Ketones are an alternative source of energy for the body that are produced when the body is in a state of ketosis. Ketosis occurs either when the body runs out of stored carbohydrates (glucose) and starts breaking down stored fats to produce ketones as an alternative source of fuel, or when you consume a high fat and very low carbohydrate diet, known as a ketogenic diet.
In relation to chronic fatigue why are ketones so valuable? Well, because of their chemical structure they release more energy when they break down and in turn this means that they can produce more ATP (Adenosine Triphosphate). If you have read my previous blog you know that ATP is what fuels all of the energy our body requires and if you have chronic fatigue you likely have low levels. ATP is produced in mitochondria either from the molecule pyruvate which comes from the breakdown of carbohydrates (glucose), from the oxidation of fats or from the breakdown of ketones.
There are studies that show how a heart fed on ketones was able to generate 28% more energy than one fed on pyruvate. 28% is a lot more energy!
The reason is to do with the chemical structure of the molecules and the high ratio of Hydrogen to Carbon atoms. If we take the ketone body known as beta-hydroxybutyrate it has 2 Hydrogens per Carbon molecules versus 1.3 H per C in the case of pyruvate. This gives ketones a much higher rate of combustion which means they produce more energy when they break down.
Traditionally the energy in food has always been compared using calories. The amounts of calories in different foods was worked out by burning them in a bomb calorimeter. This is a device that is designed to measure the amount of heat that is given off or taken in by a reaction. It is sealed and isolated, meaning that no heat can leave or enter the device, and it does this by use of a vacuum-sealed wall like an insulated mug you might carry coffee in. Inside the calorimeter is a vessel in which the food is burned, and this is surrounded by a water bath. During this process the temperature of the water changes, the water bath temperature goes up and the heat generated is calculated and used to quantify the calorific content of a food.
If pyruvate was measured like this it would liberate 185.7 kcal/mole of C2 units, whereas the combustion of beta-hydroxybutyrate would liberate 243.6, or 31% more calories than pyruvate. You can see that this is close to the 28% seen in the heart studies.
The breakdown of ketones releases a larger number of electrons, and these get fed into the electron transport chain in the mitochondria and result in the production of ATP. If you don’t know about this yet, click here and read this blog – it is fascinating I assure you!
Another reason why ketone breakdown is simpler than glucose breakdown is that ketones require fewer enzymes to be broken down than glucose. For example, the breakdown of glucose via glycolysis (before even getting to the mitochondria) requires 10 different enzymes which require sufficient levels of micronutrient cofactors to work efficiently including potassium, manganese, and magnesium. Whereas the breakdown of ketones requires only two enzymes: succinyl-CoA:3-oxoacid CoA transferase (SCOT) and mitochondrial acetoacetyl-CoA thiolase.
Hopefully I have convinced you that there really is good science backing up the ketogenic diet as the best way of eating if you have burnout or chronic fatigue. Now you know how it works so why not give it a go?
If you need help you can read my blog on How Eating Keto Can Fix Your Fatigue and the next step is to download my Quick Start Keto Guide For Fatigue https://www.moiranewiss.co.uk/quick-start-keto-guide-for-fatigue
Disclaimer: Before changing your diet or lifestyle and taking any supplements always seek the advice of your doctor or another suitably qualified professional such as a nutritional therapist. The content of this blog is for informational purposes only and is not a substitute for professional medical advice. Always seek the advice of your doctor with regards to any questions you have about a medical condition.
Veech RL. The therapeutic implications of ketone bodies: the effects of ketone bodies in pathological conditions: ketosis, ketogenic diet, redox states, insulin resistance, and mitochondrial metabolism. Prostaglandins Leukot Essent Fatty Acids. 2004 Mar;70(3):309-19. doi: 10.1016/j.plefa.2003.09.007. PMID: 14769489.