Why Ketones are a better fuel source than glucose
Where do our bodies get the energy to fuel our activities of daily living?
Glucose is the main fuel source of our bodies, but there is another type of fuel that is available to our bodies, ketones. Ketones are a natural by-product of fat metabolism. When the body has run out of glucose to use as fuel it will switch fuel sources and start converting fat into fatty acids and then into ketones. Our bodies were designed to use this duel source of energy based on how we lived in the caveman days. In the summer and spring when food was plentiful, cavemen would eat more food and pack on the extra and store it as fat. Then in the fall and winter when food was scarce, the cavemen would live off that extra stored fat. Nowadays, since food supply is plentiful all year around and there is no physiological need or demand to live off the stored fat, thus we may just keep packing it on, all year around.
What are the differences between ketones and glucose as a source of energy?
Research suggests that ketones are a better, cleaner source of energy for the body and actually provide more energy than glucose. Unlike glucose, ketones do not depend on insulin to get into the cells for use. Ketones produce less carbon dioxide and free radicals than when the body uses glucose as a fuel source thus are less toxic for our body, making it a cleaner fuel source. Unfortunately, ketones are harder energy source for our bodies to tap into since they require your body to be in either a starvation mode or at least be in a state of very low in carbohydrates. Nowadays, the most common way of getting the body to produce ketones, or be in a state of ketosis, is by being on a very low carb diet i.e. a ketogenic diet. Typically, a ketogenic diet consists of 5-10% carbohydrates, 20-25% protein and 65-75% fats. As you can imagine this is not easy to achieve.
For those who do achieve ketosis, the benefits to the body and the brain are impressive. Here are just a few of the benefits that are suggested by the research:
1) Better Brain Function
As a Neurologist this is the benefit of ketosis I have to list first. If ketones are available, then they are the preferred fuel for the brain over glucose. Subjectively, this means improved focus and mental cognition. Objectively, it has been shown to improve memory in patients with Alzheimer’s dementia. A ketogenic diet has been used for over 80 years in the treatment of difficult to control seizures. It is also being studied in: Parkinson’s disease, ALS, traumatic brain injury, and hypoxic brain injury. Ketosis has also been shown to be beneficial in patients with migraine headaches, ADD, PTSD and depression.
2) Better Athletic Performance
Forget carb loading, for better athletic performance. Ketones are a better energy source for your workouts. Ketones provides more ATP (adenosine triphosphate) than glucose. Subjectively, many people who achieve ketosis report feeling of increased energy levels. Having more ATP means more energy to workout longer and harder. Objectively, several studies on endurance athletes have shown that athletes who are in ketosis are able to perform at a higher level for a longer period of time.
3) Fat Loss
When your body is in ketosis it is now literally a ‘fat burning machine’. Without having carbohydrates/glucose around for energy, your body starts releasing stored fat, which then will be turned into ketones for energy. Thus, inches drop off faster than with a low-fat high carb diet because you are actively burning up your stored fat. Additionally, high fat diet have a protein (muscle) sparing effect so if you are calorie restricted, your body will be protected against breakdown of skeletal muscle as a source of fuel.
4) Improved Diabetes
Diabetes is either due to a decreased insulin production (type 1 diabetes) or insulin resistance (type 2 diabetes). Insulin is required to transport glucose into the cells for use. In type 1 diabetes, there is not enough insulin around for the amount of glucose in the body. In type 2 diabetes, the cells are ‘resistant’ to the insulin that is around, and the cells are not able to process the glucose. Since all carbohydrates we eat break down into glucose, treatment of diabetes is often focused around lowering the glucose level, thus eating a low carb diet is recommended. Studies in individuals with type 2 diabetes using either, a very low carbohydrate or a ketogenic diet have had impressive results. These studies have showed that the participants were able to decrease or completely withdrawal off of the use of insulin, along with having major weight loss in a matter of just a few weeks. Also, it has been reported that eating a high fat, ketogenic diet can also improve insulin sensitivity, meaning the insulin that is around works better.
5) Less Inflammation
One of the ketones produced by the body is beta-hydroxybutyrate, has been shown to have an anti-inflammatory effect. Reports show individuals eating a ketogenic diet have some symptomatic improvement from rheumatoid arthritis, polycystic ovary disease, migraine headaches, eczema, and other conditions caused by inflammatory processes.
If ketosis is so good for you then why isn’t everyone doing it?
Well, first of all, most mainstream nutritionists and the USDA still recommend carbohydrates as a main staple of our diet. Second, we live in a world that is addicted to carbohydrates. Thus, most people simply cannot adhere to the strict diet that is required to get into and stay in ketosis through nutritional adjustments of eating so few carbohydrates.
So what if there was a supplement of exogenous ketones that could put you in therapeutic ketosis within an hour, despite your diet, and allow you to potentially to tap into the above-mentioned benefits without having to be on a strict ketogenic diet? Sounds too good to be true, doesn’t it? Luckily, such a supplement was developed under US Department of Defense commissioned research for use in Navy Seal divers to prevent seizures that could occur in association with using high-oxygen re-breathers (oxygen toxicity). A ketone supplement that was inspired based on that research and has been released for sale to the public. If you would like more information about this new ketone supplement check it out.
If you would like some help starting a ketogenic diet I would be happy to help.