Extending ketosis with beta-hydroxybutyrate and medium-chain triglycerides

Going keto takes a lot of work. While we may already know the benefits of a dedicated ketogenic diet, what many of us do not know is the difficulty in maintaining it.

Ketosis is your body undergoing starvation. It is a last resort response when your body lacks the carbohydrates it usually receives to generate energy. Because of this, committing to a ketogenic diet can take a lot of getting used to and may require serious commitment.

Our body could only fully maximize the effects of ketosis once it becomes familiar to the new situation it is experiencing. The body has to adjust, and this process is called keto-adaptation. Hence, many people have difficulty sustaining ketosis for an extended period. Also, any excess carbohydrates or proteins, even if there is too little an excess, could tip your body over and reverse ketosis much sooner.

We would want to make the most of our keto diet, so it’s a shame if we couldn’t maximize the length of our body undergoing ketosis. Luckily, thanks to scientific research, beta-hydroxybutyrate (BHB) supplementation with medium-chain triglyceride (MCT) powder can assist in extending ketosis for a more efficient keto regimen.

Your body during ketosis

Understanding how BHB and MCT powder can lengthen ketosis requires a fundamental understanding of what happens in the human body during this situation. During ordinary circumstances, our body processes carbohydrates (or sugars) as the primary source of our energy. Carbs, with fats and proteins, are the molecules in our food that our body uses as fuel.

The body has an intelligent way of processing many carbohydrates into a simpler form called glucose. It then uses several interconnected mechanisms to convert and further break down glucose to produce molecules called adenosine triphosphate (ATP), which serve as batteries for many reactions in the human body. Any glucose in excess links as a long thread called glycogen and becomes stored for future use in the liver or muscles. Too much of glycogen forces the body to store the glucose as fat instead. Fat serves as our ultimate reserve of energy.

During keto, however, you are purposefully depriving the body of carbohydrates, forcing the body to burn your stored glycogen, and then your fat, to meet your needs. Technically, that means you’re starving. Ketosis, however, is a normal phenomenon; it’s when fatty acids convert into molecules called acetyl coenzyme A (acetyl-CoA) to finally produce molecules that the body can process for ATP. acetyl-CoA normally does not do this if it has a choice, but restricting your macronutrient intake can force it to metabolize in this manner. You can continue your day-to-day activities even during ketosis because the metabolized fat compensates for your energy deficit.

In this cycle, acetyl-CoA converts to acetoacetate, which changes forms to beta-hydroxybutyrate or completely degrades into acetone. The conversion of acetyl-CoA to these three molecules, collectively called as the “ketone bodies,” is what generates the energy molecules that the body processes during starvation. BHB is the most abundant ketone body, and the brain uses it best compared to the other two for energy. These ketone bodies saturate in the blood, and when levels become low, it’s likely that ketosis has ended. The lowering of ketone bodies may be because of too much-consumed carbohydrates or proteins (which the body can also convert into glucose if it needs to).

It seems to make sense that to prolong ketosis, one can intake ketone bodies so that the ketone levels in the blood (measured in millimoles or mmol) remain high. If this were true, then an orally administrated ketosis supplement can help condition the body especially during keto-adaptation, where the body could not produce and utilize as much ketone bodies as it could.

Finding an effective keto supplement

To understand if supplementing with ketone bodies is enough to sustain ketosis, we need to take a look into a bold claim made by scientists in 2016. Researchers from the University of South Florida (USF) tested their hypothesis that oral intake of ketone supplements can induce ketosis (where the ketone concentration is at least 0.5 millimoles per liter of blood) without the need of a carbohydrate-strict diet. Their research proceeded from a 2012 study that determined BHB safe for administration, and a separate research in 1995 that discovered supplements capable of inducing nutritional ketosis.

Using test subjects over a 28-day period, the researchers at USF reported that daily dosage of BHB did not significantly increase ketone concentrations in the blood. Since the test subjects were not carbohydrate-restricted, we can expect this result. However, the researchers discovered that BHB taken with MCT showed significantly higher BHB levels, especially at week two onwards. BHB remained elevated for 12 hours after the test subjects consumed the supplement combo.

What makes MCT so unique? MCT is a collection of molecules containing three tails of fatty acids with a length of 6 to 12 carbon units, in contrast to long-chain triglycerides which have 14 or more. Because of its smaller size, MCT has been reported to avoid being incorporated into fat droplets in the blood or lymph nodes. It remains available to provide the liver with required energy instead of being deposited in adipose tissue. When observing a diet for weight loss, supplementation of MCT has been seen to improve the loss of body fat. It has also been reported to reduce a person’s appetite after continued use.

More importantly, however, MCT plays a prominent role as a keto supplement. The fatty acids in the MCT chains, if energy is lacking, can be broken down to form acetyl-CoA, which then converts to the ketone bodies. This effect is expected to be boosted in the powder form of MCT, as the spherical shape maximizes the surface area and the dryness prevents gastrointestinal problems related to consumption of oil. Since the mmol BHB and other ketone bodies remain high with consistent MCT use, it works best with BHB as a ketosis supplement.

The researchers also noted that with a sustained dosage of BHB with MCT, blood sugar level drops significantly and appears consistently suppressed from increasing. This effect is a bonus that ensures ketone levels remain high in the blood, and the body maintains ketosis for a longer period.

Hence, it’s usually not enough to supplement using only BHB (at least not within 28 days) especially if you’re not dedicating to limiting your macromolecule intake. If you plan to take keto supplements to improve and make the most out of your planned keto diet, then you should take a daily dosage of MCT powder as well. Doing this will ensure that blood glucose is low, ketone bodies are high, and ketosis lasts longer.

With appropriate diet, nutrition, and awareness of the state of your own body, BHB with MCT will help you lose weight, curb your appetite, and keep you on track with less effort but more results.

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