Beta-hydroxybutyrate (BHB) is a ketone body that is generated when the liver metabolizes fatty acids.
Ketones are energy sources that are typically created from the breakdown of fat stores. Beta-hydroxybutyrate is one type of ketone.
Beta-hydroxybutyrate is an important energy source for your body. It can be used by any cell in the body, which normally breaks down carbohydrates into glucose for its fuel, or it can use beta-hydroxybutyrate to make energy instead.
This makes it a great alternative to glucose as a fuel source that can be made by the body when glucose levels are low.
It can be used in the muscles for energy, and this is why it is a popular supplement with people doing high-intensity exercise for extended periods of time since they need to burn fat as fuel. It can also be converted into glucose inside the brain for use as fuel because brain cells cannot use fat for fuel.
A ketone body is a molecule that is a byproduct of fat metabolism.
Beta-hydroxybutyrate, specifically, can be used as an alternative fuel source for the cells in your body when glucose levels are low or depleted. It fuels muscle and brain activity during high-intensity exercise but also contributes to cognitive function throughout the day.
If you want to learn more about how BHB works, as well as what it does for your health, from preventing cancer cell growth to boosting mental performance, read on below.
What Is Beta-Hydroxybutyrate?
Beta-Hydroxybutyrate, or BHB for short, is a ketone body that your liver produces from the breakdown of fatty acids.
Ketones are molecules that break down into water and acetone when metabolized.
Your liver also produces other types of ketones (acetoacetic acid), but they aren’t as good as BHB at raising blood levels of beta-hydroxybutyrate above 0.5 mMol/L in humans.
This is because it has a higher concentration than any other type of ketone produced by the human body, and it’s not broken down as easily by enzymes in the mitochondria, which means more remains intact to cross over into cells where they can then be used to produce ATP through aerobic respiration.
Beta-hydroxybutyrate is an energy substrate for the heart and brain. It can be used as a source of energy to produce Acetyl-CoA by metabolizing fats through fatty acid oxidation in the mitochondria (mainly within the heart, but also in skeletal muscle).
Along with acetyl-CoA is the production of water as a byproduct.
Since BHB is the main ketone body produced by the liver, and it’s also used in heart and muscle tissue, this means that higher levels circulating in your blood can help improve athletic endurance, especially during exercise (sprinting) or while at rest (racing). (1)
This is because more remains intact to cross over into cells where ATP can be produced through aerobic respiration.
In addition, BHB can also play a role in helping to restore mitochondrial function after it has been damaged by oxidative stress (a process called mitohormesis). (2)
This means that you can use it to help reduce inflammation by turning the volume down on immune cells that release inflammatory cytokines. As a result, it may help reduce the fatigue, and muscle soreness felt after working out.
More Beta-hydroxybutyrate in your blood can also make you feel more satiated following meals. (3)
This is because it slows down the emptying of gut hormones that signal hunger, like glucagon-like peptide-1 (GLP-1). Therefore, when you are less hungry and have a lot of ketones circulating in your blood, there is less chance that you will overeat.
This is especially important for people who are obese because they can use a ketogenic diet to lose weight but need to make sure that they don’t consume too many calories since it is very easy to overeat when using such a high fat intake.
How Was BHB Discovered?
The discovery of BHB is linked to a Nobel Prize, which was awarded in part to Otto Warburg. (4)
He discovered that cancer cells use glycolysis (rather than respiration) when they are growing due to inefficient mitochondria.
The Prize was also shared with Fritz Lipmann for discovering the coenzyme A molecule that helps transfer fatty acids to the mitochondria so that it can continue to produce ATP in a process called beta-oxidation.
This means that before BHB can be used for energy, it must go through a multi-step process that involves the activation of enzymes and the transport of fatty acids into the mitochondria.
However, once inside the mitochondrial matrix, acetyl-CoA is produced by attaching to oxaloacetate within what is known as the Krebs Cycle.
Since the Krebs Cycle produces acetyl-CoA that is then converted into glucose in the cell, BHB can also be used to make ATP through a process called gluconeogenesis.
This takes place within the liver and means that you can use it as a substitute for carbohydrates.
BHB is an exogenous ketone body that can be converted into pyruvate to feed the mitochondria meaning it can help reduce blood glucose levels in order to prevent hypoglycemia (low blood sugar).
You should have more stable energy levels even without a supply of carbohydrates, which reduces the risk of gaining unwanted body fat.
Beta-Hydroxybutyrate Benefits On The Keto Diet
Beta-hydroxybutyrate is a natural acid that occurs in the body when it turns fat into ketones, an alternative fuel source.
BHB can elevate blood ketone levels for 2-3 days at 1mg/mL or more – useful if you want to experience benefits like increased energy and appetite control. (5)
The main benefit of using exogenous ketones is that they are readily available when your body needs a quick fuel source.
Beta-hydroxybutyrate interacts with two receptors in the brain: CB1 and GABA (gamma-aminobutyric acid) (6). In the short term, BHB can act as an antidepressant – increasing norepinephrine neurotransmission – to decrease anxiety (7). This effect is temporary, however.
BHB may also protect brain cells from neurodegeneration and injury by increasing neuron membrane permeability, which would be especially useful in a state of ketosis where ketone bodies are not typically produced in large quantities.
The two main mechanisms for how exogenous Beta-hydroxybutyrate increases cognitive performance in the short term are by providing an alternative fuel source for brain cells and by decreasing glutamate levels.
BHB is also great for cardiovascular health. It has protective effects on heart muscle cells, lowering oxidative stress and lipid peroxidation (8), both of which reduce your risk of heart disease.
Beta-hydroxybutyrate also increases the production of nitric oxide – a vasodilator – which could improve blood flow.
BHB is important to consider if you’re an endurance athlete since it acts as an alternative fuel source during exercise that can suppress levels of lactic acid in muscles and increase your capacity for cardiovascular work (9).
Considering the keto diet’s benefits for athletic performance – such as better fat utilization and heightened antioxidant abilities– it follows that Beta-hydroxybutyrate would be useful as an ergogenic aid.
Beta-hydroxybutyrate Increases Mitochondrial HMG-CoA Reductase Activity
HMG-CoA reductase is the rate-limiting enzyme in ketogenesis, which puts BHB in direct control over the production of ketone bodies. Beta-hydroxybutyrate increases the activity of HMG-CoA reductase by uncoupling it from ATP (10).
Beta-hydroxybutyrate has also been found to increase mitochondrial biogenesis, a process that creates more mitochondria and improves your body’s ability to burn fat. So, in a sense, BHB puts your body in direct control of its own fat-burning ability.
BHB is also essential to the formation of structural fat molecules called ketones bodies – more commonly known as fats and oils. Therefore, the more Beta-hydroxybutyrate you have in your blood, the easier it is for your body to create these molecules.
Beta-hydroxybutyrate and Ketosis
Ketosis begins when blood ketone levels reach .5 millimolar (mM), while BHB is usually around 1-2 mM. Exogenous Beta-hydroxybutyrate can increase your ketone levels to 2 -3x the standard rate, making it an effective tool for quickly putting yourself into a state of ketosis.
BHB may be able to enhance the benefits of ketosis even further by acting as a peroxisome proliferator-activated receptor (PPAR) agonist (11).
The PPARs are receptors that control gene expression for cell differentiation. When activated, they can increase metabolic flexibility in your muscles and body fat by switching the production of energy from glucose to ketones.
Using Exogenous Ketones
There are two types of exogenous ketone supplements: salts and esters.
Ketone esters like beta-hydroxybutyrate have high levels of BHB that are released quickly into your bloodstream, while ketone salts like sodium- or calcium-BHB take longer to release.
Other than cognitive benefits, the main benefit of using exogenous ketones is for a quick energy boost. BHB can be used by endurance athletes or anyone who wants to experience a boost of energy, such as people with low blood sugar.
While exogenous ketones are unlikely to be necessary for most people following the keto diet, it’s good to know they’re available if you ever need them.
Even though Beta-hydroxybutyrate is considered safe, it’s always smart to check with your doctor before changing your diet or any supplements you’re taking.
Beta-Hydroxybutyrate is the main ketone body found in your blood and urine. It’s produced by the liver from fatty acids that are released from fat stores in response to low glucose levels or other catabolic conditions.
BHB has been shown to have many benefits, including cognitive enhancement, increased energy, reduced anxiety and depression, improved cardiovascular health, and athletic performance.
Beta-hydroxybutyrate interacts with two receptors in the brain: CB1 and GABA (gamma-aminobutyric acid) acting temporarily as an antidepressant and decreasing anxiety.
Beta-hydroxybutyrate also increases mitochondrial HMG-CoA reductase activity, which increases the production of ketone bodies and puts BHB in control over your body’s fat-burning ability.
BHB is also essential to the formation of structural fat molecules called ketones bodies – more commonly known as fats and oils.
You can get exogenous ketone supplements that contain salts or esters to consume daily if you want to take advantage of their energy-boosting benefits.
It’s important to always talk to your doctor before changing your diet or any supplements you’re taking, especially for people with a history of heart disease.