If you have tried to lose weight at any time in the past few years, you have likely heard of, or perhaps even tried, a ketogenic diet. This high-fat approach to weight loss has received a lot of attention in recent years, but it’s not the easiest diet to get right.
Originally developed in the 1920s to help children with difficult-to-control epilepsy, the diet eliminates almost all carbohydrates. This means that your body relies on other fuels like fat and protein.
The Classic Keto Diet “is a high-fat, low-protein, low-carbohydrate diet that aims to create ketosis by mimicking the metabolic changes in hunger and forcing the body to use fat as its primary source of energy,” says Cathy Leman, a nutritionist , Personal trainer, nutrition therapist, public speaker, author, and breast cancer survivor based in Chicago.
Helping the body achieve ketosis
When the body relies on fat for fuel, it creates ketone bodies – chemicals that are made in the liver when fat is metabolized. This process is called ketosis. Getting into ketosis and staying with it can be tricky because it requires just the right ratio of carbohydrates to fats to proteins. This is where certain substances known as exogenous ketogenic supplements – also known as keto diet pills – could come into play.
The human body naturally – or endogenously in medicine – produces ketone bodies when it breaks down fat for fuel. However, you can also introduce ketone bodies from an exogenous – or external – source, which would be an exogenous ketogenic supplement.
Essentially, exogenous ketone supplements are a pill or powder that contain ketone bodies, which are designed to increase the levels of these substances in the body to facilitate ketosis.
There are a number of different products on the market that answer the name of the exogenous ketogenic supplement. They usually contain the active ingredient beta-hydroxybutyrate ketone.
The two most common types of keto diet pills are:
- Ketone esters, usually sold as a liquid and more commonly used in research settings than in a consumer product.
- Ketone salts, often sold as a powder made from combining ketones with another chemical such as potassium, magnesium, sodium, or calcium.
Do Keto Pills Work?
The idea is that these supplements can help you get into ketosis faster – it usually takes anywhere from two days to more than a week to reach this fat burning state. And once you’re in ketosis, a supplement might help you stay there. In theory, this means you may lose more weight even faster.
The theory makes sense – if you need ketone bodies to achieve ketosis, consider adding this as a supplement to get there easier. But whether exogenous ketogenic supplements actually work is not entirely clear.
Some research, like this 2014 study, has shown that adding exogenous ketones can increase the number of ketones in the body. But whether that means you can get to ketosis faster or maintain it for longer is not yet clear, according to a 2018 review study.
One of the reasons supplementation may not be as effective is because the body is trying to maintain steady levels of ketones to prevent potentially toxic buildup of these chemicals in the bloodstream. When the body realizes that ketone levels are high, the liver stops producing on its own, so supplementing ketones can actually cause your body to stop producing them. This, in turn, could limit your ability to stay in that ketogenic, fat-burning target zone that has been linked to rapid weight loss.
And while there is some evidence that the keto diet itself is effective for weight loss, there is little long-term research on how it affects the body and whether the weight loss you might achieve is permanent, says Monica Chan, who Supervising Nutritionist with the Riverside University Healthcare System in California. “Studies suggest that the weight loss associated with the keto diet is likely due to decreased hunger levels, weight loss from water, and a calorie deficit.”
She notes that “following the ketogenic diet has been linked to decreased levels of ghrelin, one of your body’s most important hunger hormones,” which can make it easier to avoid excessive calorie consumption.
However, significantly reducing carbohydrate intake can result in water loss because carbohydrates hold water when they are stored in your body. “When you reduce your carbohydrate intake, such as during the early stages of the keto diet, stored carbohydrates are released along with extra fluids, resulting in varying amounts of weight loss.”
This is problematic because when you quit the keto diet, your carbohydrate consumption goes up, which means your body becomes dependent on more water and some of that weight loss will be reversed in a short period of time.
Maintaining a keto lifestyle is difficult for many people because the menu is very restrictive. Therefore, it is common to stop dieting and gain weight again whether or not you are taking a dietary supplement.
If you are planning on using a ketogenic diet pill or powder, do your homework first.
First of all, Chan recommends that you consult your doctor before starting a keto diet on your own as this weight loss approach is not for everyone. “You should have your doctor do blood tests to make sure you are suitable for this extremely low-carb diet,” she says.
And keep in touch with your doctor to make sure you stay healthy while following the plan. “Keep your doctor doing close blood tests to make sure your blood sugar, liver, and kidney functions are doing the right thing,” she says.
If you want to add a weight loss supplement – or for any other reason – speak to your doctor first. There is always the possibility that a diet supplement could interact negatively with another drug you are taking or cause other unintended side effects. Discuss anything you are taking, whether prescription or over-the-counter, with your doctor.
Also, be aware that some of these products can be very expensive. And some companies can put you on an automatic renewal plan that will automatically charge you for a new shipment of pills every month without you even realizing. These plans can sometimes be difficult to cancel and can be more expensive than you expected. As a result, you may be paying a lot of money for a product that doesn’t contain what it says on the label.
Diet supplements are not regulated by the Food and Drug Administration, so it can be difficult to know if you are getting what you are paying for. Ask the company to provide their research or evidence that it does what it says it does. A reputable manufacturer should be able to provide information about how their product has been tested and what it contains.
Some of these products pose an additional risk of fraud. In particular, be careful if supplements become very popular on social media. In July 2020, AARP reported that two women in their 80s were scammed for more than $ 200 each buying keto diet pills, and the number of reported scams is increasing.
For your protection, be very careful if supplements are distributed via email or pop-up advertisements – these touchpoints are more likely to result in a scam product. Also, watch out for cautionary words and phrases in marketing texts such as “quick fix”, “guaranteed results” and “scientific breakthrough”. They’re usually a warning sign that the product is making claims that it is unlikely to be able to investigate.
Unfortunately, there are few shortcuts to healthy and sustainable weight loss, and using a diet supplement to speed up the process could end up losing you more dollars than pounds.
“Nutritional goals are and always will be the work you put in, and all diets will plateau, whether it’s weight loss, because you’re fed up with tastes or just ingesting certain foods to diet,” says Chan.