What Is Beta-hydroxybutyrate and What Does It Have to Do with Keto?

What Is Beta-hydroxybutyrate and What Does It Have to Do with Keto

Do you have days where no matter what you do, you just feel sluggish and lazy? Do you feel guilty about not tackling the yardwork or putting off your errands for yet another day? While we can’t tell you if there’s something more serious going on with your health or not, we’re willing to bet your diet is playing a large role in how you’re feeling.

Our bodies do their best to use everything we put in them, whether it’s good or bad. If your typical diet is full of processed foods, sugars, heavy carbs, and ingredients you can’t pronounce, can you really expect your body to perform at a high level?

What you need is BHB, or beta-hydroxybutyrate. BHB is a type of ketone that the body can use for energy. And not the kind of energy you’re probably used to, which comes in strong bursts and quickly disappears. This type of energy is strong and consistent. Long gone will be the days of procrastinating on the couch, watching the world go by. Think it can’t be this simple? Keep reading to learn how BHB can change your life, whether you follow a keto diet or not.


What is BHB?

Sometimes, our bodies do what’s easiest instead of what’s best for them. One example of this is how the body sources fuel. The body can’t do much without a source of energy. And while it does have a few choices of sources, it tends to go for the one that’s easiest to use. This fuel source is glucose, a byproduct of carbohydrate intake.

These sugar levels can be used quickly, throwing efficiency out the window, while putting us at risk for a host of serious health issues. You see, the body’s use of glucose leads to the formation of free radicals, which have been linked to health issues such as rheumatoid arthritis, central nervous system diseases, and genetic degenerative diseases [1].

When we eat carbs, we’re left with less energy and in more danger of becoming ill. Doesn’t sound like a good idea now, does it?

So, the obvious route to take is to stop using glucose as energy. The only way to do this is to rid the body of it by limiting carbohydrate intake. This is the basis of several diets, including the ketogenic diet. As glucose stores are depleted, the body is forced to find an alternative source of fuel. It can choose between protein and fat. A ketogenic diet is high in fat, leading the body to choose the latter energy source. Scientifically speaking, the body burns excess fat when in ketosis, the metabolic state a keto diet encourages. As this fat is processed, compounds known as ketones are produced. This is what the body then uses for energy [2]. There are three main types of ketone bodies:


  • Acetone – This is the weak link in ketone bodies. Though important, it only makes up about 2% of ketones in the blood. The body doesn’t use it for energy and it’s quickly excreted.
  • Acetoacetate – This body makes up about 20% of ketone bodies in the blood stream. It can be converted into acetone or BHB. Because the body can’t use acetone for energy, BHB is the ideal conversion.
  • Beta-hydroxybutyrate (BHB) – This is the MVP of ketones and the main goal of ketosis. It makes up nearly 80% of the ketones found in the blood stream. The body prefers BHB over other ketones for energy because there’s plenty of it and the energy it provides is strong and stable.


Where Does BHB Come From?

BHB can be found in the blood stream in one of two ways. We’ve already covered the first way, which is when the body enters the natural metabolic state of ketosis. The body makes ketones, but not BHB. BHB can only be made when acetoacetate converts into it and only then can the body use it for fuel [3].

But there is another way we can get BHB into our blood. The ketone can be synthetically processed and is available in supplement form. The ketone is often paired with sodium and potassium, called BHB salt. Once ingested, BHB can be found in the blood almost immediately.

This may not be the way Mother Nature intended for us to enter ketosis, but our bodies don’t know the difference. Once BHB is in the blood, the magic starts to happen.

Whether you’ve been following a ketogenic diet for some time or have just started to learn about ketosis and BHB, you’ll want to stick around to learn just how amazing the ketone is.


Benefits of BHB

The obvious benefit of having BHB in our blood and being in ketosis is that we have the type of energy we strive for. Other benefits include weight loss, improved mood, and enhanced cognitive functions [4]. Surprisingly, the following benefits of BHB don’t get nearly as much attention as those already mentioned. But they’re quite impressive. Take a look for yourself.


May fight and even prevent cancer

We wanted to start off strong with the list of benefits and this one tends to catch people’s attention. Tumors are unable to spread or grow when the body is running on ketones. Instead, they rely on glucose breakdown to grow [5].

In one study, ketone bodies eliminated pancreatic cancer cells and lessened the effects of cachexia, a syndrome common in cancer patients that causes weight loss and fatigue [6].


Improves overall heart function

You have plenty of organs to protect and keep healthy, but without the heart, a healthy liver or spleen just doesn’t matter. The heart prefers long-chain fatty acids over other energy sources. While fatty acids and ketones are different, the heart can adapt when ketones are present.

Using BHB for energy improves the heart’s blood flow and while fatty acids can increase the presence of free radicals, BHB destroys them, lessening the risk of certain heart conditions.


Destroys inflammation

Ready for another science lesson? NLRP3 is a platform responsible for inflammation throughout the body. It can trigger cancer, bone diseases, metabolic syndrome, gout, Alzheimer’s disease, bone diseases, type 2 diabetes, and more.

However, BHB has been shown to help block this platform, lessening its effect throughout the body. If you have already been diagnosed or worry about being diagnosed with a diseased linked to inflammation, increasing the presence of BHB in your blood could help you fight back.


Keeps bones healthy and strong

Many think that bone deterioration is just part of aging and that it’s unavoidable. But our bodies don’t know to start breaking down once we hit a certain age. BHB can help keep bones healthy long after you thought they could be.

BHB stops the production of cells called osteoclasts. These cells break down bone tissue. While they’re found in just about everyone, they can cause serious problems in people with osteoporosis or other bone diseases. Therefore, BHB can potentially prevent bone density decline and strengthen bones. This prevents health issues and leads to a better quality of life.


Can help you live longer

It might sound too good to be true, but in all seriousness, BHB can help you live longer. It does so much for your health that when you put all the smaller benefits together, the biggest and most important benefit of BHB is that it can keep you healthier and happier for longer.

BHB can help you lose weight, improve your heart health, potentially prevent or slow down cancer growth, suppress inflammation, and activate anti-aging genes.

Ready to invite more BHB into your system?


How Much of a BHB Supplement Do I Need?

The body is quite skilled at regulating BHB levels. Whether your body is producing them or you’re taking exogeneous BHB salts or supplements, you rarely have to worry about taking too much.

To make sure you’re not going overboard though, the answer is simple. Just follow the instructions included with your chosen product.

However, depending on your final goal, there could be a few modifications to your doses you should consider [7]. Read through the following to see if you might need to alter your routine.


  • When quickly entering ketosis – Whether you want to enter ketosis faster than you have in the past or you enjoyed a few too many carbs and need to get back on track, a BHB supplement is the way to go. Taking half of a serving after a carb-filled meal will help your body clear the glucose and get back to your desired metabolic state.
  • When looking to boost fat loss – Hoping to drop a few extra pounds? Try taking a serving of BHB between every meal. This will keep your body in high fat-burning mode.
  • When hoping to avoid keto flu symptoms – If you’re making the transition to ketosis through a low-carb diet, you can expect some nasty symptoms to discourage you. This is natural and part of the process but by taking small doses of BHB over the course of your transition (up to a week), you can feel better faster. Try doses that are about a third of the suggested serving size, working your way up as the days pass.
  • When looking for mental clarity – Need a bit of a mental boost? BHB can help. Just take a full scoop on an empty stomach first thing in the morning.
  • When additional energy is needed – Whether you have a physically demanding day ahead of you or just want to get more out of your afternoon workout, try this BHB dosage tip. Take a full serving about an hour before your physical demands are scheduled to start. If you’re working hard for two or more hours, add another half of a serving to keep the energy coming.


The best way to make sure you’re taking the proper dose of BHB is to measure your ketone levels. There are several ways to do this. But remember how there are three main types of ketones? There’s only one testing type that tests for BHB – blood meter testing.

The process is straight forward. You’ll need a blood meter and testing strips. You’ll clean one finger, prick it with a sterilized needle, collect the blood on a strip, and wait for the reading to come up.

The downside to this type of testing is that for those squeamish around needles, it’s not ideal. Also, testing strips can be expensive. However, this is an incredibly reliable method that will give you an accurate reading. Keep track if you’re adjusting doses to see if you’re not taking enough or taking too much. You should also test periodically to make sure your body has either entered or is still in ketosis.


BHB Safety and Side Effects

Overall, BHB is very safe, whether your body produces it naturally or you take it via a supplement. Just like most things found in the body though, naturally or not, too much of something can still be bad. If you were to somehow overwhelm your system with BHB, you could go into a metabolic state known as diabetic ketoacidosis.

However, this is near impossible. Your body will always work to quickly remove excess BHB and keep blood ketones within a healthy limit. There are two situations though in which you could be more likely to experience diabetic ketoacidosis. If you have issues with your pancreas or are diabetic, you’re at a higher risk as your body may struggle to eliminate excess BHB from your system.

Even if you believe you’re in perfect health, we always recommend speaking to your doctor before taking a BHB supplement. In the majority of cases, patients are cleared and there are no precautions necessary.

Though none are medically serious, BHB can cause the following side effects.


Side effects from natural BHB:

If you’re limiting your carb intake and following a traditional ketogenic diet, your BHB levels are being raised slowly but surely, possibly causing the following side effects.

  • Lethargy – When you’re trying to make the switch to ketosis through a ketogenic diet, your body is going through a lot. You can expect to experience extreme fatigue. Planning for ketosis is advised. Don’t schedule anything extra during the transition so you can take the time you need to rest [8].
  • Mood swings – Again, your body is going through quite a bit when you’re switching to ketosis. You might find yourself experiencing cravings or feeling like you’re not getting enough to eat. A common response to this is getting a bit cranky when someone steps into your space. Apologize and move on. The feelings won’t last forever.
  • Irritability – Traffic might bother you more than usual. Waiting for the elevator could be infuriating. A slow Wi-Fi signal could throw you off the edge. Irritability is just another symptom of what’s commonly referred to as the keto flu. This symptom will disappear as your BHB levels rise and you fully enter ketosis.
  • Brain fog – One of the main benefits of ketosis is mental clarity. But before this comes the opposite. You may find yourself struggling to focus or having difficulty remembering simple tasks or notes. Don’t fret. Once your brain is being fueled by BHB, you’ll experience a drastic improvement in cognitive functions.


Side effects from BHB supplements:

When you take BHB supplements, your levels will rise much faster than those going at it the old-fashioned way. This is okay, but it can cause some unique side effects.

  • Gastrointestinal distress – As your body quickly transitions into ketosis, you may experience a few stomach issues. This could be as simple as mild cramping or as troublesome as diarrhea. You’ll find that those who have taken BHB supplements in the past will always recommend newbies start with a small dose and slowly work their way up to larger doses as their stomach adjusts.
  • Flatulence – Large doses of BHB will almost guarantee embarrassing flatulence, even if you’ve been taking the supplements for a while. To prevent this, spread out your doses. If you notice this side effect happens more times than not, you may want to time your doses, so attacks don’t strike at embarrassing moments.
  • Dry mouth – Dry mouth is a common sign of ketosis, even though it’s troublesome for those who first experience it. Entering ketosis can cause mild dehydration. Fight back by drinking extra water and avoiding caffeine. You’ll also want to kick up your electrolyte intake.


Don’t let these side effects scare you off. As previously listed, the benefits of BHB far outweigh any potential side effects. And for some, side effects are minimal or even nonexistent.

BHB is a natural compound either found in the body or developed for ingestion. It’s safe and can help keto followers in a number of ways. Whether you came here to just learn more about BHB in general or to decide if supplements are a smart choice for your lifestyle, you hopefully have the answers you’ve been looking for.

Remember, we’re always here to answer questions and help you with your keto journey, whether BHB supplements are a part of it or not. But if you’re ready to change your health from the inside out, BHB could be the answer.


  1. Hui Pi, 1 Haotong Zhou, 1 Huan Jin, 1 Yaogui Ning, 2 , * and Youlian Wang 1 , *
    Abnormal Glucose Metabolism in Rheumatoid Arthritis
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  2. Wajeed Masood; Kalyan R. Uppaluri.
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    PeerJ. 2018; 6: e4488.
    Published online 2018 Mar 16. doi: 10.7717/peerj.4488
  4. John C. Newman1,2 and Eric Verdin2,*
    β-hydroxybutyrate: Much more than a metabolite
    Diabetes Res Clin Pract. Author manuscript; available in PMC 2015 Nov 1.
    Published in final edited form as:
    Diabetes Res Clin Pract. 2014 Nov; 106(2): 173–181.
    Published online 2014 Aug 19. doi: 10.1016/j.diabres.2014.08.009
  5. Eric C. Woolf,1,2 Nelofer Syed,3 and Adrienne C. Scheck1,2,*
    Tumor Metabolism, the Ketogenic Diet and β-Hydroxybutyrate: Novel Approaches to Adjuvant Brain Tumor Therapy
    Front Mol Neurosci. 2016; 9: 122.
    Published online 2016 Nov 16. doi: 10.3389/fnmol.2016.00122
  6. Surendra K Shukla,1 Teklab Gebregiworgis,2 Vinee Purohit,1,3 Nina V Chaika,1 Venugopal Gunda,1 Prakash Radhakrishnan,1 Kamiya Mehla,1 Iraklis I Pipinos,4,5 Robert Powers,2 Fang Yu,6 and Pankaj K Singhcorresponding author1,3,7,8
    Metabolic reprogramming induced by ketone bodies diminishes pancreatic cancer cachexia
    Cancer Metab. 2014; 2: 18.
    Published online 2014 Sep 1. doi: 10.1186/2049-3002-2-18
  7. Rennan de Oliveira Caminhotto,corresponding author# Ayumi Cristina Medeiros Komino,# Flaviane de Fatima Silva, Sandra Andreotti, Rogério Antônio Laurato Sertié, Gabriela Boltes Reis, and Fabio Bessa Limacorresponding author
    Oral β-hydroxybutyrate increases ketonemia, decreases visceral adipocyte volume and improves serum lipid profile in Wistar rats
    Nutr Metab (Lond). 2017; 14: 31.
    Published online 2017 Apr 24. doi: 10.1186/s12986-017-0184-4
  8. John C. Newman1,2 and Eric Verdin2,*
    β-hydroxybutyrate: Much more than a metabolite
    Diabetes Res Clin Pract. Author manuscript; available in PMC 2015 Nov 1.
    Published in final edited form as:
    Diabetes Res Clin Pract. 2014 Nov; 106(2): 173–181.
    Published online 2014 Aug 19. doi: 10.1016/j.diabres.2014.08.009
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