Are Keto Diet Pills Really Effective for Weight Loss?
Keto might be seen as a crash diet where you can take a pill or a drink and get full benefits of nutritional ketosis, but that’s not quite right.
The true ketogenic diet is all about eating real and whole nutritious low-carb foods.
Have you recently noticed many ads about keto pills, especially when they claim that it can help you lose weight quickly?
Actually, pills and powders don’t provide the same benefits as getting into the state of nutritional ketosis the official way does. That is, getting your body to put in the hard physiological work of learning to burn more fat and make more ketones.
Keto pills or ketone drinks are a shortcut that may be useful in other contexts, but not effective for losing body fat.
Let’s dig deeper into this topic to see why.
What Are Ketosis Pills Exactly?
If you’ve ever browsed a typical keto online store, Amazon, or looked at the supplement section at Walmart, you’ll probably notice keto pills or exogenous ketones for sale. So what exactly are these and how are they different?
More often than not, keto diet pills are a blend of BHB salts (beta-hydroxybutyrate), magnesium, and sodium that provides an immediate source of energy in the bloodstream that will be used up quickly.
The formulas contained in the pills are to help the body reach the state of ketosis when your blood ketone levels reach a certain level (e.g. 1 mmol/L). The quality and taste of these pills vary, but the most common salt versions are from the same few major suppliers.
Exogenous ketones are the technical term for any kind of ketone made in a lab. Endogenous ketones, on the other hand, are the type that our own liver cells produce.
Exogenous ketones can be ketone salts or ketone esters, used as a sports supplement or as a diet pill, but they’re all just called exogenous ketones in general.
In terms of ketone esters versus ketone salts, there is a bit of a difference to be aware of. Both are used as keto diet pills.
Ketone esters are ketones attached with one kind of chemical add-on and ketone salts are attached with another, like salt, magnesium or potassium.
Ketone esters are absorbed more quickly than other forms of ketones, which means they are able to raise blood ketone levels more rapidly. However, ketone esters can taste horrendous and have the potential to cause gastrointestinal distress.
For the most part, ketone supplements or capsules are salts because they are cheaper to produce and store easily. They are also significantly more palatable than ketone esters are, making them a better option for mixing into a drink.
That said, you can take in too much salt when taking lots of ketone salts which can cause stomach upset and electrolyte imbalances.
The purpose of exogenous ketones is not to use them as a crutch for eating a crappy diet. Rather, they are of benefit when:
- Speeding up the process of getting into ketosis
- Fuelling for certain sport
- Adjusting ketone levels in the blood (for sports or therapeutic purposes)
It’s important to note, however, that when you take keto pills, the burning of your own fat is displaced (or reduced) in order to accommodate the incoming extra energy from the ketones.
This can lower your body’s own production of ketones. This is why the effects of keto capsules should not be conflated with the effects of being in a ketogenic state, where you produce your own ketones by restricting carbs from your diet.
There are no convincing studies showing those pills help people achieve significant fat-loss.
Fat Loss vs. Weight Loss
Often confused, fat loss and weight loss are not synonymous terms that can be used interchangeably, especially when it comes to the ketogenic diet.
If your goal is to regain your health on the ketogenic diet, looking at the scale isn’t the best indicator of that.
With weight loss, there are many factors that can play into why we lose weight – that is, loss of muscle mass, loss of water weight, and loss of fat.
Fat loss, on the other hand, refers to exactly that, fat loss. It doesn’t account for the loss of water weight or loss of muscle mass.
The ketogenic diet is a great tool for helping gain ideal body weight and improving conditions that revolve around excess body weight, i.e. diabetes and other complications.
While other diets look at the total amount of weight loss, a smart way to use keto is to focus on fat loss rather than weight loss, as it is a better indicator of health. You can do this by tracking your body fat percentage (learn how here!).
Why Do People Think Keto Diet Pills Will Make Them Lose Fat?
Burning Fat Means Losing Fat
Your train of thought is probably something like this: when we burn fat, chances are that we’re losing it as well. But that isn’t 100% true.
Just because something – a pill, powder, metabolic state – increases fat burning (energy expenditure), doesn’t mean that the net effect is increased fat loss. Otherwise, everyone on a fat-burning ketogenic would eventually waste away! Clearly, that’s not happening.
If you’re not conscious of how much fat you’re consuming, you could be eating just as much fat as you’re burning, which means the net result isn’t much.
Alternatively, you could be experiencing the opposite, where you’re burning more body fat than you’re consuming, resulting in a net loss of body fat.
So to put this simply: just because being in a state of ketosis stimulates the fat burning pathway doesn’t necessarily mean that it will induce a net loss of body fat.
The crucial point to understand when it comes to losing fat mass, while preserving lean body mass, is that it’s not simply a question of caloric balance (calories in vs. calories out), but it’s also about how your food choices affect hormones and other things that determine how the energy you eat is partitioned into more of some tissues than others.
Are you getting heavier because you’re an adolescent boy going through a growth spurt and packing on muscle, or are you getting heavier because you’re a middle-aged man developing a beer belly?
The bottom line is, food affects your hormones and hormones affect the kind of weight you lose or gain.
The one great thing about the ketogenic diet is its ability to suppress appetite. Why is this?
With a diet rich in carbohydrates, the digestion process is relatively quick but can vary depending on the complexity of the carbs ingested.
Consuming high quantities of highly insulinogenic carbs (e.g. added sugars, flour) also causes fluctuations in blood sugars that leave you feeling groggy, tired, and sluggish after a carb-heavy.
Both protein and fat, however, take significantly longer to digest than carbohydrates and have appropriate impacts on insulin and blood glucose levels.
This means we don’t experience those energy highs and lows, therefore sustaining stable levels and keeping appetite at well tuned to your energy needs.
With keto, hunger hormones are also regulated better than on SAD diets (Standard American Diets).
On keto, the hormone that causes the feeling of hunger, ghrelin, is produced in lower amounts, while cholecystokinin (CCK) is produced in higher amounts, the net effect of which is to suppress appetite (1).
Additionally, a study conducted on the effect of ketone ester (KE) consumption on ghrelin levels and appetite found that, compared with a drink of isocaloric dextrose (DEXT), KE intake increases blood BHB levels in just 60 minutes whereas DEXT consumption increased plasma glucose levels (2).
Plasma ghrelin levels were also found to decrease significantly after 2-4 hours post-ketone consumption. This indicates that ketone esters may have a direct effect on appetite suppression, as well as perceived hunger.
The ‘Magic Pill’ Psychology
As with any diet, if people can achieve the same effect with 25% of the work, it’s likely to be a hit. The same principle applies to the keto diet and keto diet pills or powders.
If there’s a way to get yourself into ketosis by just popping a pill, and keto diets are great for fat loss, why would you waste your time restricting foods to get you to the same point?
Sorry, not going to happen. There isn’t a miraculous advanced pill that will give you rapid fat loss!
Downing powders and pills doesn’t (yet) grant us the full benefits of ketosis achieved in the traditional ways of eating a diet low in carbs or fasting.
You can’t stick with the same diet that made you fat in the first place, pop a pill or powder, and let the fat melt off your body or fix other chronic conditions you suffer from. Unfortunately, life just isn’t that simple.
Are Keto Diet Pills Good For Fat Loss?
Short-term Fat Loss Vs. Long-term Fat Loss
If you’re looking to decrease your overall body fat percentage, the ketogenic diet is a great way to do that. Being in a state of ketosis means your body is using stored body fat as its main fuel source.
However, being in the metabolic state of ketosis using BHB pills aren’t the same thing
By following a well-formulated ketosis plan, your body learns to use its fat reserves for energy.
But when our bodies are not fat-adapted and we’re consuming the pills as a short-cut to the metabolic benefits of ketosis, we’ve gone down the wrong path.
These pills won’t help you lose fat because they’re not solving root cause(s). Fat loss happens by normalizing appetite and rectifying insulin signaling amongst other things, not simply by increasing blood ketone levels by hook or by crook.
There isn’t much evidence to support keto diet supplements (pills and powders) for fat loss.
There is, however, some evidence to suggest that when blood ketone levels are increased appetite may be reduced (possibly due to lower ghrelin levels, the so-called hunger hormone) (3).
This, however, is a short-term effect and doesn’t fix the broken appetite.
Obesity and Keto Pills
With obesity, it’s not just about the weight, but the underlying issue often lies in a dysfunctional metabolic response.
Eating the right ketogenic foods is a great way to deal with obesity because it helps to improve metabolic responses that have gone wrong. But it’s not simply a question of getting yourself into ketosis and the problem is solved. It’s a two-step process of:
#1. Removing the ‘bad’ foods from the diet (i.e. food sensitivities, refined and processed foods, sugars, etc.) to help normalize appetite, and fixing poor lifestyle habits that keep the weight on (poor sleep, stress, being sedentary, etc.). It’s important to remember that this isn’t just a temporary fix but rather sustained normalization.
#2. Adding back in the ‘good’ food (i.e. meat, vegetables, fats, certain fruits, etc…) to provide nourishment and energy to the body, and making good choices when it comes to lifestyle (regular exercise, stress reduction, good sleep habits, etc.).
Ketogenic pills or exogenous ketone powders are not the answer to obesity because they have minimal impact on body fat reduction, which is one of the main goals for obese people. Where the root causes of obesity are related to poor diet and lifestyle choices leading to metabolic dysfunction, diet pills will not be of any use.
However, studies have shown that obese participants following a ketogenic diet show significant drops in fat mass, as well as improvements in blood pressure, pulse rates, triglyceride and HDL/LDL levels, and other markers of metabolic health (4, 5, 6).
So if you’re looking for a method to treat obesity, a well-formulated ketogenic diet may be beneficial.
Bottom line: Exogenous ketones are not effective for fat loss but can be useful in other areas such as increasing energy, suppressing appetite, decreasing inflammation, depression and anxiety. To learn more about exogenous ketones, read our review here!
What About Those Keto Diet Pills From Shark Tank?
If you surf the web a lot, you’d probably come across those ads that say keto diet pills endorsed by Shark Tank TV show. Is it real or just a scam?
After doing our research, it appears to be fake. We couldn’t find any episode that featured these products.
One person asked Mark Cuban, one of the ‘Shark’ investors, on Twitter if they ever invested in any company that sells keto diet pills, Mark Cuban replied in his tweet that it’s a scam.
Just in case the tweet will be removed, here’s a screenshot of it:
Are There Dangers Or Side-effects To Taking Keto Diet Pills?
As with any sort of pill or powder, it’s never a good idea to go overboard.
While diet pills aren’t inherently ‘dangerous’, consuming too much may come with some side-effects.
- Electrolyte imbalances from the excess of sodium included in ketone salts (a type of pill)
- Very high blood levels of ketones can be toxic by inducing acidosis and altering oxygen binding capacity
- May cause water retention (possibly due to glycogen sparing effects)
Ketone supplements are generally a safe option to experiment with and they have interesting applications, but inducing simple fat-loss is not one of them.
However, if using them in combination with other drugs, like blood sugar lowering ones, you may want to consult your doctor to avoid any unnecessary and unwanted side effects.
As the keto diet is all the rage right now, more companies are coming out with shortcuts to get our bodies into ketosis. While BHB pills and powders can indeed put you into ketosis quickly and deeply, they are no substitute for the benefits of a well-formulated diet plan or an appropriate fast.
Keto pills are useless and even possibly counterproductive when trying to lose fat. This is true despite their promising potential in sports supplementation or even in managing certain medical conditions responding to ketones.
These pills might temporarily reduce your appetite, but that’s not even close to a solution normalizing your appetite and metabolism – that’s what long-term fat-loss takes.
Save your money – don’t buy any diet pills or fat burners. Just stick to your diet and it will work.
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Photo credit: tbralnina&Xalanx/Depositphotos.com & kisspng.com
This article is a collaboration between our Keto Vale team and Raphael Sirtoli who has an MSc in Molecular Biology. He is currently pursuing a Ph.D. in Health Sciences and doing neuroscience research. He’s also the co-founder of Nutrita, an app and a website that helps people follow low-carb diets and reach their goals. It’s also a food search engine where you can find the right foods since they come with a Keto score and daily protein requirement values. It’s always easier to work with your biology than against it, so Nutrita is built around that idea.