How Beta-Hydroxybutyrate (BHB) Helps You Safely Lose Weight

by Jori Geck October 16, 2020

As the ketogenic diet grows in popularity, the use of exogenous ketones has increased. As people look to achieve weight loss during the ketogenic diet and enter the metabolic process of ketosis, beta-hydroxybutyrate (BHB) has been used as a supplement to accelerate this process. In this article, we are going to discuss the ketogenic diet, the use of BHB, and how beta-hydroxybutyrate helps you safely lose weight.

What is the Ketogenic Diet?

The ketogenic diet consists of high-fat, moderate protein, and low carbohydrate diet. Now, our body's main energy source comes from carbohydrates. So when we limit carbohydrates our body starts going through a process called lipolysis. Lipolysis is the breaking down of fats to release fatty acids, while our liver begins producing ketone bodies to provide ATP (energy), that way our body and brain can function properly. This metabolic process is called nutritional ketosis, a state characterized by increased blood ketones and weight loss. In simple terms, the ketogenic diet promotes a significant fuel source shift in our body.  As our carbohydrate intake decreases, our body is unable to use glucose as the primary fuel source. Instead, our body uses fat stores for energy, and our body produces ketones.  

The three main ketone bodies are beta-hydroxybutyrate, acetone, and acetoacetate (1). The ketone body that we are going to discuss is beta-hydroxybutyrate. Let's dive into the use of BHB, the benefits of bhb, its safety, and how it assists with weight loss.  

What is beta-hydroxybutyrate?

Beta-hydroxybutyrate (BHB) is a chemical that is naturally produced by the body and used as an alternate fuel source when we have not consumed enough carbohydrates or sugars. BHB is one of the major ketone bodies and is used to help the nerves and the brain works better when our sugar levels are low and your body goes into the state of ketosis (2). Let's look into how BHB can be taken as a supplement and help with weight by promoting the state of ketosis. 

Ketosis and Exogenous Ketone Supplements 

When we are in ketosis, our body no longer uses sugar/carbs for energy, but our body uses our fat stores for energy, which kick-starts weight loss. There are two different ways to keep your ketone levels high, endogenous and exogenous ketones.  Endogenous ketone bodies are produced by the body and made in the liver when we are in ketosis. Exogenous ketones come from a source outside of your body. 

As the keto diet becomes more widely used, the exogenous ketone supplements are growing in popularity such as beta-hydroxybutyrate. When consuming BHB supplements, it needs to be attached to another compound such as sodium, potassium, or calcium (our electrolytes) so our body can process the molecule (3). This is called ketone salts. Another form of exogenous ketones is called ketone esters; in this case, BHB attaches to an alcohol molecule instead of an electrolyte to be properly used in the body. Later, we will further discuss the differences between these two forms. When we take this ketone body, our blood ketone levels will stay elevated to keep our body in ketosis and further burn our fat for energy (4). 

Taking exogenous ketones serves the purpose of keeping our body in ketosis and increasing slight flexibility during the keto diet. For example, if someone were to find themself indulging in food high in carbohydrates, they will take an exogenous ketone supplement to remain in the ketosis state. It is important to note that taking BHB alone will not put your body in ketosis and that it needs to be paired with a low-carb/keto diet to work properly. There are different forms of exogenous ketone bodies such as liquid, powder, and pill form. 

Ketone Salts Versus Ketone Esters

The two forms of ketones are ketone salts and ketone esters. There are a handful of differences between these two forms that could determine which one is a better fit for you. Below are the main characteristics of ketone salts (5):

  • BHB is attached to a mineral (sodium, potassium, or magnesium)
  • The effect of higher ketone levels last longer then ketone esters 
  • Taste is more tolerable 

Below are the main characteristics of ketone esters (5):

  • BHB is attached to an alcohol molecule 
  • Shorter lasting effect then ketone salts 
  • More potent than ketone salts 
  • Taste is less tolerable 

Keeping in the mind the physical and chemical differences between these two forms of ketones can help determine which form is safer and/or better for you based on their effects. 

Exogenous ketones are not the only way to keep your ketones high.  There are other keto supplements that can assist you in maintaining the state of ketosis. Let's dive into another supplement known as MCT Oil that can help keep our body in ketosis. 

Medium Chain Triglyceride Oil 

Medium-chain triglyceride oil (MCT oil) is another supplement that provides benefits similar to BHB. MCT oil contains medium-length chain triglycerides and is extracted from coconut oil and can also be found in various foods. MCT’s can be converted to ketones when carb intake is low. Furthermore, the oil can help keep you in the fat-burning state of ketosis (9). In doing so, this oil helps reduce the risk of heart disease, weight loss, and helps control blood sugar levels and manage diabetes. 

Weight Loss and Exogenous Ketone Supplements

As mentioned above, exogenous ketones accelerate weight loss by increasing the metabolic state of ketosis. While this alone will result in body fat loss, taking BHB has also been shown to decrease appetite as well. One study shows that drinking a beverage containing ketone esters will experience 50% less hunger than those you did not consume the ketone esters. The effect of the ketone esters can lower the levels of our hunger hormone called ghrelin (8). This means that our body's natural response to hunger will decrease and further increase weight loss. 

Health Benefits of Beta-Hydroxybutyrate and Ketosis 

There are potential benefits that come from the keto diet and consuming exogenous ketones to keep us in that metabolic state. Along with weight loss, studies have shown that there are numerous other benefits you can gain from exogenous ketones and the keto diet (8):

  • Decreased blood triglyceride levels: High triglyceride levels can increase your risk for heart disease, decreased carb intake and exogenous ketones can help lower these levels.
  • May lower blood pressure: A low-carb diet can be an effective way to reduce your blood pressure and lower your risk for heart disease.
  • Increased levels of HDL (the “good” cholesterol): The high-fat content of the ketogenic diet can drastically increase the levels of your “good” cholesterol (7).
  • Lowers risk of metabolic syndrome: Metabolic syndrome can increase your risk of diabetes and heart disease. Ketosis and a low-carb diet can help treat the symptoms and further decrease your risk of developing life-threatening diseases. 
  • Reduces hunger: As mentioned prior, exogenous ketones can reduce your hunger by lowering your levels of our hunger hormone. 
  • Could manage health conditions such as Epilepsy, Alzheimer’s Disease, and Autism: Increased ketone levels can help reduce and manage the symptoms in these diseases.

Is Beta-Hydroxybutyrate Safe?

Just like any supplementation, there are always questions regarding its safety. This exogenous ketone is indeed safe, but there are considerations to keep in mind if you are planning on taking BHB. If you are a diabetic, there is a medical complication known as DKA (diabetic ketoacidosis) that could occur if you consume exogenous ketone bodies. DKA happens when your body can't produce enough insulin and the levels of ketones in your blood become extremely high from fat breakdown happening too quickly. This causes your blood to become too acidic and could result in coma or death (6). This is a life-threatening condition and you should discuss with your healthcare provider before taking this supplement to ensure it is right for you (or avoid altogether) if you have type 1 or type 2 diabetes. It is important to be aware of the several side effects that could occur, which will be discussed next.

What are the Side Effects of Taking Exogenous Ketones?

As the exogenous ketone BHB becomes more popular, questions regarding side effects come up. As mentioned prior, ketone salts are a common way to consume ketone bodies. Since beta-hydroxybutyrate is attached to an electrolyte, it can increase mineral levels and cause nausea, diarrhea, and stomach discomfort. If you are suffering from kidney disease your condition could worsen as well if you take ketone salts (3). It is important to consult your healthcare provider if you are experiencing these symptoms. 

In most individuals, the ketogenic diet and exogenous ketones can work hand in hand to help increase weight loss by promoting fat burning and curbing hunger, while decreasing the risk of numerous health conditions. Hopefully, this article sheds light on the uses of exogenous ketone supplements and the safety and effectiveness of beta-hydroxybutyrate. 

References :

Jori Geck
Jori Geck

Jori Geck has a Bachelor of Science in Nutrition from Central Michigan University. Jori is a full-time Nutritionist at NuVision Health Center and has a desire to share her passion of healing the body with food, and improving overall health in natural, sustainable ways.

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