If you’ve tried to lose weight in the past few years, you’ve probably heard of or even tried a ketogenic diet. This fat-heavy approach to weight loss has gained popularity in recent years, but it is not the easiest diet to master.
The diet, which was created in the 1920s to help children with difficult-to-control epilepsy, eliminates nearly all carbohydrates. This means your body will have to rely on alternative fuel sources such as fat and protein.
According to Cathy Leman, a dietitian, personal trainer, nutrition therapist, speaker, writer, and breast cancer survivor based in Chicago, the classic keto diet “is a high-fat, adequate-protein, low-carbohydrate diet designed to produce ketosis by mimicking the metabolic changes of starvation, forcing the body to use fat as its primary source of energy.”
Helping the Body Achieve Ketosis Safely
When the body uses fat as fuel, it produces ketone bodies, which are chemicals produced in the liver when fat is metabolized. This is known as ketosis. Getting into and staying in ketosis can be difficult because the right ratio of carbs, fats, and proteins is required. This is where exogenous ketogenic supplements, also known as keto diet pills, may come into play.
When the human body breaks down fat for fuel, it produces ketone bodies naturally, or endogenously in medical terms. However, ketone bodies can also be introduced from an exogenous – or external – source, such as an exogenous ketogenetic supplement.
Exogenous ketone supplements are essentially pills or powders that contain ketone bodies and are intended to increase the levels of these substances in the body to facilitate ketosis.
There are numerous products on the market that claim to be an exogenous ketogenic supplement. They typically contain beta-hydroxybutyrate ketone as the active ingredient.
The following are the two most common types of keto diet pills:
- Ketone esters are typically sold as a liquid and are used in research settings rather than in consumer products.
- Ketone salts are powders made by combining ketones with another chemical, such as potassium, magnesium, sodium, or calcium.
Do Keto Pills Work?
The idea is that these supplements will help you get into ketosis faster – it can take anywhere from two days to more than a week to reach that fat-burning state. Once in ketosis, a supplement may help you stay there. In theory, this means you could lose weight even faster.
The theory makes sense: if you need ketone bodies to get into ketosis, taking them as a supplement should make it easier. However, it is unclear whether exogenous ketogenic supplements work.
According to some studies, such as this one from 2014, adding exogenous ketones can increase the number of ketones in the body. According to a 2018 review study, whether this means you can achieve ketosis faster or maintain it longer is still unclear.
One reason supplementation may be ineffective is that the body strives to maintain an even level of ketones in the bloodstream to avoid a potentially toxic buildup of these chemicals. When the body detects high ketone levels, the liver stops producing its own, so supplementing with ketones may actually cause your body to stop producing them. This, in turn, may limit your ability to maintain the ketogenic, fat-burning zone associated with rapid weight loss.
While there is some evidence that the keto diet is effective for weight loss, there is little long-term research on how it affects the body and whether the weight loss you may achieve is sustainable, according to Monica Chan, a supervising dietitian at Riverside University Health System in California. “Studies indicate that weight loss associated with the keto diet is most likely due to a decrease in hunger, water weight loss, and a calorie deficit.”
According to her, “following the ketogenic diet has been linked to decreased levels of ghrelin, one of your body’s main hunger hormones,” which may make it easier to avoid calorie overconsumption.
However, drastically reducing carbohydrate intake can result in water loss because carbs hold water when stored in your body. “When you reduce your carb intake, such as during the keto diet’s initiation phase, stored carbs are released along with additional fluid, resulting in varying amounts of weight loss.”
This is problematic because when you stop eating keto, your carbohydrate consumption increases, which means your body will retain more water and some of the weight loss will be reversed quickly.
Maintaining a keto lifestyle is difficult for many people because the menu is very restrictive, so it’s common to fall off the diet and regain weight, whether you’re using a supplement or not.
If you intend to use a keto diet pill or powder, do your research first.
First and foremost, Chan advises consulting with your doctor before embarking on a keto diet, as this method of weight loss is not for everyone. “You should have your doctor check your blood work to see if you’re a good candidate for this extremely low carbohydrate diet,” she advises.
Maintain contact with your doctor to ensure that you remain healthy while adhering to the plan. “Continue to have your physician closely monitor your blood work to ensure that your blood glucose levels, liver, and kidney functions are within normal ranges,” she advises.
If you want to take a supplement for weight loss or any other reason, consult your doctor first. There is always the risk that a nutritional supplement will interfere with another medication you are taking or cause other unintended side effects. Make sure to discuss everything you take with your doctor, whether it’s a prescription or an over-the-counter medication.
Also, be aware that some of these products can be quite costly. Furthermore, some companies may enroll you in an autorenewal plan in which you are automatically charged for a new shipment of pills each month without your knowledge. These plans can be difficult to cancel at times and may be more expensive than anticipated. As a result, you may end up paying a high price for a product that does not contain what it claims on the label.
The Food and Drug Administration does not regulate dietary supplement products, so it can be difficult to know whether you’re getting what you pay for. Request that the company provide research or evidence that it does what it claims. A reputable manufacturer should be able to provide information on how and what its product has been tested for.
Some of these products carry an additional risk of fraud. Be especially wary of supplements that are heavily promoted on social media. AARP reported in July 2020 that two women in their 80s had been duped out of more than $200 each when they purchased keto diet pills, and that the number of reported scams is on the rise.
To protect yourself, avoid any supplements that are promoted via email or pop-up ads; these methods of contact are more likely to lead to a scam product. Keep an eye out for words and phrases like “quick-fix,” “guaranteed results,” and “scientific breakthrough” in any marketing text; they’re usually a red flag that the product is making claims that it won’t be able to back up.
Unfortunately, there are few shortcuts to healthy and sustainable weight loss, and using a supplement to speed up the process may result in you losing more money than pounds.
“Nutritional goals are and will always be about the work you put in,” Chan says. “All diets will reach a plateau, whether it’s in weight loss, getting tired of the taste, or even just eating certain foods for the diet.”
Instead, “the best thing you can do for a lifetime is to focus on healthy eating habits,” because “eating healthy and staying active are the keys to weight management.”