Ketones, the super fuel?
Ketones are perhaps the most undervalued and least-known energy source. They do not naturally occur in our foods even though they are a type of “super fuel”, especially for the brain and muscles. Within the muscles, ketones compete with other fuel sources such as carbohydrates and fats.
Ketones, the lifesaver
Ketones are released when carbohydrates run low. This happens, for instance, after a long fast, but also when you eat “ketogenic” foods - as the name suggests. Ketones are a kind of back-up mechanism to maintain vital functions (for example in your brain) at all times. At first sight, it may sound logical to you that fasting reduces brain function, but nothing could be further from the truth! It is not without reason that people who fast for a long time report that they get rid of brain fog and feel tremendously sharp-minded. The explanation for this goes way back, to more than tens of thousands of years ago. It all comes down to an evolutionary development that provides an advantage by making our brains more focused, alert and creative in times of food scarcity. This increased level of alertness and creativity has significantly helped us to find more resourceful ways to get food during periods of scarcity. Studies show a similar effect in laboratory animals: animals that have not eaten for a long time perform better on cognitive tasks than well fed animals.
While our brain cannot use fats as fuel, it is the metabolism of fat that increases in the absence of carbohydrates. This process produces ketones, which are then used as an alternative fuel source - a substitute for the sugars (carbohydrates) which are in short supply. Many people don’t know that a minimum amount of sugar is always required to prevent a so-called hypo (too low blood sugar). Even when there is a shortage of sugars from food, particles of glycerol (a component of fats) can be converted into glucose to ensure that blood sugar levels remain within the acceptable range and prevent a hypo (too low blood sugar). That glucose can then be used as fuel for the brain.
Doing sports when you are fasting
If you exert effort during fasting, for example, if you go for a long run, the ketones help to conserve your body’s own glycogen (stored sugars). Not only by directly supplying fuel but also by acting as a signaling molecule. If you are fasting they give the body a signal to let it know that it will have to use the sugars in stock sparingly,
erred fuel that, together with ketones, supplies the most important amount of fuel: fats. This mechanism can be crucial in increasing the chances of survival in extreme food shortages.
Thus, the production of ketones is the result of extremely low sugar concentrations in the body. We also call this condition ketosis. In addition to fasting, you can also get into ketosis by following a diet with a very low carbohydrate intake. A very low carbohydrate diet (a “keto diet”) contains only 20 to 30 grams of carbohydrates per day - that is comparable to a maximum of two bananas (!).
I can still remember that when I first went low carb about two years before I discovered intermittent fasting, I was called crazy by some of my colleagues. They thought that the ketosis that my diet would trigger would be dangerous and that I would risk becoming insulin resistant from fattened muscles. However, ketosis is a normal physical response to low carbohydrate availability. Ketones were previously believed to be a by-product of fat metabolism, but in fact, they are an additional fuel. Incidentally, ketosis also occurs during a child’s development in the neonatal period (just after birth) and during pregnancy.
"Ketones were previously believed to be a by-product of fat metabolism, but in fact, they are an additional fuel."
“Is ketosis completely safe then?” Yes! There is now enough evidence that shows that physiological ketosis is safe and may even have a positive effect on the health of certain types of patients. For example, the keto diet was originally developed to reduce epilepsy. In addition, ketosis is often used for lifestyle-related disorders such as obesity. This is mainly due to the fact that people in the ketogenic state produce fewer hunger hormones (ghrelin) and are therefore less hungry. In my practice I often hear from people who begin a low carbohydrate or intermittent fasting diet that they don’t feel very hungry, a phenomenon that is also described in the scientific literature. This can be explained by the interaction between the ketogenic state and the hunger hormone.
For diabetes (type 2 diabetes), a ketogenic diet is very often recommended for medical purposes. It is often used to treat acne, Alzheimer’s disease and even cancer control in some cases. In addition to being used to treat these conditions, there are also indications that being in a ketogenic state may have metabolic benefits which could improve sports performance.
"In addition to being used to treat these conditions, there are also indications that being in a ketogenic state may have metabolic benefits which could improve sports performance"
Thus, the world of ketones is being slowly but surely explored. It is being made more accessible, also to the general public. And if you want, you can test your own “ketosis state” at home with a simple finger prick. But there is still something mysterious about ketones. Maybe because they are less tangible than fats, carbohydrates and proteins. Food science has a lot to explore. Hopefully, the true potential of this special nutrient will eventually become clear.
So there seems to be very strong evidence that ketones are the super fuel of the body and could help achieve your personal health goals. But ... all roads lead to Rome. To be continued ...
Copyright Elise Borsboom: @eliseborsboomofficial
The dr. Ludidi Method of Intermittent Fasting
About The doc.
Dr. Ludidi (PhD) is a nutrition scientist, and bestselling author of ‘The Dr Ludidi Method of Intermittent Fasting’., who motivates and inspires people to understand their bodies and how great food can positively change their lives. He is a top nutritionist, who works with elite athletes, artists, performers and business executives from all over the world, in his special Private+ Coaching Program. Dr. Ludidi offers help via nutrition programming and lifestyle coaching for sports performance, general health & wellbeing and more.
"Because science shouldn’t be just for the scientists."
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