The heart is physically and spiritually the center of everything we do as humans. And yet, heart health is a major issue for adults. Currently, heart disease is the leading cause of death for adults in the United States. To put that in perspective, in 2020, one in every five deaths happened due to heart disease.
Focusing on heart health is an obvious first step in transforming your overall health and well-being. While regular physical activity and exercise, nutritional intake, and adequate rest and sleep are all pillars of heart health, there are other avenues for improving your heart’s health. One way may be through ketones.
Ketones have been well-studied, with benefits including weight management and improved brain health. However, the impact of ketones on heart health is less studied and has been a subject of interest in recent years.
While we have previously explored the impact of ketones on cardio-metabolic health, this article will explore the potential benefits and risks associated with ketones and their impact on heart health. We will look at the existing evidence and discuss what research remains to be done to better understand ketones’ role in heart health.
What Are Ketones?
Before we get into how they affect your heart, let’s establish the basic facts about ketones.
Ketones are organic molecules produced in the body when there is an insufficient supply of glucose for energy. They are produced by the liver from fat breakdown and are released into the bloodstream to be used as an alternative fuel source for the body. Ketones can also be formed by nutrients in certain foods, such as coconut oil (which contain medium chain triglycerides [MCTs]. You can also consume exogenous ketones (ketones produced outside the body) in beverages or other forms.
Ketones and the heart
For adults, the heart consumes the most energy of all bodily tissue.
Under normal circumstances, about 4-15% of the energy your heart consumes comes from ketones. The rest comes from fatty acids (40-70%), glucose (20-30%), and various substrates.
So this means without changing any part of your diet, your heart already uses ketones as part of its typical fuel intake.
Without following the ketogenic diet or taking exogenous ketones, the only time the percentage of ketones the heart uses changes is during heart failure—a condition most individuals will never encounter, which involves a weakness in the pumping ability of the heart, leading to impaired cardiac output and blood flow. Ketones are a more energy-efficient fuel source for the heart because ketones need less oxygen to metabolize than glucose.
How Do Ketones Affect Your Heart’s Overall Health?
So are ketones good for your health? Yes and no, and the answer depends on concentration.
The adverse effects of high concentrations of ketones
For a long time, researchers have focused on the harmful effects of ketones on the heart primarily because of their role in type 1 diabetes.
Diabetic ketoacidosis happens when the body can’t produce enough insulin and begins to break down fat as fuel. Unlike ketosis achieved by fasting or exogenous ketones, diabetic ketoacidosis involves a far higher concentration of ketones in the blood, causing vascular inflammation. This is extremely hard on the heart and can lead to cardiac arrest. Because of the severity of diabetic ketoacidosis, it is always recommended that people with diabetes or insulin resistance discuss any questions or concerns about ketones with their medical provider.
However, it’s important to note that for those without diabetes, the risk of developing ketoacidosis is extremely low, as it is very difficult to obtain that high a concentration of ketones when simply following a keto diet or consuming exogenous ketones. In fact, there is evidence that ketones may benefit those with diabetes.
The positive effects of moderate concentration of ketones
Exogenous ketones for heart health haven’t been studied extensively enough to provide conclusive results. But some large clinical trials have opened up possibilities surrounding treating heart failure with ketones. Moderate levels of ketones in the blood from exercise or exogenous ketones can help damaged hearts.
Additionally, experiments with mice have shown promising results. For example, a study showed that, as contrasted with the control group, mice with heart failure didn’t worsen after they were treated with ketones.
However, research determining the exact and ideal treatment of heart problems with ketones is still in its infancy.
Ketones and Cardiovascular Risk Factors
No part of your body functions in isolation. So while the exact interactions of ketones and the heart need to be studied more extensively, what we do know is that ketones may help improve many cardiovascular risk factors, likely as a result of the weight loss that is common when adhering to a keto diet and using exogenous ketones. These include:
So regardless of how ketones interact directly with your heart, following the keto diet or using exogenous ketones may provide overall health benefits that can help improve your overall health and your heart in general.
Prioritize Your Heart Health
It’s impossible to overstate the importance of heart health. If you want to live up to your fullest potential, taking steps to reduce your risk factors for cardiovascular disease is essential.
While there is certainly a need for more research into how ketones can benefit the heart directly, there is a lot more science surrounding how it can help moderate your blood pressure and blood sugar, body weight, and cholesterol. So take control of your health and make the necessary changes to keep your heart healthy. Consider adding exogenous ketones to your daily routine to enjoy heart, brain and metabolic benefits.