There’s a huge online buzz about keto pills, but not for the reason you might think. Perhaps you’ve heard they’ve been on Shark Tank. Or maybe you’ve seen online promotions touting that celebrities like Chrissy Tiegen and Demi Lovato are fans. But those promotions are the epitome of “fake news.” In fact, they’re completely fictitious information presented as truth. Unfortunately, with the lightning-fast and far-reaching internet, it’s nearly impossible to eliminate these fake claims now that they’re out and in the world, so consumers continue to be confused about keto pills. So what’s the truth about keto pills, or ketone supplements (which, incidentally actually do contain ketones)? Do they help you lose weight, stay sharp, and feel energized like they promise? While it’s not entirely hype, most of it is, especially in the pills’ current dosages. Read on to find the real science behind the too-good-to-be-true keto supplements, how they compare to a keto diet, and why keto pills can actually even slow down weight loss.
What Are Exogenous Ketones?
“Keto pills” is shorthand for exogenous ketones. Exogenous ketones, which are just ketones that originate outside your body, come packaged in pill, powder, and liquid form.
When you consume exogenous ketones, you’re literally consuming molecules of beta hydroxybutyrate (BHB), the main energy ketone produced by your body on a keto diet. When you consume BHB, your blood ketone levels rise accordingly.
There are two types of exogenous ketone supplements: ketone salts and ketone esters. Both raise blood ketone levels. The main difference is that ketone salts are attached to a mineral (like sodium) and ketone esters are attached to an alcohol molecule. Most keto supplements are ketone salts.
What Do Exogenous Ketones Do?
What’s the allure of taking exogenous ketones? They’ve been studied in a variety of contexts and have been shown to:
- Lower blood glucose levels
- Reduce lactate buildup during endurance cycling (a sign of muscle endurance)
- Improve cognition in rats
- Reduce epileptic seizures
This all sounds great, but how do ketone supplements (aka keto pills) compare to the keto diet? Are they equally beneficial? What’s the difference? Let’s explore.
Nutritional Ketosis Vs. Artificial Ketosis
On a keto diet, you severely limit your carbohydrate intake. This carb restriction, in turn, keeps the hormone insulin low. It also forces your body to look elsewhere for energy, primarily by encouraging your liver to start burning fat to produce ketones for energy. This is called nutritional ketosis. When you’re in nutritional ketosis, you have lower blood sugar and increased free fatty acids to use for energy.
You learned earlier that exogenous ketones also lower blood sugar, but do they also increase free fatty acids? Here’s where the difference between nutritional and artificial ketosis (taking exogenous ketones) becomes clear.
In nutritional ketosis, your body breaks apart body fat via lipolysis, (the breaking up of body fat) into fatty acids, then those fatty acids end up in your blood, ready to be burned as energy. But taking ketone supplements decreases free fatty acids. Which means less fat is available for burning.
There’s a reason for this; rapidly elevating your ketone levels by taking ketone supplements tells your body: Hey, we’re getting too deep into ketosis, stop burning fat and producing ketones! This safety mechanism is a natural defense designed to protect you from unnaturally high levels of ketones, which can result in a dangerous (and rare and hard to achieve if you’re not a type 1 diabetic) condition called ketoacidosis. To be clear, taking normal doses of exogenous ketones probably won’t cause ketoacidosis, but it will reduce the breakdown of body fat.
The bottom line is that keto pills, unlike the keto diet, are not well suited to stimulating fat loss. Still not clear why? Allow us to explain.
Problems With Keto Pills (and Other Ketone Supplements)
There are several downsides to relying on artificial ketosis attained through pills and other ketone supplements rather than nutritional ketosis:
When you go keto, your body needs time to get “fat adapted.” It’s used to running off glucose (sugar), and must now transition to burning fatty acids for fuel.
This is why fatty acids get elevated on a keto diet; body fat gets broken up, fatty acids are released, and ketones are produced. This is a great way to obliterate fat stores, and it’s one reason why the keto diet has proven so effective for weight loss. But since taking exogenous ketones decreases lipolysis, it’s unlikely to speed fat adaptation and consequently lessen the amount of fat burned to achieve and maintain ketosis.
Low-dosage results in less effective ketosis levels
Clinically tested doses of exogenous ketones (typically administered in powder form) range from around 10 to 25 grams BHB. These dosages have been shown to reliably raise ketone levels in humans. A typical keto pill, however, only contains about 400 milligrams of exogenous ketones. To hit the low end of the therapeutic range, you would need to pop …wait for it… 25 keto pills. Taking that many pills could get annoying. And expensive. Which leads us to the next problem:
On Amazon.com, a bottle of keto pills costs anywhere from $15 to $50. Let’s say you find a bottle on the lower end of the price spectrum: 60 pills (400 mg BHB) for $20. If you want to take daily clinical doses, be ready to spend about $3,000 per year. The math doesn’t lie. 25 pills per day = $8.33. $8.33 x 365 = $3,040.45. Whew.
Lack of regulation
The supplement market is not tightly regulated. In general, you have to trust that a brand follows Good Manufacturing Practices (GMP) when producing its pills. Often brands don’t. For instance, the FDA recently issued a warning to Let’s Talk Health, Inc. – a brand which sells curcumin and vitamin C supplements – for violating multiple GMP rules.
Also, since supplements aren’t monitored by the FDA, you have to trust that your chosen supplement contains advertised levels of its active ingredient. ConsumerLab.com, a third party watchdog, has tested a number of supplements to make sure they deliver on their promises; they share their findings for a small fee. Unfortunately, at the time of this writing, ConsumerLab.com has not yet reviewed keto pills, so nobody really knows what they’re getting with these supplements.
The Final Word
You’ve seen the keto pills. You’ve heard the claims. Effortless weight loss, enhanced fat-burning, super brain power.
These claims, however, don’t stand up to scrutiny. Yes, exogenous ketones have been shown to boost ketone levels, but you’d need dozens of pills to achieve clinical doses. They don’t mention this fact on the product label. Instead they talk about weight loss. But exogenous ketones are not, by any stretch of the imagination, a weight-loss supplement. In fact, they decrease the amount of free fatty acids in your blood. This is not a good formula for losing fat. The decision to take keto pills is up to you. If you’ve read this far, you should have enough information to choose wisely.