The keto diet is having a moment.
When the daily diet contains less than 20 to 30 grams of carbohydrates per day, the body’s metabolism changes, so it starts using ketones for energy.
People lose weight on a ketogenic diet because when their metabolism changes, they burn fat instead of sugar and glucose. Once your body has made that shift, you’re in what’s called “ketosis.” It usually happens within a week of starting the keto diet. For people following this diet, a Beta-hydroxybutyrate (BHB) supplement can benefit the brain and body.
Benefits of Taking a BHB Supplement
BHB is one of the three ketone bodies formed inside the human body
Improving Cognitive Performance
Studies of Alzheimer’s patients whose diets were supplemented with ketones have shown that it may improve cognitive performance. BHB seems to produce the most noticeable results with mild cognitive deficit.
Most scientific studies conducted on the effects of BHB exogenous ketones supplements have only been conducted on animals. So, extracting animal study results and applying those concepts to humans is the best we can do right now.
In a recent animal study, BHB reduced neuroinflammation. This may be one reason it seems to help with symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease, including memory recall, increased cognitive performance, and decreased cognitive deficit.
Combatting Depression and Anxiety
BHB has also been shown to help with depression and reduction of anxiety. Raising neurotrophins contributes to cognitive enhancement, which is just one reason people take the supplement.
BHB supplements are used by athletes to increase endurance. It acts as an antioxidant, using up reactive oxygen species. Getting rid of inflammatory free radicals helps with performance because it supports the body’s ability to produce adenosine triphosphate (ATP).
The process of breaking down BHB into acetoacetyl coenzyme A is complicated, but it helps the body produce ATP to increase endurance. This is the energy needed for optimal cell function.
Warding off Keto Brain Fog
When some people get too deep into ketosis, they may experience brain fog or “keto flu” because they can’t produce enough BHB to feed their brain. BHB taken as a supplement can cross the blood-brain barrier quite effectively and help alleviate this symptom.
Controlling Oxidative Stress and Blood Sugar
We know that BHB can decrease blood sugar in response to meals because we’ve seen that effect in humans. BHB helps control blood sugar, which then helps to control oxidative stress. Oxidative stress is the true underlying cause of most disease. If you decrease blood sugar, you also decrease triglyceride and cholesterol levels as well as inflammation.
Multiple studies have shown that eating less can lead to living longer. A BHB supplement can help reduce hunger and cravings leading to weight loss, which has its own set of health benefits. Keeping blood sugar in check is crucial from an anti-aging standpoint.
Committing to Lifestyle Changes a Ketogenic Diet
While some nutritionists may be skeptical about ketone diets, with complaints that it isn’t sustainable or that it results in losing then gaining weight, you could say that about pretty much any diet on the planet
The important thing to remember is a diet change should be a lifestyle change and it should be considered permanent, not something you do to lose weight for a special occasion. There’s no yo-yo-diet effect when the diet is a commitment to a lifestyle modification. If you are on a ketogenic diet (or any type of diet) 90% of the time, you’ve modified your lifestyle and made a real positive change.
Of course, no one is perfect. There are holidays and special occasions during which a person adhering to a specific diet may have a treat or eat something outside the norm for them. It's important to stress that if you want to eat healthy, the answer to the question, “When can I eat bread again?” is, “Almost never.”
That doesn’t mean you’ll avoid bread for the rest of your life 365 days per year, never eat Rice Krispy treats again or have an ice cream sundae; it just means they are no longer staples in your diet. Eating whatever we want to eat whenever we want to eat it simply isn’t good for the human body. Every diet will fail unless the person participating in it does so perfectly.
Since no human is perfect, we just have to strive to adopt the mindset that making a permanent lifestyle modification involves sticking to a diet 90% of the time. Keto is a diet that can be safely continued indefinitely.
There are only eight studies available on BHB, so it’s early in the process of learning about this supplement. It offers real advantages to those following a ketogenic diet and those suffering from mild cognitive decline, but it isn’t a substitute for eating a sensible low-carb diet. Lifestyle changes can positively impact health in a number of ways, and the keto diet and BHB supplements can help.
Fred Pescatore, MD, is a traditionally trained physician practicing nutritional medicine. To pursue his vision of a more personalized and healthful program, Dr. Pescatore opened Partners in Integrative Medicine. He is the author of several important books, including his newest book, The Hamptons Diet Cookbook, the follow up to his NY Times best seller The Hamptons Diet. He was the Associate Medical Director at the famed Atkins Center for five years. He is the President of the AHCC Research Association, President of the International and American Association of Clinical Nutritionists and is a member of the National Association of Physician Broadcasters, amongst other organizations. For more information, visit www.hamptonsdiet.com.