To Exo, or Not: What's the Deal with Exogenous Ketones?

Do you need to take ketones on a low-carb or keto diet?

Article by Mandy Pagano | 18 Apr, 2021

Article originally published on on 3/16/18. It has been lightly edited for re-publication.

In pretty much every sector of the health and wellness community, we are inundated with products. Sweet fancy Moses, the products! They're everywhere!

For good or ill, the push for specialty diet and health products is so pervasive that people pretty much assume they're going to need to buy something special in order to "do" keto. The truth, however, is that while some of the low-carb and keto-friendly products out there can help us fill the convenience gap, the majority of ketonians need nothing more than to lower carbs, keep protein in check, and eat real food to maintain a healthy lifestyle. Can it really be that simple? Most of the time, the answer is yes!

But Is the Answer Ever Something Other Than Yes?

Probably the single, most common product question we get is about something called exogenous ketones. It's understandable why people might think they need them; some of the marketing surrounding these packets and powders state that you can be in ketosis in no-time-flat rather than having to wait the usual three days or so of eating lower carb before the body starts producing ketones on its own, and some even heavily imply that you can cheat to your heart's content and avoid the consequences by taking these things. (Protip: you can't and you won't.)

So, what's the real deal here? What are exogenous ketones, and what do they even do?

First Things First

There is the perception out there that Ketogenic Success and our affiliate groups are absolutely against exogenous ketone use. This is incorrect. We do not advocate absolutely against exogenous ketones. What we do advocate for is understanding what they are and where they might appropriately fit into a ketogenic lifestyle.

Ketones are energy that the body can use in place of glucose. If your carbs are low, you won't have a lot of glucose to use for energy and your body will make its own ketones to use instead. These are called endogenous ketones, and they are made in the liver by converting body fat and/or dietary fat to ketone bodies. This is desirable when we are trying to lose weight.

Exogenous ketones are ketone bodies that are manufactured outside of the body and ingested for energy. They are best utilized as a quick form of energy. Think of a traditional marathon runner, for example, who "carbs up" before, during, and after a race. Those carb ups are intended to provide quick bursts of energy to the body so the runner can keep going. On a ketogenic protocol, exogenous ketones may be used instead of a "carb up" to provide the runner that quick energy.

Uses for exogenous ketones are not limited to distance and endurance activities. Many serious athletes utilize them, and there is very promising research in several different medical fields that leads us to believe maintaining very high blood ketone levels may be therapeutic when managing some pretty major medical conditions. Thus, exogenous ketones may have a place in the treatment of serious illness.

Our Considered Opinion

As of now, we do not believe that exogenous ketones are beneficial for weight loss. Introducing quick forms of energy in the form of exogenous ketones may even be counterproductive when it comes to weight loss. Understand that if the scientific understanding of the evidence changes we will change our position, but as of right now the evidence for using these products to induce or speed up weight loss simpy isn't there. (Huge hat tip and shout out to a Facebook commenter, Julie Morgan, for supplying that lovely link. Don't skip it, folks.)

It's important to note that having ketones in your blood or urine as a result of directly ingesting them isn't necessarily indicative that the body is making and using them. Further, consider that the body has no need to convert body or dietary fat to ketone bodies for energy when you're just pumping ketones right into your system. Since the typical person coming to a ketogenic lifestyle is looking to either lose weight, manage some kind of insulin resistance or other inflammatory disorder, or some combination of the two, and ingesting ketones may be counterproductive to achieving those goals, we do not believe that exogenous ketones have a place in the average ketogenic person's lifestyle.

The nutshell is that exogenous ketones may be right for you if:

  1. You are an endurance athlete, or otherwise need to utilize quick bursts of energy for athletic performance.
  2. You have a medical condition that may be more successfully managed by maintaining therapeutic levels of ketones.

Exogenous ketones may not be right for you if:

  1. You are trying to lose weight.
  2. You are trying to heal insulin resistance, or related hormonal disorders.
  3. You are managing inflammatory or auto-immune disorders.
  4. You are simply trying to live a healthier lifestyle.

Ultimately, each person needs to do what is best for their body. We believe everyone needs to understand what these kind of products are and what they're best used for, so we can all make an informed decision on whether or not to include them in our own ketogenic protocol.

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