There are a dizzying number of keto pills on the market now. They promise easy weight loss, increased energy, and the benefits of ketosis without the pesky following-a-strict-diet part.
As savvy MDA readers, you know that optimal health never comes in a bottle. You also know that I’m a proponent of wise supplementation to support a Primal diet and lifestyle when appropriate. I’ve said before that I think exogenous ketones can be useful in specific circumstances, though they’re never necessary for success.
The question at hand is whether keto pills are likely to offer any benefit or if they’re a waste of money. I focused on pills that seem to be popular on Google searches and Amazon—ones with names like Ultra Fast Keto Boost, Super Fast Keto Boost, Keto Burn Xtreme, Instant Keto, and Keto Slim Rx. (My Amazon search history is shot now. This is the sacrifice I make for my readers.)
First Impressions: Are Keto Pills a Scam?
My first impressions weren’t positive—let’s just say that.
These products are being sold as diet or weight management pills. Their descriptions strongly imply, or sometimes state outright, that the pills will help you lose weight and “enjoy a slim and fit physique.” Most of the claims center on the general promise that being in ketosis causes you to burn fat and, by extension, lose weight (it doesn’t necessarily), and that their products will help keep you in ketosis (a claim I’ll investigate below).
The biggest red flag was when I noticed how many Amazon customers were trying to find the keto pill featured on the TV show Shark Tank. This was news to me, so I did some digging. Apparently there was a popular scam a while back wherein sellers claimed that their keto pills appeared on Shark Tank, and the sharks went wild for them. You didn’t miss anything. This never happened.
Only one product that I looked at—Keto Burn Xtreme sold by Advanced Life Science—still had that on their Amazon page as of December, 2019. It seems like some of the other products might have been falsely advertising this in the past based on older reviews and questions, though.
So it wasn’t looking good off the bat, but I’m an open-minded guy. Bad marketing doesn’t necessarily mean an ineffective product. Sure, the Amazon reviews for these pills are pretty negative overall, but maybe people just aren’t giving them a fair chance? Some folks like them, after all. Let’s try to be objective here.
Do These Keto Pills Contain Ketone Bodies?
Assuming you can trust the labels: Yes.
Exogenous ketones come in two forms: ketone salts and ketone esters. Ketone salts in commercial products are the ketone body beta-hydroxybutyrate (BHB) bound to a salt. Ketone esters are ketone bodies bound to alcohol.
All the keto pills contain ketone salts because they are easier and less expensive to manufacture than esters. On the label they’ll list BHB bound to minerals, such as “calcium beta-hydroxybutyrate” and “magnesium beta-hydroxybutyrate.”
Do the Pills Contain Enough BHB to Be Effective?
Short answer: No, not likely.
A keto pill might “work” because it successfully raises blood ketone levels or because it brings about a desired outcome such as weight loss or improved athletic performance. In any case, keto pills are unlikely to hit the mark, but I’ll get to that.
Both ketone salts and esters raise blood ketone levels, but esters are considerably more effective. In laboratory studies, even large doses of ketone salts usually yield blood ketone levels to between 0.5 and 1.0 mmol/L. That’s enough to qualify as being in ketosis, but it’s not a knock-your-socks-off result by any means. It’s what you’d expected from following a standard keto diet. Still, plenty of people notice that they have more energy and decreased appetite in this range.
It’s probably not enough to profoundly affect certain health markers or athletic performance. For example, a panel of respected exogenous ketone researchers agreed that blood ketone concentrations in excess of 2.0 mmol/L are needed to boost athletic performance. Ketone esters can get you there, which is why most studies demonstrating the efficacy of exogenous ketones use esters. Studies using ketone salts yield decidedly more mixed results.
How Much BHB Salt Is Needed to Be Effective?
There is no agreed upon minimally effective dose for BHB salt. However, let’s use some laboratory studies as a reference point:
In this paper, Study 1, participants received about 24 grams of BHB, and their average blood ketone levels peaked at 1.0 mmol/L.
In this study, researchers gave participants 11.7 grams of BHB prior to exercise and then a second dose 45 minutes later during exercise. Blood ketones averaged 0.6 ± 0.3 mmol/L.
These researchers gave participants two doses of 18.5 grams BHB, which they noted was 60% more than the standard dose recommended by the manufacturer, prior to exercise. Blood ketones measured 0.33 ± 0.16 mmol/L prior to exercise and 0.44 ± 0.15 mmol/L at the end of exercise about an hour later.
Finally, these participants ingested 0.3g/kg of BHB, which would be about 24 grams for a 175-pound individual. Blood ketone levels peaked below 1.0 mmol/L.
How Do Keto Pills Measure Up?
Of the keto pills I looked at, the highest dose of BHB I saw per serving was 1000 mg, or 1 gram, in Ultra Fast Keto Boost Pro.
It turns out that many of the products contain the same BHB product, goBHB®. For example, Ultra Fast Keto Boost, Insta Keto, Keto Burn Xtreme, and Keto Slim Rx* sold on Amazon by nutra4health LLC are all the same goBHB blend at different price points ($19.95 – $39.95 for 30 servings). Super Fast Keto Boost and Ultra Fast Keto Boost—same thing. Per serving, goBHB contains 800 mg of BHB.
(*This is not to be confused with the other Keto Slim Rx product on Amazon that doesn’t disclose its ingredients but does promise you can “achieve your dream body” and “skyrocket your ketosis!!”)
Many pills contain even less than that. Pure Keto Boost and Instant Pure Keto list 800 mg of another blend that includes BHB salts plus other ingredients, so less total BHB. Others I checked out contained 700 mg or less.
I’m extremely dubious that 800 or even 1000 mg would meaningfully boost blood ketone levels. This is a mere fraction of the dose used in research. If the researchers could give 1 gram of BHB instead of 12 grams or more and still get a measurable effect, they would. Plus, reputable brands of exogenous ketones such as Perfect Keto and KetoCaNa offer 11.4 and 11.7 grams of BHB per serving, respectively.
Finally, it’s worth mentioning that none of the Amazon reviews I read for any of these products mentioned that the reviewer had tested their blood ketones and saw a rise after taking the pills. (And I read a lot of reviews. Too many.)
Can Ketone Pills Make You Lose Weight?
These pills claim that they’ll put you in ketosis, which will melt away body fat. Unfortunately, being in ketosis does not guarantee that you’ll burn body fat. You lose weight on a keto diet they same way you do on any other diet: by expending more energy than you ingest.
That said, it’s fair to say that ketosis is an advantaged state for weight loss. Ketones both suppress appetite and increase energy, meaning it’s easier to eat less and move more when in ketosis. Ketones are also anti-inflammatory and they improve blood glucose regulation. These both contribute to having a healthier metabolism so you trend toward your ideal body weight with less resistance.
If these pills actually support ketosis, which I doubt, their main benefit would probably be appetite suppression, not increased fat burning per se, as they imply. Anyway, the sellers frequently state that these should be used in conjunction with a low-carb or keto lifestyle to be beneficial. Thus, even if someone loses weight while taking them, it would be impossible to attribute it to the pills directly.
It’s obvious what I think: Save your money.
If you want to be in ketosis, drop your carbs, play around with intermittent fasting, or just go do a hard workout and wait to eat until W.H.E.N. (when hunger ensues naturally).
Mark Sisson is the founder of Mark’s Daily Apple, godfather to the Primal food and lifestyle movement, and the New York Times bestselling author of The Keto Reset Diet. His latest book is Keto for Life, where he discusses how he combines the keto diet with a Primal lifestyle for optimal health and longevity. Mark is the author of numerous other books as well, including The Primal Blueprint, which was credited with turbocharging the growth of the primal/paleo movement back in 2009. After spending three decades researching and educating folks on why food is the key component to achieving and maintaining optimal wellness, Mark launched Primal Kitchen, a real-food company that creates Primal/paleo, keto, and Whole30-friendly kitchen staples.