Ketone esters, a chemically engineered drink that allows the body to achieve ketosis without you having to partake in a specific diet, are one of the latest trends to come out of Silicon Valley, with start-up HVMN (pronounced ‘human’) being one of the driving forces behind bringing the product to the US market.

Ketosis is claimed by some to burn fat that would otherwise be stored, potentially unlocking a revolutionary new diet method.

According to co-founder Geoffrey Woo, the company hopes to make ketone esters available to British customers in 2018, following UK interest in the product “growing phenomenally”. But while Woo appears confident about potential UK sales, British dietitians and nutritionists are cautious, referencing a surprising lack of available information on ketone ester products.

A futile proposition?

While there may be interest in ketone esters in the UK, any attempt to bring HVMN to the country could well be futile, as right now it is uncertain if the drink could even be legally sold.

TdeltaS, a company hoping to develop products based on ketone research from Oxford University, has made submissions to the Advisory Committee on Novel Foods and Processes (ACNFP), an independent body of experts that advises the Food Standards Agency (FSA), and according to the committee, there are several issues still yet to be resolved before the product can be sold in the UK.

In the US, D-beta-hydroxybutyrate esters (the chemical name for ketone esters), have been listed as ‘generally recognized as safe’ (GRAS) by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), but as senior lecturer in human nutrition at Coventry University, and British Dietetic Association (BDA) spokesperson, Duane Mellor highlights, this simply means that the esters can be used as a food ingredient. “It does not imply any benefit. It just states it can be used in US. I could not find UK or EU equivalent acceptance. We need more information so we can be more confident how these products behave, there currently is too little known.”

Ketosis – is it worth the bother?

The ketogenic, or ‘keto’, diet is a high-fat, low-carbohydrate diet that has become incredibly popular in recent years. While the keto diet has a medical purpose in treating epileptic children, increasingly the diet has been picked up by fitness fanatics.

The ‘goal’ of forcing ketosis is to encourage the generation of ketone bodies, which are used as energy by the body instead of glucose, meaning fat is used as a fuel for the body instead of being stored, leading to easier weight loss and increased energy, though these claims are disputed.

“Ketosis is an adaptation to a lack of food, it can be mimicked by a high fat low carbohydrate diet,” explains Mellor. “Whether this is a problem is not easy to tell, there is limited long term data in people. Most of this comes in people who use this dietary approach under medical supervision to manage their epilepsy.”

There is some emerging research to suggest that artificially encouraging a ketogenic state may well support increased athletic performance, a claim that HVMN makes on its website, but much of the research surrounding ketosis is based on animal or small-scale studies. Nutrition scientist for the British Nutrition Foundation Helena Gibson-Moore clarifies that “Results from animal trials cannot be accurately extrapolated to humans,” at least in terms of accurate nutritional information.

The BDA has stated that the standard ketogenic diet as one to avoid, as over-restricting any food group for an extended period of time is never a good idea, and with the current research on ketone esters in a state where experts are unsure of the impact on the body and even the net benefits, it is difficult to see the product shaking up the drinks scene any time soon.