Cheating My Way to a Ketogenic Lifestyle
Can supplementing with Juvenescence’s Metabolic Switch replace a keto diet? Richard Sprague investigates.
If you care about better health and longer lifespan, what could be more fundamental than increasing your energy? Even if you could live forever, what’s the point if you feel groggy the whole time? I’ve recently become aware of a new product that claims to hack the way the body produces energy, giving users many of the benefits of rigorous dieting and exercise without the time and discipline it would normally take. Does it work? Yes, but with an important caveat.
The product, Metabolic Switch, is sold by British Virgin Islands-based biotech startup Juvenescence, which licenses research from longevity science experts at the Buck Institute, a highly regarded R&D facility in Marin County, California. Since 2008, Buck scientists have studied intriguing links between proteins involved in the aging process and ketones, the blood markers that your body produces naturally when deprived of glucose-generating carbohydrates. Now popularized as the ketogenic or keto diet, eliminating carbs is known to activate a switch that can put your body into ketosis, which devotees claim is a more potent, energy-intensive state—but at the cost of a grueling dietary regimen requiring tremendous discipline.
Living in ketosis might bring significant health benefits. Cancer cells, for example, almost always mutate their way into sugar-hungry beasts that depend on glucose as their exclusive energy source. Deprive them and they’re no longer able to grow. Similarly, people with neurological diseases like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s often respond better when their brains are fueled by ketones instead of glucose. Many studies over several decades hint at significant ketosis advantages.
Benefits of ketosis
Nearly all the body’s most important chemical pathways associated with aging are affected by the by-products of ketones, which may explain why some diets seem to be associated with increased longevity. Your body will go into ketosis if you starve yourself—the uncertain availability of food for our hunter-gathering ancestors is the reason we have a ketone switch in the first place. Caloric restriction—reducing daily calories by 20–30 percent to just above the level of malnutrition—is among the most well-known techniques for lifespan extension in primates.
But for most of us, it’s neither easy nor fun to follow a calorie-restricted diet, and people who try the keto diet often give up despite the apparent benefits.
The company behind Metabolic Switch claims their product will give your body access to those powerhouse ketones without necessitating major dietary changes. But one needs more than a press release before trusting that a new product lives up to its claim. As an occasional keto dieter myself, I’m used to testing myself at home for blood ketones, so I volunteered to try it to see how it compares to my previous experience with “real” dietary ketosis.
To maintain the independence of our testing, proto.life did not contact the company but rather I purchased their product off the internet and followed the directions the way any consumer would. The 14-serving version ($40) that I bought through Amazon arrived the next day in a coffee-can-sized plastic bowl containing a beige powder. I tried one scoop daily for a week, followed by occasional servings thereafter, regularly testing myself to see the effects.
The company warns in advance that the product tastes awful (“that’s how you’ll know it works,” they quip). They’re not kidding. Imagine some rancid, fake creamer mixed with bitter, week-old truckstop coffee in a corroded aluminum cup. They offer recipe suggestions to make it more palatable (peanut butter, cocoa, etc.), but I found that diluting it just prolongs the agony. For me it worked best to simply mix with a cup of liquid and throw it down the hatch as quickly as possible. So yes, it’s awful, but then again I didn’t find it any worse than some of the common gloppy, over-the-counter medicines you’ve already tried. (Milk of magnesia, anyone?)
Within hours of my first dose, I noticed the warm, tingly “buzz” I feel when entering ketosis after days on a restricted diet. Sure enough, a home blood test I administered confirmed that I was well into the range that normally takes me a few days under a strict ketogenic diet. After a great night’s sleep, the next morning I took another scoop, and… wow!
What was especially nice is that I was able to get these ketone levels despite my “normal” omnivore eating.
For comparison, my energy reached the level I typically achieve only after several days of a water-only fast, or a week of hard-core keto dieting. The rest of the day, I felt a sustained energy rush that put me into one of my most productive periods in weeks. I was sold!
What was especially nice is that I was able to get these levels despite my “normal” omnivore eating, including with my family at a restaurant. One of the annoying parts of a keto diet is the constant sense of being left out at mealtimes, eating something different or nothing at all while everyone else is feasting. This time, with the Metabolic Switch, I enjoyed the same food as everyone else. I even gave a scoop to a friend who has never done serious keto dieting. Sure enough, within two hours a blood test confirmed he too was in full-on ketosis, despite his normal eating. That night, he says he slept like a baby and woke up still feeling that energy buzz.
So that’s the good news. I’ve tried it, and it works. Metabolic Switch raised my blood ketone levels and left me the whole week with a nice, energy buzz—without the trouble and inconvenience of a full-on ketogenic diet.
So what’s the catch?
But I found a problem during my testing: my LDL-C (“bad” cholesterol) was up by almost 25 mg/dL. This isn’t unheard of among keto dieters, thousands of whom report similar elevated cholesterol levels after being in ketosis and who present good scientific evidence that the benefits far outweigh any heart risks. Many keto people report improved cholesterol, but apparently, I’m not one of them.
The company, citing NDA reasons, couldn’t tell me whether cholesterol was something they were studying in their clinical tests, but they noted that in general the keto diet involves a switch to different food types, which might affect cholesterol.
As an overall healthy person who watches my cardiac health closely, I’m convinced that there are significant benefits to living in occasional ketosis—and you can’t beat that energy rush. If you’re looking for a way to experience ketosis for yourself, I think you’ll find Metabolic Switch worth trying.
Author’s note: After this article appeared, experts affiliated with the company reached out to proto.life pointing to a 28-day randomized, double blind study published last year that tested Metabolic Switch against a placebo in 52 healthy adults, which found no difference in average lipid levels for the study group.
My LDL-C always shoots up by a lot when I give up carbs. Of course, I’m just one person and my cholesterol could have any number of causes, but I find it oddly reassuring that for me, this powdered drink seems to mimic the same cholesterol-raising effect I get under “real” keto.