Beta Hydroxybutyrate, or BHB is one of three compounds known as “ketone bodies,” which are naturally produced by your liver during times times of low or reduced food intake.
In the absence of glucose, or simple sugars, BHB helps your body create energy. The ketogenic diet, which reduces the body’s reliance on carbohydrates and simple sugars, requires ketone bodies like BHB to create energy.
BHB and the Ketogenic Diet
Think of it this way: Your body’s goal is to be as efficient and creative as possible when it comes to energy production. Why? To keep you alive, of course! In times of “plenty,” the body relies on sources of energy that are easy to break down, such as carbohydrates. In times of “scarcity” (or lack of carbohydrates) the body switches gears to turn stored fat into fuel.
The ketogenic or “keto” diet helps your body make the switch from using carbohydrates as a primary energy source, to using stored fat as a primary fuel source. However, this process can be extremely uncomfortable, and is often accompanied by a “keto flu” or “carb flu.” Eliminating carbs in exchange for fat is a major change for your metabolism, and can lead to temporary–but disconcerting and uncomfortable–headaches, muscle cramps, and mental fogginess.
Supplementing with BHB
Enter BHB supplements. Beta hydroxybutyrate supplements, also known as BHB salts, are usually sold in powder form, and help the body transition smoothly into ketosis without the mental fogginess, headaches, and muscle cramps.
Why do BHB supplements come in the form of a salt? Because while most us think of white table salt, or sodium chloride, when we hear the term “salt,” this word actually encompasses a wide range of chemical compounds. Salts like BHB supplements are easily absorbed by the body, because they dissolve quickly in water-based solutions (such as blood), giving your body immediate access to this important ketone.
How do BHB Supplements Work?
BHB salts are made up of one sodium molecule, one potassium molecule, and the ketone body β-hydroxybutyrate. When you consume BHB supplements, the ionic bonds holding these molecules together dissolve, allowing the molecules to be easily absorbed into your bloodstream.
Because ketones like BHB are acidic, they act as a diuretic and can reduce your levels of potassium, calcium, and magnesium. By creating BHB supplements as salts, the natural acidity of the ketone beta hydroxybutyrate is buffered, allowing the body to maintain and replenish levels of of important minerals while providing your body the tools to transition into ketosis.
Benefits of BHB
Supplementing with BHB can provide numerous benefits for people who want to reduce their dependence on sugar and carbohydrates through ketogenic dieting.
BHB & Energy Production
Helping your body produce energy is the primary benefit of supplementing with BHB. In the absence of glucose and simple carbohydrates, the body seeks energy from stored fat. On a cellular level, the body requires BHB (either in natural or supplemented form) to turn that fat into energy through the Kreb’s cycle. Supplementing with BHB ensures that your body has adequate levels of BHB in the bloodstream to metabolize your fat as energy.
Reducing Keto Flu
Think of the “keto flu” or “carb flu” as your body’s way of holding out hope that a simple source of energy–carbohydrates–will return. The cravings, mental fogginess, and headaches are all your body’s way of urging you to find a source of energy it can easily use–and fast. By supplementing with BHB and easing your body into the transition of using stored fat for energy, you eliminate many of your body’s distress signals by allowing it to more easily function and access energy.
As BHB disperses throughout your bloodstream, it is incorporated into different parts of your body systems to create energy. One of the most important ways that BHB is used to create energy in your body is by crossing the blood-brain barrier for mental energy. The blood-brain barrier is, as a rule, a tightly-controlled border (and with good reason!), but BHB is welcomed into the brain, improving mental clarity and energy of mind.
Is BHB Safe?
Yes. The BHB you produce every day in your liver, along with BHB supplements are safe, as long as you have a normal pancreas and are producing insulin (unless you are diabetic, you are!). If you have a compromised pancreas, liver or are diabetic, you’ll want to seek a doctor’s advice before taking BHB supplements. Ketoacidosis, in which the levels of ketones in the body reach three to five times higher than normal levels, is often mistakenly linked with nutritional ketosis, but is a very different condition that is caused by problems with the liver and pancreas.
You can test your levels of BHB to determine whether your body has switched over to using fat as an energy source, or has reached ketosis, through a urine test, breathalyzer, or simple blood test done that can be done at home and involves a tiny pinprick, similar to a glucose test for diabetes. According to medical experts Volek and Phinney in “The Art and Science of Low-Carb Living,” levels in the healthy range of ketosis should be 0.5 to 3.0 mM.
Some people do experience some gastrointestinal problems when they first begins supplementing with BHB (read: cramps and diarrhea.) However, this can be avoided by gradually increasing the amount of BHB you consume.
While BHB isn’t a miracle supplement, it is both safe and extremely effective for individuals who are committed to transitioning away from refined carbohydrates and sugars as energy sources.