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BHB (beta-hydroxybutyrate) Benefits & Side Effects

BHB
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What is BHB?

When we eat, our bodies go through a staggering set of complex processes to break down the food we consume into usable energy. Carbohydrates and sugars are metabolized into glucose, proteins are converted to amino acids and fat is broken down into ketones.

BHB, or beta-hydroxybutyrate, is one of the ketones that our bodies naturally produce when breaking down fat. In essence, BHB is a molecule that converts fat into energy that allows us to think, solve problems, climb stairs, go for a walk or work out.

The energy industry has figured out how to take unwanted trash and convert it to fuel or electricity. Scientific research has also developed beta-hydroxybutyrate supplements that help us use unwanted fat to create energy within our bodies.

BHB Benefits

There are numerous benefits that can be derived from BHB supplementation. Reduced inflammation, improved heart health, a clearer mind and enhanced energy are just a few that one can obtain when supplementing with beta-hydroxybutyrate.

Anti-Inflammatory

Inflammation is the immune system’s response to a known or perceived threat. In acute cases, such as when you’ve sustained an injury, the body rushes to the site of the injury and sets off processes that begin healing. Although necessary, this results in pain, redness, heat and swelling. Upon healing, those associated symptoms resolve on their own and you are free of injury.

Chronic inflammation is when the immune response never shuts off. Tissues at the site of the chronic inflammation are constantly being damaged and repaired. It’s an injurious cycle. This is a very serious problem as chronic inflammation leads to diseases such as stroke, cancer, diabetes and more. In fact, estimates show that as many as 3 in 5 people worldwide will die of a chronic inflammatory disease (x).

On top of the increased risk of disease, chronic inflammation can present itself in a number of other undesirable ways. Fatigue, pain in the joints, chest or abdomen, rash, mouth sores and fever are just some of the ways this ongoing immune response can negatively impact your life. It is easy to see why it is vitally important to control inflammation in the body. But how?

It should be of no surprise to health conscious individuals that diet plays a big role in inflammation. Avoiding processed foods, refined carbohydrates and added sugar in favor of whole fruits and vegetables, fatty fish and nuts are key components to an anti-inflammatory diet (x).

Research has found that BHB inhibits the NLRP3 inflammasome. In other words, BHB has anti-inflammatory properties (x). Taking a BHB supplement could, therefore, aid the body in fighting inflammation. This not only helps defend the body against disease, but it slows down aging, too!

Promotes Heart Health

The American Heart Association reports that nearly 1 in 3 deaths in the U.S. are due to cardiovascular disease (x). With over 92 million American adults living with cardiovascular disease or the after effects of a stroke, we are in a state of heart health emergency.

It’s no secret that diet and lifestyle are key when it comes to maintaining a healthy cardiovascular system. For some people, however, a genetic predisposition means diet and exercise are not enough. Luckily, there are supplements that you can incorporate into your overall routine for improved heart health, including BHB.

If you could take a supplement that slowed the hands of time on your heart, wouldn’t you try it? A BHB supplement may do just that. BHB improves heart health by actually preventing the cells in your heart from aging as quickly as they would otherwise. BHB salts may also improve blood flow and mechanical efficiency of the muscles (x). These supplements take being “young at heart” to another level!

Promotes Cognitive Health

Although glucose is the default fuel for our brains, ketones are the back-up when our bodies are short on glucose. It is possible that BHB might be even more efficient for the brain than glucose because it results in more energy per unit of oxygen used. It also seems to support mitochondrial growth and energy efficiency in the hippocampus, a part of the brain that is crucial to memory and learning (x).

Exciting research found that higher BHB ketones measured in the body of Alzheimer’s patients correlated to improved cognitive function (x). Participants treated with an oral dose of Medium-chain Triglycerides (MCT) showed improved performance on a set of recall tests compared to participants who received a placebo. This suggests that heightened levels of BHB in the body may lead to improved memory.

The BHB benefits to our brains goes further, still. Neuroprotection is a mechanism that leads to salvage, recovery and regeneration in the nervous system. Research suggests that ketones may have a neuroprotective benefit, meaning that ketones can repair and spur regrowth of synapses and neurons in the brain (x). Ketones like BHB may improve and maintain the overall health of your nervous system.

Prevents and Treats Cancer

Tumors like to feed on glucose. This fascinating phenomenon is known as Warburg’s effect, and it has led cancer researchers to test out a variety of ketones for their cancer-fighting properties (x).

Research has shown that when cancer cells are denied access to glucose and forced to obtain energy from ketones instead, they fail to thrive. A failure to thrive is the end goal of every fight against cancerous cells.

BHB may even slow the motility and growth of pancreatic cancer cells, one of the most devastating cancers known to man (x). Further research is necessary to determine if ketones can improve life expectancies for patients with pancreatic cancer.

Decreases in both the growth and spread of cancer cells to other organs is extremely promising for the treatment or prevention of malignant tumors.

Enhances Workouts

When you exercise, your body absorbs BHB at a rapid rate, which turns on the body’s fat burning processes. By adding more BHB to the body, you have greater amounts of efficient fuel available so you can run harder, jump higher and train longer. Naturally, this leads to more fat burning and better results from your work out.

Especially in the beginning, it may be difficult to get through a workout in a state of ketosis. Those on a ketogenic diet looking to work out in the morning while still in a fasting period may find the energy they need to perform with the help of BHB supplementation (x).

Other benefits include:

  • BHB can regulate glucose and insulin in the bloodstream, lowering the risk of type 2 diabetes and obesity
  • May suppress appetite, leading to further weight loss
  • Could help retain bone strength and reduce bone density loss
BHB Benefits

BHB Side Effects

One of the most encouraging aspects of BHB supplementation is the apparent lack of serious beta-hydroxybutyrate side effects. Of course, before taking any new supplement you should consult with a qualified healthcare provider. That being said, side effects are often mild in nature (x).

All supplements have the potential to cause upset in the GI system. BHB supplements are no exception. However, digestion issues are typically correlated with large doses. To combat this, take with food and start on a smaller dose, building once your tolerance is better understood.

Sodium BHB is also helpful to ease the transition for those new to a ketogenic diet. Reaching a state of ketosis can lead to unpleasant side effects in the beginning, known commonly as Keto Flu. Dry mouth, bad breath, muscle cramps and headaches are common side effects of ketosis, especially for people new to the diet.

People with high blood pressure should not take a BHB supplement that contains sodium without consulting a doctor.

BHB Supplements

Some people use MCT oils to gradually raise the level of ketones in their system. Although levels do raise, they do so slowly. Your body is not able to use the energy from these sources right away as they must first be broken down in the body.

There are pure BHB ester supplements that deliver raw BHB without a binding agent. The main problem with these supplements is that they are literally hard to swallow. They taste positively terrible and are not readily available. They are currently being used more on the research side of things.

The BHB supplements that are commercially available and widely popular are known as mineral salts. They are frequently found as Sodium BHB, Magnesium BHB, Calcium BHB or a combination of those binding agents. They aim to help keep your body energized while exercising the body or mind during a time of low carbohydrate intake.

Dosage and Instructions

Sodium BHB Powder is intended to be used as a dietary supplement by mixing 10 grams (about 1 ⅓ tablespoon) of powder into 8 ounces of water or a flavored beverage of your choice. For best results, take the supplement 20-30 minutes before eating a meal (x). Of course, always abide by instructions given by a medical professional.

Why take BHB Supplements?

BHB supplementation can rapidly boost your BHB levels, allowing you to reach a state of ketosis faster. Additionally, for those who are beginning a keto diet, BHB supplements can help ease the keto flu symptoms many newcomers experience.

BHB and Ketogenic Diet

A ketogenic diet is one of high fat and protein and very low carbohydrates. It is hallmarked by periods of fasting that push your body into a state known as ketosis. During this state your body has run out of glucose as an energy source. Needing something to burn, it turns to ketones, which are byproducts of fat being metabolized. Your body, intelligently designed as it is, finds energy it needs to function. In this process, your body turns fat into fuel.

Although not strictly necessary if eating a healthy keto diet, BHB supplements can support those who want to reach a state of ketosis faster. Keto supplements raise levels of available BHB very rapidly, which provides an energy boost to glucose starved cells.

When beginning a keto diet, you may experience an adjustment period with flu-like symptoms. BHB supplements can help you get over that hump faster so you will feel energized and ready to burn fat.

The Bottom Line

BHB is capable of supporting our bodies in a number of beneficial ways. Its anti-inflammatory properties lower our risk for chronic disease. Our cardiovascular and nervous systems enjoy improved health and function by running on BHB. Ketones can inhibit the growth and spread of malignant cancer cells, including the pervasively deadly pancreatic kind. BHB is the most prolific of the ketones found naturally in our bodies, and supplementation of it allows a means to reach a state of ketosis rapidly, providing energy to a body that is happily starved of glucose.

About the author

Ryan Quigley

Graduate of Longwood University in Virginia. Part-time sports journalist covering the Vegas Golden Knights.


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