Your body’s primary goal is to make energy so that you can work, exercise, and live your life. That energy your body uses comes primarily from two sources, carbohydrates or fat. A single glucose molecule is the end result of using carbohydrates for fuel. Ketone bodies are compounds made from fat that the body uses for fuel.
If you are eating a “standard” diet with no carbohydrate restriction, your body usually relies on carbs as its primary fuel source. But, when there aren’t enough carbs available, it can switch over to using ketones instead. There is a lot of misinformation about ketones and how healthy they are, so let’s clear that up a bit. What are ketones, and how are ketones made?
What Are Ketones?
Ketones are substances made from fat that the body can use for energy. There are three main ketones:
- Beta-hydroxybutyric acid (BHB)
Acetoacetate and BHB are the primary ketones the body relies on for energy. The process of making new ketones is called ketogenesis, whereas the process of relying mostly on ketones for energy is called ketosis. The goal of a ketogenic diet is to restrict carbohydrates enough to maintain a state of ketosis.
Ketones are part of normal metabolism and are present in our bodies at all times. They are not dangerous under normal circumstances. In rare cases, such as uncontrolled diabetes, ketones levels can increase to a dangerous level, leading to severe complications. When everything is operating normally, the body is able to excrete them before they build up.
Ketones may actually be beneficial. Many report an increase in physical endurance and mental performance when in a state of ketosis or when taking exogenous ketones. This may be due to a combination of more sustained energy and stable blood sugar.
Why Does Our Body Use Ketones?
The primary purpose of ketones is to provide our body with energy, even during fasting or inadequate carbohydrate intake. The body has almost unlimited amounts of stored energy in the fat cells. It has to be able to tap into that energy from time to time.
The metabolic process of converting fat into fuel occurs in the mitochondria. This is referred to as beta-oxidation. This process is happening all the time, as some tissues prefer to run on ketones. After an overnight fast, about 2-6% of the body’s energy is coming from ketone bodies. Without ketones, you wouldn’t have the energy to wake up in the morning; they keep you fueled throughout the night.
How Are Ketones Made in the Body?
Ketone bodies are made in the liver. They can travel in the bloodstream to any organ that requires energy. The brain will always be prioritized since it is the most important organ in the body.
Once the ketones are used for energy, they are excreted via the urine. Acetone can be excreted via the lungs, which is why sometimes people following a keto diet will have sweet-smelling breath.
What are Exogenous Ketones?
Exogenous ketones are dietary supplements that can be used to increase ketone levels in the body artificially. They usually contain either acetoacetate and/or BHB. They are used to help transition into ketosis faster and reduce some of the keto flu symptoms.
Exogenous ketones are found as either keto salts or keto esters. Keto salts are usually BHB bound to a mineral and may contain high levels of sodium or potassium. These should not be used regularly, as they may cause an electrolyte imbalance. Keto esters are the preferred choice since they do not contain high levels of minerals.
How to Supplement with Exogenous Ketones
Although exogenous ketones can help you get into ketosis faster, you won’t stay there if you don’t follow a low carbohydrate diet. Therefore, using them alone will not provide any of the health benefits of keto. Although people do report more mental clarity and energy when using exogenous ketones.
There is no specific time of day to take exogenous ketones. Many people use them before a workout or before diving into a big work task to increase energy.
In summary, what are ketones? They are compounds made from fat that play a role in healthy metabolism. Your body taps into the power of ketone bodies whenever it needs a little extra energy, which is a great system, so you don’t have to eat all the time.