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Research into medical use of ketone drink

18 August 2016

Top-level sportsmen and women use sports drinks containing ketones to enhance their performance. Ketone drinks from Oxford University were supposedly used by Team Sky (Chris Froome’s cycling team) during the Tour de France and by the Great Britain Cycling Team during the Olympic Games. The performance-enhancing effect of the drink inspired biochemist/physiologist Jeroen Jeneson from the UMCG to explore its potential for medical use in treating muscular disorders. In collaboration with Dr Pete Cox from Oxford University, paediatrician in metabolic diseases from the UMC Utrecht/AMC Gepke Visser, and head of the metabolic diseases laboratory in the AMC Ronald Wanders, the first randomized trials to examine the effect of ketone drinks on patients with the congenital metabolic disease VLCADD have now been launched.

Patients with VLCADD have difficulty converting fats to energy. This can cause severe muscular problems and exertion intolerance, whereby movement and exercise lead to total exhaustion. Patients with this condition are unable to produce enough ketones. The new ketone drink may serve as an alternative source of energy, helping to improve intolerance to physical exertion.


VLCADD is a congenital metabolic disease that impairs the body’s ability to break down long chains of fatty acids. The way it affects the muscles can vary from a serious fatal progressive disease with heart failure in new-born babies, to the development of muscular problems and exercise intolerance eventually leading to severe motor disability in adults. Current treatment comprises a special diet aimed at preventing periods of fasting and restricting the consumption of long chains of fatty acids.

Super fuel

Like fats and sugars, ketones serve as fuel to the human body. When the blood sugar level drops, a healthy liver can produce ketones to fuel the muscles and brain. Ketone provides more energy than carbohydrates, fats or proteins. Researchers at Oxford University have managed to make a chemical compound with ketones, which can be consumed in the form of a sports drink.

Biking in the MRI

The research examines the effect of the ketone drink on the metabolism of muscles during two cycling endurance tests. Part of the cycling test is carried out using a special bike ergometer for an MRI scanner, which measures the amount of energy used by the muscle fibres. Micro muscles biopsies are taken to examine exactly what the ketones do in the muscle cell and learn more about the precise effect of the ketone drink.

The results of the research are expected in early 2017. They may provide the first step in developing a new treatment for patients with VLCADD and possibly for other metabolic disorders too.

Last modified:12 March 2020 9.41 p.m.
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