. In its simplest form, the keto diet is low carb, high fat and moderate protein.
Recall when we mentioned that glucose was the body’s main source of energy? Well, a keto-centric diet reverses that by making the body a fat burner first instead of utilizing the sugar-burning glucose method.
Insulin, the hormone responsible for keeping your glucose in check, restricts fat from the bloodstream and this is what generally promotes the order of glucose first, ketones second. However, reducing carbs lowers glucose, which lowers blood sugar and in turn lowers insulin. Fat cells are released and a state of ketosis isn’t far behind.
A common misconception is that a keto based diet is a form of starvation. This is absolutely not true. What you are in effect doing is denying your body carbohydrates.
That being said, it’s important to remember, as with any diet, that maintaining a healthy balance throughout your regimine is paramount to a happy, healthy lifestyle. This holds true for keto based diets, as well.
As shown, ketones are incredibly important to our overall health and benefit us daily. However, too many ketones in our body can pose health risks, which is why maintaining acceptable levels during ketosis is important.
As ketones are most often excreted through urine, testing your levels is fairly easy with a urine test. Kits are available through any pharmacy, without prescription.
Ketones in the body are perfectly normal when blood glucose levels are in line. When blood glucose is too high it can lead to diabetic ketoacidosis (DKA), a life threatening condition caused by lack of insulin. Other causes include infection or illness or severe dehydration.
Should ketone levels be too high, consuming water or calorie free fluids will help eliminate ketones from your system. However, if levels remain elevated, a call to your doctor is necessary in case insulin or additional medical treatment is needed.
To revisit that musical analogy one final time, nobody likes an out of tune orchestra. Why should your body be any different?
Harnessing the qualities and attributes that make ketones and ketone supplements an effective fat burner while being mindful to avoid the associated risks is akin to hitting that perfect note or syncing up the right harmonies.
By understanding how best to key in on what works for you, your body will be playing a much sweeter melody than it ever has before.
More on gluten-free keto recipes here ->