On The Keto Diet? You May Want To Consider These Supplements
It's official: the ketogenic diet has gone mainstream. As a functional medicine practitioner, I have used the health benefits of ketosis with patients for years, and it's exciting people are talking about it on a global level in pop culture. By focusing on a low-carb, moderate-protein, high-healthy-fat ratio of macronutrients, my patients are able to transition their bodies from using sugar in the form of glucose to using fat in the form of ketones for fuel with amazing results such as lowered inflammation, enhanced brain health, rebalanced blood sugar, and restored energy. I also have had quite a bit of luck with a plant-centric version of the keto diet that I developed, called ketotarian.
Whether you're doing a traditional keto diet or a plant-based one, though, there are a few supplements that will help stabilize your health and maximize the benefits of the diet you're already experiencing. Here's what I recommend:
Your microbiome contains trillions of bacteria that influence every aspect of your health, even seemingly unrelated health problems like anxiety or a weakened immune system. When bad bacteria start to outweigh the good, it can take a serious toll on your health. Even though a ketogenic diet has been shown to balance beneficial bacteria1 in the microbiome, to keep your digestion regular on a clean keto diet, I still recommend probiotics.
2. Vitamin A
A clean ketogenic diet is a diet higher in healthy fats, perfect to enhance the bioavailability of fat-soluble vitamins. Fat-soluble vitamins are super important for our health and are widely deficient in the modern Western diet. We have all heard about vitamin D deficiencies, but vitamin A doesn't get talked about very much. This vitamin is essential for a healthy immune system with deficiency in vitamin A linked3 to autoimmune conditions. Research believes this has to do with our dendritic cells—the alarm cells of our immune system. These cells work to send out a calm-down signal for excessive immune reaction and rely on vitamin A to function, and without enough of this vitamin, they are unable to do their jobs properly.
Vitamin A is most abundantly found in animal sources; however, for those following a plant-based ketogenic diet, this can quickly become a deficiency if ignored. While sweet potatoes and carrots contain plant beta-carotenes, a precursor to vitamin A, the conversion rate to retinol is weak at only 3 percent4. Running labs is the best way to determine your baseline of this vitamin in your body. If lab work determines that supplementation is a good idea for you, dosage can range between 2,000 and 10,000 IU per day.
3. Vitamin K2
Another less known fat-soluble vitamin deficiency is vitamin K2. Regardless of diet, this vitamin is essential for calming inflammation. In fact, one study5 showed that vitamin K2 inhibited the pro-inflammatory iNOS in the spinal cord and brain immune system in rats with symptoms of multiple sclerosis. Whole-food plant-based keto sources of vitamin K2 include natto and coconut or water kefir; however, it can be difficult to get in an adequate amount from these two sources. I recommend looking for the MK-4 version of this vitamin in supplement form as it helps to fight cancer, improve sexual health, and regulate gene expression more than any other form of vitamin K.
4. MCT oil
Medium-chain triglycerides are a special type of fatty acid that are very easy for your body to break down into fuel. MCTs can be found in either natural or synthetic forms. Coconut oil is one of my favorite sources of MCTs as they have the highest amount of all sources at 15 percent. Adding MCT oil to your diet is one of the quickest ways to reach and maintain a state of ketosis. Since MCTs are easily absorbed, they work to quickly boost energy and increase ketones in the body. Not only can MCTs help maintain ketosis during times of increased carb intake6, but they can also improve brain health, enhance immunity, and keep blood sugar balanced. MCT oil can easily be added to your daily smoothie, tea, or coffee.
Speaking of inflammation, curcumin, the compound found in turmeric, is one of the most powerful natural anti-inflammatories available. The ketogenic diet itself does wonders to down-regulate pro-inflammatory cytokines in the body and activate anti-inflammatory pathways such as the AMPK pathway, Nrf-2. I have thought that people with higher levels of inflammation can amplify the anti-inflammatory benefits of a clean ketogenic diet with turmeric. And with inflammation at the root of almost every modern-day health problem, cooling inflammation should be one of our No. 1 priorities.
To seriously target inflammation, up to 10 grams 7per day is ideal. It's also important to find a supplement that also contains piperine, which increases the bioavailability of curcumin by 2,000 percent.
6. Exogenous ketones
Exogenous ketones are supplement ketones to fuel your body in addition to the endogenous ketones your body makes on its own during nutritional ketosis. In addition to MCT oil, they are one way to enhance the benefits of ketosis8: lowered inflammation, more energy, better brain function and metabolism.
7. Magnesium & other electrolytes
This mineral is the fourth most abundant nutrient in your body and is needed for over 300 essential biochemical reactions9. Close to 80 percent of the population is deficient10 in this nutrient due to diet, gut problems, and poor soil quality, which can impact the amount of magnesium in otherwise magnesium-rich foods.
Since a ketogenic diet can lead to a decrease in this already deficient electrolyte due to increased water excretion and decreased water retention, it is important to add in a magnesium supplement to replenish this vital nutrient. There are many forms of magnesium, some more effective than others for different symptoms, but try to get in at least 350 milligrams per day. Most doctors recommend magnesium gylcinate for optimal benefits.
Another way to optimize electrolytes is something called sole water. This electrolyte-infused water supports the adrenal hormone aldosterone, which is partially responsible for electrolyte and fluid balance. It stabilizes the electrolytes like magnesium, sodium chloride, and potassium and is easy to make. To make it, fill a large Mason jar with a plastic lid, since metal can oxidize and corrode when it comes into contact with salt water (any large size—you can find these online if you don't have any), a quarter of the way up with high-quality sea salt, Celtic salt, or Himalayan pink salt, or a mixture or combination of these three. Add filtered water, but leave a little room at the top. Put on the lid, shake it up, and let it sit overnight. In the morning, check your sole water. If you can see some salt in the bottom of the jar, the water is saturated with the salt. If you don't see any salt, add a teaspoon more. Shake, and give it an hour to dissolve. Keep going until some salt remains at the bottom. When the sole water is fully saturated, it is ready. Add 1 teaspoon to a glass of water every morning before eating anything. Dip only plastic or wood into the water to scoop it out—no metal utensils.
These are the supplements I see being the most beneficial for most people following a ketogenic diet. However, it is important to work with your practitioner, as you may require some additional supplementation depending on your individual health case, as what works for one person doesn't always work for the next.
Will Cole, IFMCP, DNM, D.C., is a leading functional medicine expert who consults people around the world via webcam and locally in Pittsburgh. He has holds a level 2 Doctor of Natural Medicine (DNM) certification. Named one of the top 50 functional and integrative doctors in the nation, Cole specializes in clinically investigating underlying factors of chronic disease and customizing a functional medicine approach for thyroid issues, autoimmune conditions, hormonal imbalances, digestive disorders, and brain problems. He is also the host of the popular The Art Of Being Well podcast and bestselling author of Ketotarian, The Inflammation Spectrum, and the New York Times bestseller Intuitive Fasting.