Brain Health,

#223: Ketone Esters with Dr. Brianna Stubbs

March 30, 2018

Ketones are grabbing a lot of attention.

If you’re only paying a little bit of attention, it’s easy to get confused.

On the one hand, the “ketogenic diet” is getting a lot of attention for weight-loss — as it is literally a diet based on burning fat.  But in a different wing of the ketogenic movement, athletes are using exogenous ketones to improve athletic performance by adding the fuel of ketone bodies in addition to the body’s normal energy supply of blood glucose.

“Exogenous ketones” is just a fancy name for ketones that you eat instead of manufacturing internally from fats or oils.

If you look around the Internet, you’ll find some dismissing the ketosis brought on by exogenous ketones as “not real ketosis” or deserving of some sort of asterisk.  Strictly speaking, this isn’t correct.

Ketosis is a metabolic state in which some of the body’s energy supply comes from ketone bodies in the blood… [more here]

…and exogenous ketones definitely do produce this state.

Want a Refresher on Ketosis?

Check back on any of these past episodes to get your bearing on ketosis, if you want to lay some groundwork before listening to Episode #223.

What really makes exogenous ketones interesting is that they are a dietary shortcut into ketosis, avoiding the natural route — which requires depleting the body’s blood sugar.  There are several ways that blood sugar can be depleted, but one thing they have in common is that people don’t tend to enjoy them.

How to Achieve Ketosis “the Old-Fashioned Way”

  • Fasting / Starvation, or
  • Extreme amounts of exercise without “recharging” the body with food, or
  • Maintaining a diet with incredibly low amounts of digestible carbohydrates

In each of the above methods, ketone bodies are created internally using either dietary fat or the body’s own fat stores.  (This is why ketogenic diets are correctly held as a viable weight-loss strategy.)

Exogenous ketones skip the metabolic creation pathway and put useable ketones straight into the diet, digestive tract, and the bloodstream.  This adds a secondary energy source athletes can benefit from.  However, it circumvents the body-fat-burning step in normal ketosis.  Thus, the misinformed “controversy” about whether exogenous ketones generate real ketosis.

Row, Row, Row Your Boat

Dr. Brianna Stubbs was making history long before she became a professional biochemist and the Research Lead at San Francisco-based firm HVMN Inc.  At age 12, she became the youngest person to ever row across the English Channel.  Later, while she earned her PhD in Metabolic Biochemistry at Oxford University, she also became a World Champion rower as part of the GB Rowing Lightweight Women’s four person crew (among other athletic honors).

Along the way, she was introduced to ketones as part of an athletic study, and was able to see the effects on her own sports performance.  Her biochemistry training allowed her to do the lab work to dig into the molecular details.

She became a believer, and has since been working to further develop and refine potent and effective exogenous ketone supplements for the general market.  She now maintains an affiliation with Oxford, while working with HVMN to commercialize a drinkable ketone monoester (developed at Oxford alongside Prof. Kieran Clarke).  Her ongoing studies are looking into the cognitive effects of exogenous ketone formulas.

Spoiler Alert:  Cognitive measurement in healthy adults is “noisy” — it’s hard to get a good measure of cognition.  It often proves easier to measure cognitive improvement in those with deficits (e.g. Alzheimer’s Disease and dementia patients).

In Episode #223, Dr. Stubbs discusses the state of her current research into exogenous ketones and some of the pros/cons of “natural” ketosis vs. exogenously-induced ketosis.  Plus, she shares her experiences with fasting during high-level athletic training, and more.


Ketosene by VitaMonk

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Show Notes
  • 00:00:34

    Episode introduction: Ketone Esters with Dr. Brianna Stubbs.

  • 00:01:34

    This Week In Neuroscience: Effects of tea-drinking on divergent creativity.

  • 00:03:25

    5-Star review shoutouts.

  • 00:04:23

    SDS news and updates.

  • 00:06:24

    What is ketosis?

  • 00:08:05

    Guest introduction: Dr. Brianna Stubbs.

  • 00:08:50

    Interview begins; How Dr. Stubbs was first exposed to ketones.

  • 00:10:02

    Endogenous ketones versus exogenous ketones.

  • 00:12:38

    Different ketones and their effects on the body.

  • 00:14:22

    Normal physiology and reasons to be cautious about ketosis.

  • 00:17:47

    The need for clarification on the general safety of exogenous ketone salts and the current market for exogenous ketones.

  • 00:19:06

    Why the sudden public interest in ketones?

  • 00:23:29

    Nutritional ketosis, ketogenic diets, and intermittent fasting.

  • 00:26:10

    The evolutionary role of ketosis.

  • 00:28:17

    Study on ketosis and training adaptation abilities.

  • 00:31:07

    The body's ability to use ketones.

  • 00:35:33

    Quality of life while fasting.

  • 00:39:00

    Being mindful of the limited evidence on ketone salts.

  • 00:39:44

    Ketone ester supplements and their effects on cognition.

  • 00:42:00

    Thoughts on energy consumption by the brain.

  • 00:43:55

    Metabolic efficiency.

  • 00:47:05

    Ketones and brown fat.

  • 00:47:56

    If ketone metabolism is so great, then why is it the body's fallback?

  • 00:50:33

    Interview wrap-up.

  • 00:52:05

    Ruthless Listener Retention Gimmick: Woodpeckers and head trauma.

  • 00:55:32

    Episode wrap-up.

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