A horrible-tasting drink supplement that’s been billed as a revolutionary “super fuel” appears to temporarily put the body into a state of ketosis and quickly bring blood sugar levels under control, new research has found.

“Ketosis” and “ketogenic diets” have become hugely popular weight-loss buzzwords in in recent years, promising not only weight loss but improved endurance for athletes.

Similar to the Atkins-style diets that were all the rage a decade ago, ketogenic diets are low in carbs like sugar and starch. But instead of focusing on protein, the diets stress high-fat foods, such as dairy, meats, avocados, and vegetable fats.

The goal of the diet is to induce “ketosis,” a metabolic state in which the body stops using carbohydrates for fuel, and instead burns fat from the body’s fat stores which it turns into acids called ketones.

Normally, entering ketosis takes days of adhering to a strict diet. But B.C. researchers have recently found a way to create a drink supplement that appears to do the same thing within minutes.

The drink is made of ketone esters that its developers say can act as a fourth “super fuel” to complement the fat, protein and carbs of other foods.

It’s also a drink that tastes horrible.

For this study, published Tuesday in the Journal of Physiology, University of British Columbia researchers tried to improve the taste of the beverage by adding vanilla flavour and calorie-free sweetener. But they also had to create a similarly-tasting water beverage to act as a study control to compare the two.

The researchers wanted to focus on how the drinks affect insulin control. They recruited 20 healthy men and women between the ages of 18 and 35 who were asked to fast overnight and then take a standard oral glucose tolerance test in the morning. During the test, users drink a super-sweet beverage and then blood samples reveal how their bodies reacted.

Most people experience a spike in blood sugar levels after the glucose drink. But study author Jonathan Little, an assistant professor at UBC’s School of Health and Exercise Sciences,  and his team found that when the participants drank the dose of ketone supplement 30 minutes before the test, they experienced much lower blood sugar spikes.

“So they were better able to control their blood sugar levels,” he told CTV News.

What’s more, not only did they have a reduced glycemic response, they also did not have an increase in insulin secretion, as might be expected. In fact, the study found they had improved markers of insulin sensitivity.

“These results suggest that ketone monoester supplements could have therapeutic potential in the management and prevention of metabolic disease,” Little and his colleagues write.

Little said the results are exciting because they suggest ketone supplements could be offered as a pre-meal “antidote” to avoid blood sugar spikes.

“You have this shot of ketones and then your blood sugars would be better for the rest of the day or as long as those ketones are around,” he said.

The research into ketone supplements is just beginning, but previous studies have found the supplements can boost energy and endurance in athletes, while also helping to curb appetite.

One of the researchers in this latest study, Kieran Clarke, co-invented the supplement used in the study, DeltaG Ketone. Clarke is also director of the company that provided the supplement.

This study itself was funded by a grant from Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council (NSERC).

Little said ketones are a promising area of research and their effects might reach beyond lowering glucose response.  They might also affect inflammation and tumour growth and could one day even offer a way to “feed the brain” of people with dementia.

With a report from CTV medical specialist Avis Favaro and producer Elizabeth St Philip