Recently published Grove City College research indicates ketone supplements can rapidly alter and mitigate physiological processes associated with exertion in a simulated extreme environment, like altitude, that lowers blood oxygen and elevates carbon dioxide levels.
The study, spearheaded by Exercise Science professors Dr. Philip J. Prins and Dr. Jeffrey Buxton, examined the impact of ketones – which our bodies naturally produce to generate energy when glucose is not readily available – on distance runners.
“Ketone supplements have demonstrated the capacity to increase oxygen availability during acute hypoxic (low oxygen levels) exposure leading to the potential application of their use to mitigate performance declines at high altitudes,” Prins said. “Our study demonstrated the ability of ketone supplements to rapidly alter metabolism, blood gas concentrations, and gas exchange during a novel hypoxic exercise protocol.”
In the study, a group of 15 male distance runners were given either a ketone supplement or a placebo before completing a hypercapnic (elevated carbon dioxide) hypoxic (lowered blood oxygen) exercise protocol. Researchers collected data from the subjects on blood metabolites, blood gases, expired air, heart rate, oxygen saturation, cognition, and perception.
The study found that the ketone supplement rapidly elevated blood ketone levels and reduced blood glucose without altering lactate production in the subjects. The ketone supplement also lowered blood pH, bicarbonate, and total carbon dioxide. Blood carbon dioxide retention increased among those given the placebo.
“The findings open the door to future therapeutic investigations into extreme environments – for example, enclosed, recirculated air, high altitudes – high intensity exercise or disease states where individuals are at risk for CO2 retention, such as COPD,” Prins said.
A paper detailing the research, “Ketone Bodies Impact on Hypoxic CO2 Retention Protocol During Exercise,” was published in the December issue of Frontiers in Physiology, one of the field’s leading academic journals.
In addition to Prins and Buxton, the listed authors include Associate Professor of Exercise Science Dr. Dana L. Ault, Professor of Psychology Dr. Gary Welton, and student researchers Dalton W. Jones, Adam D. Atwell, Macey A. Slack, Marah L. Slack, Chloe E. Williams, Morgan E. Blanchflower, Kristia K. Kannel, Madison N. Faulkner, Hannah L. Szmaciasz, Stephanie M. Croll, Lindsey M. Stanforth, Tim D. Harris, and Holton C. Gwaltney.
They were assisted by research scientists Tyler McClure and Andrew Koutnik of the Institute of Human and Machine Cognition in Pensacola, Fla. and Dom D’Agostino from University of South Florida, a world-renowned expert on ketones.
The study was conducted in the fall of 2020 and spring of 2021. It was internally funded by the Grove City College Swezey Fund and the Department of Exercise Science.