UBC study says ketone drinks may help control blood sugar

Dr. Jonathan Little, associate professor at UBC Okanagan’s School of Health and Exercise Sciences, is the lead researcher of a new study that looks at how ketone supplements affect blood sugar.

UBC handout / PNG

Ketone monoester drinks, which have become a popular supplement with the low-carbohydrate, ketogenic-diet crowd, may help people with diabetes, suggests new research from UBC Okanagan.

The study’s lead author Dr. Jonathan Little, associate professor at UBC Okanagan’s School of Health and Exercise Sciences, says while ketone supplements are not a magic bullet in managing the disease, they may be another tool to help control blood sugar.

Ketones are molecules produced by the liver from fatty acids during periods of low food intake, carbohydrate restrictive diets, starvation, and prolonged intense exercise.

Little and his team asked 15 people, who were not following a veto or other restrictive diet, to consume a ketone drink, made with medical ester supplied by the University of Oxford, after fasting overnight.

Many of the subjects were candidates for diabetes, or had higher blood sugar levels than normal.

After 30 minutes, the subjects were asked to drink a fluid containing 75 grams of sugar while blood samples were taken.

“It turns out that the ketone drink seemed to launch participants into a sort of pseudo-ketogenic state where they were better able to control their blood sugar levels with no changes to their insulin,” he said.

The product used in the testing is now sold commercially as Hvmn Ketone Ester, he said. There are also other ketone supplements on the market called BHB, which he said can be less potent and may have a high sodium content.

These are considered dietary supplement and not necessarily something that a doctor would prescribe, he said.

Ketone supplements are being used for sport endurance because they are a new fuel. Usually your body can only make ketones when you are starving or severely restrict carbohydrate intake like on a ketogenic diet, said Little.

“So the concept is that you are providing a new fuel or a fourth macronutrient along with carbs, fat and protein that you can drink that can fuel your heart, muscles or brain for exercise,” he said.

Those who follow the keto or intermittent fasting lifestyles may be using these supplements to maintain a state of ketosis.

“Because they’re so new, there’s very little research on how they can influence metabolism and we’re among the first to look at their use in non-athletes,” said Little.

He added that researchers don’t know the effect of long-term use of ketone supplements, and said further study is needed to determine safety.

“When you take them your blood sugar goes down and this may be a good thing, but we don’t know for sure yet. But it’s intriguing.” he said.

Type 2 diabetes is a disease whereby the body is unable to control the level of sugar in the blood because of defects in the functioning of a hormone called insulin.

He said there is mounting evidence that a low-carb keto diet is very effective in controlling blood sugar and even reversing Type 2 diabetes, and that there are doctors who support this diet for patients with this disease.

He cautioned that if someone with diabetes wants to follow a ketogenic diet, it should be done under the direction of a health care provider because it may conflict with some medication.

Little said the research could be a step toward treating diabetes with diet instead of medication.

“There are more anecdotes on the Internet than there are research studies on this, so it is early days and we definitely need more research to back up those anecdotes.”

The study was published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition with funding from the Heart and Stroke Foundation of Canada.


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