Ketones: The Fourth Macronutrient
In addition to the three primary macronutrients – carbohydrates, fats, and protein – a fourth has been identified: ketone bodies. Thought to have evolved in response to carbohydrate scarcity, our bodies produce different classes of ketones during periods of fasting, providing an alternative source of energy to fuel our organs and tissues. The reemerging promise of ketones as a therapeutic have increased the popularity of the ketogenic diet, though maintaining its regimen may prove challenging for social, economic, or health reasons. As such, ongoing research is focusing on the consumption of additional ketones to increase their levels in the body without the need for a potentially challenging diet. With accumulating evidence for their roles in improving brain and muscle health and combating metabolic syndrome, supplementation of ketone bodies shows great preliminary promise as a means of delivering health benefits with minimal change to individual dietary habits.
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We have long understood that our body relies on three main classes of macronutrients to function at its optimal state – carbohydrates, fats, and proteins – as well as micronutrients. Recently, it has become clear that there is a fourth macronutrient – ketone bodies – that play a role in both energy metabolism and also appear to have drug-like properties which address conditions from inflammation and oxidative stress attenuation to their effects on aging, cognition, immunity, gene expression, stem cells and vascular functions. What are ketones? What has been their history in health? And what is their potential?
Our bodies run on three main groups of macronutrients (nutrients we need in larger quantities that provide us with energy and keep us healthy): carbohydrates, fats, and proteins. However, experts are now looking at a potential fourth group called ketone bodies. You may have heard of ketone bodies from the increasingly popular ketogenic diet, but they are much more than a fad diet. Ketone bodies are naturally created within our bodies through a series of events that allow us to use fat as a fuel source to create more energy. In addition to their ancient application as a remedy for epilepsy traced back as far as 400 BC, they are currently being researched for their potential to aid in the treatment of some health conditions.
Let’s look at how we got to the “fourth macronutrient”, what the keto diet is, and how ketone bodies have a place in our diets.