Ketosis – can we achieve it in a pill?

oval pills spilling from a pill bottle

Written by Cyndi

Cyndi is about educating. Her greatest love is to teach, both in the public arena and within the large corporate food companies, to enable everyone to make better choices so they too can enjoy greater health throughout their lives. Considered one of the world's foremost experts in Nutrition, Cyndi brings over 40 years experience, research and knowledge.

January 13, 2017

The body’s ability to be healthy is not hard. It just needs clean air, clean water, real foods, movement, a sense of purpose and meaningful human connection.

Science has changed all this:- funding, interests, poor design, poor hypothesis, non-replicable research have lead us down a path, that has not necessarily been correct when it comes to the health of humans.  Having said that the 10% of science that is correct, which is determined by the other 90%, leads us to our greatest discoveries.

The proof is in the pudding, that what we are currently doing is not working.  The ‘modern’ day diseases such as obesity, heart disease, diabetes, cancer, resistant infections, autoimmune diseases and metabolic disease are now more the norm than the unusual.

We are told that today’s modern food cannot give us the vitamins, minerals and nutrients we need and so we must supplement as individuals.  Foods are fortified, with vitamins and minerals, and new diets are founded nearly every day, manipulating the macro nutrients (fat, carbohydrates and protein). New ‘foods’ manufacturing where dubious ingredients are added to make something that doesn’t taste good to be something that everyone enjoys.

Multi level marketing supplement companies create products that every day people sell to their friends and family without any knowledge of exactly what is in these products or how they are made. Instead they are sold a spin of propaganda and hype.

Since beginning my nutrition studies in the early 1980’s, I’ve been approached by many supplement companies (my friends selling the latest ‘new beaut; supplement) to sell their product.

Where to start?

The first thing I do when I’m approached is I research the product. 

  • What are the ingredients?
  • How are the ingredients made?
  • What research is behind what they are selling?

It doesn’t take me long to know whether I think the product is worthwhile or not.

If I go on the website and the ingredients are easy to find and not a wild goose chase then I usually find a list of ingredients that I’m pretty happy with, although this is not always the case.  

However when the ingredients are not obvious it makes me suspicious immediately, and when I hear “proprietary blend”, I go straight to the patents and find out what is in the proprietary blend.  Often what is on the label is just the ‘main name’ and not the other additives or ingredients in the proprietary blend.  A quick research of patents will soon reveal the real story.

I also want to know who is making the individual ingredients, what is the original source and the method they use?  This isn’t easy, sometimes I find myself on yet another wild goose chase and then I don’t get all the answers.  I then call the company for more information.  Most customer service lines can’t give me the answer to my questions, so they say they will call or email me back.  Seldom does this happen as my questions are deemed too hard for customer service to answer.

Herbalife, Isagenix, Nutriway, Juice Plus, Usana are examples of these companies.   These companies have supplements, protein powders and tonics that claim many benefits from weight loss to improved memory.  But there is now emerging a new generation of MLM supplement products and products found on the market that are promoting ketogenesis in a pill.  Let me explain this concept.

If we look at diet trends, we have seen some major changes in the last decade.  From the low fat high carbohydrate diet, that needed supplementing with vitamins and minerals, we are now seeing the emergence of the exact opposite; LCHF (low carb, high fat).  A diet very low in carbohydrates can create a change in the fuel the body uses. 

Glucose is the main source of energy the body uses in a high carbohydrate diet whereas in a low carbohydrate diet the liver makes ketones which our cells and brain use as an alternative energy source.  The person is said to be fat adapted.  In order to get to this state the diet is strictly fats, nuts, seeds, small amounts of proteins and non-starchy vegetables.   Many people claim it is too hard to do or stick to.  Enter the non-diet quick solution.  Ketogenic pills, powders, potions and liquids.

You might be introduced to these products by a professional, family, friend, acquaintance as it promises ketogenesis without having to do the diet.

How to decipher science, new ideas, new products and new foods?

I apply two main principles. The first is an historical perspective (anthropology, culture and tradition) and the second is a philosophical prospective – vitalism (wholism)

We still have a glimpse into the way our ancestors ate by studying people who have adhered to their old cultures and traditions and who still exist today. Tribes like the Hadza’s of Tanzania, Kidava’s of PNG, Himba’s of Namibia, Kyrgyz of Pamir, Inuit’s of Greenland to name a few.  We can see how food and diet dictated much of their lives.

Traditionally when food was plentiful, there were carbohydrates available and consumed.  This signalled to the body to store fat, the fat in turn released a master hormone called leptin.  This hormone was like a petrol gauge it told the body what was available and this in turn created fertility or if there was no leptin then infertility, especially in the female population.  This was important for the survival and perpetuation of the species.

If food was not plentiful, it was usually carbohydrates that were scarce and proteins and fats (animals and their products) were more available.  Glucose was not plentiful so ketones were made from fatty acids we consumed or had previously stored (adiposity), which the body used for energy.

Such a smart system!  There was an ebb and flow with the seasons and the years.

Prolonged lack of carbohydrates created more leanness and less fat storage, therefore less leptin and resulting in a survival infertility.

Ketones were never ingested; it was a product the body made for energy and survival from the fats we stored or consumed.

We are a pill popping society, wanting the one pill wonder and here it comes again with the pill of ketones to save the day.

Let’s look at the vitalistic side of this equation.  Many of the products I’m seeing on the market are not vitalistic, most of the ingredients do not have a country of origin, which means they are being manufactured in a laboratory.  The ketone being marketed for the most part is Beta Hydroxybutyrate (BHB), it’s manufactured in China by Brunswick laboratories.  

As far as I can figure out this ketone BHB was once produced commercially by a bacteria called Alcaligenes eutrophus.  The bacteria biologically produces poly (3-hydroxybuyrate) PHB which then by acid hydrolysis produces BHB (the ketone).  It’s delivered to companies as a white powder 

Interesting to note that beta-hyroxybutyric acid is the precursor to polyesters (biodegradable plastics).

But with the invention of genetic modification it is now a genetically transformed E coli with genes from alcaligenes eutrophus which code the PHB biosynthetic pathway.  E. coli are a far better vehicle for producing PHB than alcalignes eutrophus since more is known about handling the bacteria, E. coli, is more easily controlled and manipulated.  The transformed E. coli are able to produce PHB in relatively large quantities and as the market demand increases the more of this product needs to be produced.    This precursor PHB is not only required to make the ketone BHB, but it’s use in biodegradable plastics is growing.

Apparently the ingredient BHB, tastes revolting and so other things need to be added to it in order to be something people want to take daily if not on a three hourly basis (this is required as ketones will only stay in the blood for about 3 hours); things like flavours (natural of course), containing up to 48 ingredients. For more information about the truth behind food labels click here

Other additives are artificial sweeteners, isolated amino acids, gums, citric acid (made from GM mould), ascorbic acid (made from wheat or corn could be GM), MCT powder – to be instant it will have canola oil and soya lecithin added.  This is just a sample of what I’ve seen. 

So the vitalistic aspect of this supplement is more mechanistic, once again delivering ingredients or substances that are not derived or found in their original form.

Exogenous ketones (those you eat) vs endogenous ketones (the ones the liver makes when carbohydrates are not available) are worth asking some questions about.

Foods do not contain ketones therefore how do we know what these chemically made exogenous ketones are doing to the gastrointestinal tract and its components? 

Is it a one size fits all?  

  • Could some people have more tolerance to these ketones as opposed to others?
  • Could it be the people who are fat adapted be more likely to use these ketones as opposed to those that are on the SAD (standard Australian diet)?
  • What if you continue to consume ketones but don’t change to a low carbohydrate diet?
  • What are the long-term effects of taking this shiny new supplement?

Other things to consider that may also be effected 

  • The microbiome
  • Acid stomach
  • Osmotic pressure
  • Minerals
  • Acid/alkaline balance
  • Kidney load
  • Digestive enzymes
  • The single cell lining of the GUT
  • Bile duct and bile salts

Diet for me has never just been about more energy and being lean.  While I know these are important for many I think it’s time to think more about the big picture. 

  • How is our food made?
  • What chemicals are being sprayed in agriculture?
  • What effect do these chemicals have on the health of the planet, animals, bacteria, micro-organisms, plants and everything else that resides here?

We must ponder the choices that we are making today with regard to affecting the future of clean food, air and water

While taking a pill may be a short-term fix, it’s not the answer for the long-term health of our future generations.   If you think that by taking a supplement or keto supplement and remaining on a diet filled with foods that are not sustainable for you or the planet then you are delusional in thinking that this is the answer.  It’s merely another gimmick for most of the population.

I also think that it’s important to highlight mistakes we’ve made with supplementation.  One that stands out at the moment is the campaign to mandatory fortify certain foods (mainly grains, and grain products) with folic acid and prescribe supplements to pregnant women with folic acid. 

This was done to reduce the incidence of spina bifidia but now what we’re seeing is that a percentage of the population does not have the ability to convert folic acid into it’s active forms, therefore there is emerging science showing that the synthetic folic acid may be behind the rise in babies born with tongue tie and lip tie. 

It’s not certain yet, but it’s worth contemplating that when we take a mechanistic approach as opposed to a vitalistic approach we really don’t know the consequences of our actions.  Creating a population with more tongue and lip tie has it’s consequences, mainly the infant having trouble breast feeding, and that creates angst for the mother and baby.

Do I think through anecdotal evidence and some individual research there is a benefit to this supplement?

Elite Athletes Already Fat Adapted Athletes on running track

We know that an athlete on the ketogenic diet performs better for the most part than one on a high carbohydrate diet, especially for endurance.  Therefore the use of these supplements before a race and during a race may improve performance.  There have been studies done on this and there seems to be some benefit.

Reduction in Seizures 

It’s been long established that a ketogenic diet helps with reducing seizures in people with epilepsy where all drugs have failed.  Perhaps exogenous ketones may be of benefit, more research needed.


Diabetes profiles are improved on a ketogenic diet, so with a change in diet and the intake of ketones, this may improve glucose profiles.

Brain HealthBrain small

Improved cognition and reduction in inflammation can also be helped through the ketogenic diet.  Therefore extra doses of ketones with a change in diet for prevention of dementia or early onset dementia may have benefit.

I’ve never been opposed to supplements for therapeutic purposes, what I disagree with is the free reign marketing that happens to the unsuspecting, uneducated public, that are told that a pill will solve their problems and they don’t need to do anything else. 

Now that you have the information you can make an informed choice to choose to take them or not. If you are going to take them then a diet change is also important, please read the ingredients and find one with the least amount of additives.

What To Do? 

If you are low in energy, have put on some weight, have a few aches and pains as well as feel your brain and cognition isn’t as sharp as it could be then I suggest, coming clean with food.  What do I mean by that?

Beginning with a program or a protocol that can kick-start you in the right direction is step 1, this must also include tools to teach you what your body thrives on. The Healthy Keto Way will help you achieve ketosis to burn stored fat (low joules, fasting at night), and teaches you about the foods that work well for you. 

It’s not as easy as popping a pill but it is definitely a step in a direction that is good for you, the environment and the planet.

If you want to take a food which will help your body make its own ketones, and is not made from genetically modified bacteria and added dubious ingredients, then I suggest the daily ingestion of coconut oil as the first step. 

Going one step past whole coconut oil and into a more refined coconut product is MCT oil, which is usually fractionated or solvent extracted.   Another proven product, caprylic acid, converts into ketones once in the liver.

Caprylic acid, when consumed increases ketone body production significantly despite the presence of blood glucose (when you’ve been eating carbohydrates or higher amounts of protein).  I’ve given you further reading on this topic in the references and further reading list.  It’s important to be aware that you may not be able to find a caprylic acid derived from coconut oil, it may be from non sustainable palm oil.

This brings us full circle back to eating real seasonal foods, derived from organic or biodynamic farming practices, instead of foods that contain dubious ingredients.

Just Eat Real Food #JERF

KETO Products I’ve found on the market and their Ingredients.

Beta Hydroxybutyrate (Patent Pending), Erythritol, L-Taurine, Fermented L-Leucine, Natural Flavor, Malic Acid, Citric Acid, Stevia, Xanthan Gum, Caffeine‡.

INGREDIENTS: Beta Hydroxybutyrate, Amino Acid Blend (L-taurine, L-tyrosine, L-arginine, L-leucine), Natural Flavors, Inulin (Chicory Root), Potassium Citrate, Stevia, Caffeine, Ascorbic Acid, Butyrate. Dairy Free; Gluten Free.

Beta Hydroxybutyrate, MCT Powder, Natural Flavor, Malic Acid, Stevia, Caffeine, Ascorbic Acid. Contains Milk Ingredients, Gluten Free.

MCT Powder, Coconut Shortening Powder (C8, C10 and C12), Ceylon cinnamon and Stevia. CONTAINS MILK INGREDIENTS, GLUTEN FREE.

[MCT powder is a powdered form of medium-chain triglycerides. The production process is like that in which protein powders are made – a process called spray drying. Saturated fatty acids like MCTs are naturally liquids at room temperature}

I did find an exogenous ketone with fewer additives;

Water, betahydroxybutyrate, citric acid and/or sodium hydroxide.  This would be taken in combination with coconut oil or fractionated MCT oil.

I’m not advocating these supplements; I’m merely giving you the facts and my interpretation of this new trend.

Happy changing habits

Cyndi O’Meara


References, Further Reading and Listening

  1. Mark Sissons – Is Contant Ketosis Necessary – or even desirable?
  2. Eating Academy Ketosis 101 by Peter Attia MD
  3. A Deep Dive Into Ketosis: How Navy Seals, Extreme Athletes & Busy Executives Can Enhance Physical and Mental Performance With The Secret Weapon of Ketone Fuel with Dr Dominic A’Agastino
  4. Patent by Dr Dominic D’Agastino
  5. Patent for making poly hydrxoybutyrate the precursor of beta hydroxybutyrate
  6. Cloning and expression in Escherichia coli of the Alcaligenes eutrophus H16 poly-beta-hydroxybutyrate biosynthetic pathway.
  7. How Folic Acid is Making Us Sick
  8. Caprylic Acid (C8): Impact On Blood Ketone Levels And Evaluating Current C8 Products

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  1. Tiffanee

    Cyndi, thank you so much for this insight! I have found that a ketogenic focus may be the answer for my husband and I. One question for you: are you a fan of ‘counting macros’ for a ketogenic diet (there are some apps online that can calculate your macro needs on a keto plan) or should one just focus on real foods within the ketogenic guidelines and eat normally? We are just starting out and want to be very successful to get ourselves back into a very healthy state.

    • Jordan Pie

      Hi Tiffanee,
      You can do whatever works for you, you can also try simply focusing on the real foods within the ketogenic guidelines and see how your body feels and go by your body’s symptoms, or you could also try the keto sticks to measure your ketones.

  2. Simone

    Hi there – just wondering how I can find unbiased research on a Keto product? I’ve been off Keto OS for 3 weeks now and experiencing some pretty bad side effects
    This article is great and just what I needed to hear!

    • Jordan Pie

      Hi Simone, we’re so sorry to hear you’re reacting and experiencing negative health symptoms to the Keto OS, so happy to hear this blog helped you 🙂

    • Dom

      Could you expand on the negative side effects that you are having after not using a ketone supplement for 3 weeks?

      Would I be correct in making the assumption that if side effects occur 3 weeks later (after being discontinued) the ketone supplement remains in one’s body/system or would the side effects come on sooner or even while taking a BHB supplement?

      • Jordan Pie

        Hi Dom,
        I’m not sure if Simone did respond to you or not, however it could be possible that your bodies detoxification pathways may be struggling to eliminate the ketone supplement. I would recommend you read a few of our blogs for more information and tips, we’ve got a recent one on how you can aid your bodies detoxification. I hope this helps 🙂

      • Cyndi O'Meara

        Hi Dom

        Interesting questions. As for the symptoms/side effects, I’m not sure what they were for Simone, as she does not elaborate. Normally the ketones would stay in the body anywhere from 3 to 8 hours but no more than 24 hours. The problem is that there are not many studies on these particular supplements long term.

        I’ve found a few studies on the effectiveness of the supplements increasing ketones in the blood and associated changes in blood glucose and lipid levels. There are excipients in the ketone supplements and this may also pose a problem to some people.

        These are just my views on the topic



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