The bleeding edge of science is a double-edged sword. On the one hand, it provides access to the “latest and greatest” technology, which can be life saving for many people in a rapidly changing world. On the other hand, “latest and greatest” virtually always means “untested” and with many of the exogenous ketones, this is the case.
The exogenous ketones most commonly found on the market are beta hydroxybutyrate ketone salts. These simply are not as effective as the ketone esters.
Exogenous Ketones vs Ketone Salts
A couple of years ago Geoffrey Woo (founder of Nootrobox and HVMN) told me about a hush-hush project involving exogenous ketones and specifically the ketone esters seen in their new performance drink.
At the time, I didn’t pay much attention to his scientific argument as he couldn’t go into much detail before it launched and there was an obvious bias towards what his company was producing, which made me discount the whole thing (as interesting as it sounded).
It wasn’t until recently when I listened to one of the most prominent voices in the exogenous ketone world that my interest was piqued. In an interview between Dr. Peter Attia and Dr. Rhonda Patrick, the former mentioned how much more scientifically studied the esters are for performance and his own experience using them (versus salts) .
[Note: For those who want some context and a less nerdy explanation: most exogenous ketone products are salts, which are easier to formulate and cheaper to produce. The doctor I most respect in this space turned me on to the idea that ketone esters are potentially more effective and only a few companies produce them.]
Of course, this image is from the HVMN website, but the evidence in the citations backs it up for anyone who is willing to do a little digging:
Substitute the HVMN ketone product for any ketone esters and the graph will probably look similar. According to a 2017 piece in Frontiers in Physiology, it is pretty clearly evident that the esters in the form of a drink is superior to the salts .
This graph suggests the ester is more effective at increasing ketone levels in the body and brain compared to others, which would make sense given that beta hydroxybutyrate is typically bound together with some other salt (either sodium, potassium, etc).
Exogenous Ketones: The Downside of Salts
Theoretically, the beta hydroxybutyrate salts you can find in most products will still work, but the question becomes: at what cost?
According to a great interview with another ketosis researcher, Dr. Dominic D’Agostino, “…that could be putting a stress on your body, conceivably” . Dom is not against the exogenous ketone salts (neither am I), but was merely recognizing some of the limitations and potential downsides of including a bunch of ingredients that you aren’t looking for.
A researcher by the name of Richard Veech also considered the potential downsides of overloading with these salts .
Exogenous Ketones: Research and Development
What makes the exogenous ketones made from esters so interesting is the research that backs it up. It’s hard not to mention HVMN in this regard because their product is the exclusive licensee (which is why they create such deals).
Dr. Richard Veech is part of the National Institute of Health (NIH) and his colleague Kieran Clarke at the University of Oxford worked together to patent a particular ester, which is generally regarded as safe (GRAS) from the FDA .
Ketone Esters: Worth the Cost?
The research grants for the University of Oxford, the National Institute of Health, and DARPA (the military research organization) have exceeded $60 million according to HVMN, which is a lot of money going towards understanding elite human performance in both physical and mental realms.
From the research, it seems evidence that the ketone esters are far more effective than the beta hydroxybutyrate salts… but it’s also more expensive.
Going with Perfect Keto (our recommended ketone salt brand) nets a cost of $3.73 per serving.
In contrast, the HVMN ketone ester product ranges from $32 – $33 per serving.
That’s a steep price to pay for performance and is probably prohibitive for most people.
For those that use exogenous ketones as a way to prevent epilepsy and impact health conditions, sometimes the beta hydroxybutyrate salts are a great way to go. They can be used daily, they can replace a ketogenic diet in some instances, and they can be therapeutic.
Other people who need exogenous ketones for specific, high-intensity, and competitive events can utilize the ketone esters infrequently as an extra edge without any of the risk or downside of added salts.
What is a Ketone Lover to Do?
It is true that most products on the market simply do not work as well as the researched ketone esters, but it would be false to say ketone salts don’t work at all. Dr. D’Agostino has done much work with salts and “cleared” many of the concerns though there are still some that remain.
For people who love exogenous ketones and find it works wonders for performance, consider whether it is the placebo effect and if it is not, continue as necessary. After all, there are many people for whom exogenous ketones in the form of BHB salts would be better than nothing at all.
There are also plenty of people for whom exogenous ketones in the form of BHB salts is life saving or therapeutic and until we developer cheaper esters, there is only one economical option.
Anyone who is interested in the absolutely best performance where money is no object can consider the HVMN exogenous ketones. They’re well-tested and don’t come with any of the added ingredients or risks.