A new study has taken a rather novel look at ketone esters and suggests they can be used as a supplement to boost exercise endurance, cognitive function, and the heart’s energy levels in rats. The findings have implications for improving the treatment of certain metabolic and neurological disorders and could also apply to endurance athletes.
What Is a Ketone?
A ketone is a type of organic compound that is known for being extremely efficient at yielding energy and can yield truly impressive amounts of ATP, a sort of cellular fuel.
Ketones do not occur naturally in the diet and are mainly produced by the body during periods of food scarcity. High-fat, low-carb diets have been used to improve ketone circulation as a way to treat neurodegenerative conditions like Parkinson’s.
The tricky part of boosting ketone bodies is that the diet has to be palatable but not one that would alter fat levels. Ketone esters are a type of ketone that fuels the heart, brain, and skeletal muscles and were the focus of this study.
The Rat Study
The researchers fed a group of rats a formulated chow that had 30% of its calories coming from a ketone ester supplement, corn starch, or palm oil over a five day period. The rats were then run through a treadmill test and maze test.
The ketone-fed rats had 32% longer treadmill run-times than the controls and, when tested on their maze-solving, completed the maze 38% faster. The ketone-fed rats also made more correct decisions during the maze before making an error. When the rats’ hearts were checked, the ketone-fed group showed higher free energy during high workloads than the controls.
What This Means
The finding that a ketone ester supplement, rather than a pro-ketone diet, was able to produce the observed improvements has implications for any disorder that comes with metabolic abnormalities or possible influence on cognitive functions.
To a lesser extent, it also suggests that endurance athletes may see improved abilities through their use, especially in any heart-intensive endurance exercises. The obvious caveat here is that this study is only in rats and it is very possible the effects on humans will be different. There are also potential safety concerns that need to be examined.
Ketone esters are not a normal nutrient to be found in one of the food groups, they are a compound the body normally makes when subject to low nutrition. The effects of prolonged supplementation for ketones are not known, so there could be very real safety issues that need further investigation.
Murray, A., et al., “Novel ketone diet enhances physical and cognitive performance,” FASEB, 2016; 10.1096/fj.201600773R.