Unless you've been hiding under a rock for the past few years, you've probably heard of a little thing called The Keto Diet. Promoted by big-time health experts, personal trainers, fitness enthusiasts, and diet gurus, it's one of the trendiest new diets to follow. What does it promise? Faster weight loss through increased body fat burning. Sounds perfect, right? Well, that's where a lot of people get the diet wrong. In fact, not only is this diet notoriously difficult to follow, but many people don't know the first thing about it. Making things worse is the fact that a whole industry has sprouted up to sell people things based on the Keto Diet, including supplements, but without providing the right information. Here we'll look at the Keto Diet, ketone supplements, and more specifically, an ingredient called "exogenous ketones." We'll look at some of the concerns surrounding this ingredient, what the facts are, and whether these little-known ingredients are safe to use.
First off, what's the Keto Diet about? Well, it's complicated, but essentially it's meant to use extreme carb reduction to force your body to rely on burning fat cells for energy, with the aim of reducing body fat quicker than your average calorie restriction diet. When the body is starved of carbs, it breaks down fat cells into molecules called "ketones," which can then be used for energy. This state is called "ketosis." There, easy!
Well, not that easy. See, ketosis is an extreme state in which the body ends up feeling fatigued, tired, and low in stamina, and people often find themselves with anxiety and mood swings as a result of the punishing restrictions of the diet. To help offset that and help people ease into ketosis, some companies have developed keto "supplements," which contain exogenous ketones - ketones produced outside the body. Some have raised the question as to whether they're safe or not.
Let's start off by answering one question: how do you define "safe" in the world of food and supplements? Well there's the obvious answer, which is that it doesn't harm you by causing you pain, discomfort, or temporary/lasting injury. While there are also ingredients that can cause short-term reactions in your body such as swelling, inflammation, or digestive issues, some things that cause these are technically considered "safe" by most definitions (such as spicy foods, acidic foods), meaning most people probably are willing to accept those side effects in the face of their short or long-term benefits. Many supplements are safe, while some - such as bitter orange extract and yohimbe - are not safe, as they can cause serious life-threatening conditions such as heart attacks, high blood pressure, and liver damage. Both of those are natural ingredients, too, showing that just because something is "natural" doesn't mean it's safe, and conversely, just because something is "synthetic" doesn't mean it's unsafe.
Now, exogenous ketones are synthesized in a lab setting, meaning they're technically not an organic, natural ingredient - however, that doesn't mean our bodies can't use them. One prominent example which you'll find in lots of keto supplements is beta-hydroxybutyrate, or BHB. It's one of those exogenous ketones that get created by supplement companies and then delivered in pill form, but there's a secret that lots of people don't know - it's the same thing as what your body produces. That's right: technically, the BHB synthesized in labs is the same ketone synthesized in the human body. If there's no real difference between an ingredient your body produces and the ingredient in a pill, you can probably rest assured that there's not going to be any danger associated with it. That is, as long as the concentration is comparable to what your body can withstand. In that sense, we can consider BHB safe.
Additionally, exogenous ketones have been studied in clinical trials, and in at least two that we found, neither found any toxic, painful, or even uncomfortable side effects in any of the subjects that could be traced to BHB. That's another sign that BHB is safe, because if it weren't, there would be explicit side effects tied to it from participants who consumed it during the course of a clinical trial.
Now what we will say is that, while BHB is safe, it's not a miracle cure that will make you skinny. So if you're looking around the internet and you see some big promises along those lines, think twice about it. BHB is not meant to make you lose weight on its own, but to get your body used to burning ketones as energy and give it the boost it needs while undergoing ketosis. And, based on all available information, it's definitely safe to use. So continue your journey and keep reading, and if you end up with a ketone supplement saying it contains "exogenous ketones," don't worry - there's no evidence that it poses any health risk to humans.