Dr. Jonathan Little, an associate professor at UBC Okanagan’s School of Health and Exercise Sciences, is the lead researcher in a new study investigating how ketone supplements affect blood sugar.
UBC Handout / PNG
Ketone monoester drinks, which have become a popular supplement for people on a low-carb, ketogenic diet, could help diabetics, according to a new study by UBC Okanagan.
The lead author of the study, Dr. Jonathan Little, an associate professor at UBC Okanagan’s School of Health and Exercise Sciences, says that while ketone supplements are not a miracle cure in treating the disease, they may be another means of controlling blood sugar.
Ketones are molecules that are formed by the liver from fatty acids during periods of low food intake, carbohydrate-restricted diets, famine and prolonged intensive physical activity.
Little and his team asked 15 people who did not follow a veto or other restrictive diet to consume an overnight ketone drink made with medical ester from Oxford University after fasting.
Many of the subjects were candidates for diabetes or had higher blood sugar than normal.
After 30 minutes, subjects were asked to drink a liquid containing 75 g of sugar while taking blood samples.
“It turned out that the ketone drink seemed to put participants in a kind of pseudo-ketogenic state where they could better control their blood sugar levels without changing insulin,” he said.
The product used in the tests is now commercially sold as Hvmn Ketone Ester, he said. There are other ketone supplements on the market called BHB. He said they could be less effective and high in sodium.
These are considered dietary supplements and not necessarily something a doctor would prescribe, he said.
Ketone supplements are used for athletic endurance because they are a new fuel. Typically, your body can only produce ketones if you are hungry or severely restrict carbohydrate intake, like a ketogenic diet, Little said.
“So the concept is that you provide a new fuel or fourth macronutrient along with carbohydrates, fat and protein that you can drink to strengthen your heart, muscles or brain for sports activities,” he said.
Those who follow the keto or intermittent fasting lifestyle can use these supplements to maintain a state of ketosis.
“Because they are so new, there is very little research on how they can affect metabolism and we are among the first to look at their use in non-athletes,” said Little.
He added that the researchers are unfamiliar with the effects of long-term use of ketone supplements and that further studies are needed to determine safety.
“If you take them, your blood sugar drops and that may be a good thing, but we still don’t know exactly. But it’s fascinating,” he said.
Type 2 diabetes is a disease in which the body cannot control blood sugar levels due to insulin hormone dysfunction.
There is increasing evidence that a low-carbohydrate keto diet regulates blood sugar levels very well, and even reverses type 2 diabetes, and that there are doctors who support this diet for patients with this disease.
He warned that if someone with diabetes wants to follow a ketogenic diet, this should be done under the guidance of a health care provider, as this could conflict with some medications.
Little said that research could be a step towards treating diabetes with diet instead of medication.
“There are more anecdotes on the Internet than research studies on it, so it’s still early and we definitely need more research to support these anecdotes.”
The study was published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition with support from the Canadian Heart and Stroke Foundation.