Can Ketone Products Help People with Diabetes?

Curated by Claudia Shannon / Research Scientist / ishonest

Researchers say “ketone esters” may help lower blood sugar, but they caution people with diabetes to shy away from other products.

Trying to sort through which supplements, diets, and other gimmicks might actually help you lose weight in today’s world is not an easy task.

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One of the most-high profile trends these days revolves around the term “ketones.”

A recent study from the researchers at the University of British Columbia and University of Oxford is hoping to prove the efficacy of a consumable form of ketones known as “ketone esters.”

Ketones are naturally produced by the human body as a result of fat (rather than glucose) being burned for fuel.

This is only possible when carbohydrate intake is low enough, generally fewer than 20 to 30 grams total per day. That causes the body to resort to burning body fat for energy instead of the glucose from the digested carbohydrates.

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Ketones can be produced in people with type 1 diabetes when little to no insulin is present for properly making use of glucose in the bloodstream.

This form of ketone production is dangerous and can be fatal.

When burned as a source of body fat in a person whose blood sugars are stable (including in those with well-managed type 1 or type 2 diabetes), ketones can serve as a quick and efficient method of losing weight.

Low-carb eating can also be helpful in managing blood sugar levels overall because carbohydrates are the primary things that raise blood sugar.

Different kinds of ketone products

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There are actually three different types of ketone products you can purchase: raspberry ketones, ketone salts, and ketone esters.

“Raspberry ketones are basically the aroma of a raspberry,” explained Christel Oerum, diabetes coach, athlete, and co-founder of Diabetes Strong.

However, millions of consumers have been confused into thinking that a $25 bottle of “raspberry ketones” will provide them with the same fat-burning effect of the ketones associated with a low-carb diet.

Oerum said many consumers don’t realize that ketones don’t cause weight loss. They are merely the result of a low-carb diet.

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And while the brain does use those naturally made ketones for energy, ketones can’t actually be bottled up and consumed to aid in weight loss.

“When it comes to raspberry ketones,” Oerum told ishonest, “nothing has been shown in actual people to result in weight loss. It’s just the diet pill industry hoping to easily fool those who have heard of ketogenic diets but don’t have a fuller understanding of what ketones really are.”

Ketone salts and ketone esters are entirely different and a bit more complicated. They are created in labs, not created naturally within the body.

In fact, these products aren’t actually ketones at all, but simply chemical compounds that help your body make better use of your own ketones — if you’re producing any during a carbohydrate-deprived state.

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Ketone salts, explains Ketosource, are naturally derived compounds that mix sodium with beta-hydroxybutyrate (BHB) to “improve absorption” of the ketones already existing in your body.

Ketone esters are synthetically made compounds that “link an alcohol to a ketone body.” These are used with the hopes of increasing one’s own ketone levels for the sake of increased weight loss or increased ketone-fueled performance.

While ketone salts and raspberry ketones have proven to provide little to no benefit, ketone esters seem more promising.

The case for ketone esters

Ketone esters are gaining momentum and popularity for their ability to lower blood sugar, increase the body’s ability to burn ketones for fuel (a supposed advantage for athletes), and ideally help a person lose weight.

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“Although previous studies have shown that infusing ketones into the bloodstream can reduce blood sugar levels… researchers at the University of British Columbia and University of Oxford have demonstrated that a single drink of ketone ester enables better control of blood sugar by reducing spikes in sugar levels,” the study states.

The study consisted of 20 healthy, nondiabetic individuals consuming a ketone ester supplement or placebo following a 10-hour period of fasting.

About 30 minutes after consuming the ketone ester supplement, they consumed a drink containing 75 grams of sugar.

The participants who were given the ketone ester beverage were reported to have lower blood sugar levels than those given the placebo over the course of the following two and a half hours.

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Dr. Peter Attia, an avid supporter of low-carb diets for diabetics as well as nondiabetics, gave his two cents on ketone ester drinks with the first warning of just how awful they taste, “The ketone esters are, hands down, the worst tasting compounds I have ever put in my body. The world’s worst scotch tastes like spring water compared to these things,” he said. “I failed to mix it with anything. Strategic error. It tasted as I imagine jet fuel would taste. I thought I was going to go blind. I didn’t stop gagging for 10 minutes.”

“The salts are definitely better,” added Attia, “but despite experimenting with them for months, I was unable to consistently ingest them without experiencing [gastrointestinal] side effects. Often, I was fine, but enough times I was not, which left me concluding that I still needed to work out the kinks.”

In terms of their efficacy for weight loss, blood sugar reduction, or athletic performance, experts in the diabetes community aren’t convinced they have any real place in daily diabetes management.

“Overall, this study was done in healthy individuals. Studies need to be done on people with diabetes to determine any real efficacy and application,” explained Jennifer Smith, a certified diabetes educator and registered dietician at Integrated Diabetes Services.

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“For healthy individuals to be taking yet another supplement is another craze hitting the market isn’t necessary,” Smith told ishonest. “If we eat mostly healthy foods — close to what they looked like to begin with — and add activity that is good for us, we should be able to stay healthy, even for those with diabetes.”

Smith and Oerum — both of whom have type 1 diabetes themselves, are athletes, and work with everyday patients — are firmly convinced that good old-fashioned healthcare ought to be plenty, with an emphasis on your lifestyle habits.

“We shouldn’t have to spend extra money on expensive supplements to make our body do something it should be doing well if we are treating it well,” said Smith.

With the rate of type 2 diabetes diagnoses soaring across the globe, it’s important to bear in mind that the pursuit for a quick-fix supplement is not only hoping to prevent complications of high blood sugar like retinopathy, neuropathy, kidney disease, and stroke, it’s also hoping to make money.

“From a personal perspective,” adds Oerum, “I’ve never seen or heard of anybody dropping body fat by taking over-the-counter supplementation alone. It has always been by changing their lifestyle or weight-loss surgery (along with lifestyle changes), or through taking necessary prescribed medications.”

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