There’s a huge online buzz about keto diet 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 weight loss pills, or ketone supplements (which, incidentally actually do contain ketones)? Do they help you lose weight, stay sharp, and raise your energy levels 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 the ketogenic 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 forms (think MCT oil).
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 low-carb diet, you severely limit your carbohydrate intake and focus on a high-fat diet where your body burns fat for fuel. 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 burn 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. In other words, your body uses up less of its own fat.
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 and other health benefits. 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. That’s some painful pricing.
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 Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recently issued a warning to Let’s Talk Health, Inc. (a brand that 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 brainpower.
These claims, however, don’t stand up to scrutiny. Yes, exogenous ketone dietary supplements have been shown to boost ketone bodies in the human body, but you’d need to take dozens of pills at a time to achieve clinical doses and get a meaningful amount that would positively affect your state of ketosis. Companies selling keto pills don’t include a disclaimer about this fact on product labels. Instead, they talk about losing weight, weight management, and their properties as a fat-burner. 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 type of supplementation is not a good formula for losing fat or for general wellness. The decision to take keto pills is up to you. If you’ve read this far, you should have enough information to choose wisely. Regardless, it’s always a good idea to consult a nutritionist or your primary care physician before taking any pills or a dramatic new diet.