Ketone bodies mimic the life span extending properties of caloric restriction
The extension of life span by caloric restriction has been studied across species from yeast and Caenorhabditis elegans to primates. No generally accepted theory has been proposed to explain these observations. Here, we propose that the life span extension produced by caloric restriction can be duplicated by the metabolic changes induced by ketosis.
From nematodes to mice, extension of life span results from decreased signaling through the insulin/insulin-like growth factor receptor signaling (IIS) pathway. Decreased IIS diminishes phosphatidylinositol (3,4,5) triphosphate (PIP3) production, leading to reduced PI3K and AKT kinase activity and decreased forkhead box O transcription factor (FOXO) phosphorylation, allowing FOXO proteins to remain in the nucleus. In the nucleus, FOXO proteins increase the transcription of genes encoding antioxidant enzymes, including superoxide dismutase 2, catalase, glutathione peroxidase, and hundreds of other genes.
An effective method for combating free radical damage occurs through the metabolism of ketone bodies, ketosis being the characteristic physiological change brought about by caloric restriction from fruit flies to primates. A dietary ketone ester also decreases circulating glucose and insulin leading to decreased IIS. The ketone body, d-β-hydroxybutyrate (d-βHB), is a natural inhibitor of class I and IIa histone deacetylases that repress transcription of the FOXO3a gene.
Therefore, ketosis results in transcription of the enzymes of the antioxidant pathways. In addition, the metabolism of ketone bodies results in a more negative redox potential of the NADP antioxidant system, which is a terminal destructor of oxygen free radicals. Addition of d-βHB to cultures of C. elegans extends life span. We hypothesize that increasing the levels of ketone bodies will also extend the life span of humans and that calorie restriction extends life span at least in part through increasing the levels of ketone bodies.
An exogenous ketone ester provides a new tool for mimicking the effects of caloric restriction that can be used in future research. The ability to power mitochondria in aged individuals that have limited ability to oxidize glucose metabolites due to pyruvate dehydrogenase inhibition suggests new lines of research for preventative measures and treatments for aging and aging-related disorders. © 2017 The Authors IUBMB Life published by Wiley Periodicals, Inc. on behalf of International Union of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, 69(5):305–314, 2017.
Aging in man is accompanied by deterioration of a number of systems. Most notable are a gradual increase in blood sugar and blood lipids, increased narrowing of blood vessels, an increase in the incidence of malignancies, the deterioration and loss of elasticity in skin, loss of muscular strength and physiological exercise performance, deterioration of memory and cognitive performance, and in males decreases in erectile function.
Many aging-induced changes, such as the incidence of malignancies in mice , the increases in blood glucose and insulin caused by insulin resistance [39, 78], and the muscular weakness have been shown to be decreased by the metabolism of ketone bodies [18, 83], a normal metabolite produced from fatty acids by liver during periods of prolonged fasting or caloric restriction .
The unique ability of ketone bodies to supply energy to brain during periods of impairment of glucose metabolism make ketosis an effective treatment for a number of neurological conditions which are currently without effective therapies. Impairment of cognitive function has also been shown to be improved by the metabolism of ketone bodies . Additionally, Alzheimer’s disease, the major cause of which is aging  can be improved clinically by the induction of mild ketosis in a mouse model of the disease  and in humans .
Ketosis also improves function in Parkinson’s disease  which is thought to be largely caused by mitochondrial free radical damage [19, 88]. Ketone bodies are also useful in ameliorating the symptoms of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis . It is also recognized that ketosis could have important therapeutic applications in a wide variety of other diseases  including Glut 1 deficiency, type I diabetes , obesity [78, 92], and insulin resistance [20, 39, 93], and diseases of diverse etiology .
In addition to ameliorating a number of diseases associated with aging, the general deterioration of cellular systems independent of specific disease seems related to ROS toxicity and the inability to combat it. In contrast increases in life span occur across a number of species with a reduction in function of the IIS pathway and/or an activation of the FOXO transcription factors, inducing expression of the enzymes required for free radical detoxification (Figs. 1 and 2). In C. elegans, these results have been accomplished using RNA interference or mutant animals. Similar changes should be able to be achieved in higher animals, including humans, by the administration of d-βHB itself or its esters.
In summary, decreased signaling through the insulin/IGF-1 receptor pathway increases life span. Decreased insulin/IGF-1 receptor activation leads to a decrease in PIP3, a decrease in the phosphorylation and activity of phosphoinositide-dependent protein kinase (PDPK1), a decrease in the phosphorylation and activity of AKT, and a subsequent decrease in the phosphorylation of FOXO transcription factors, allowing them to continue to reside in the nucleus and to increase the transcription of the enzymes of the antioxidant pathway.
In mammals, many of these changes can be brought about by the metabolism of ketone bodies. The metabolism of ketones lowers the blood glucose and insulin thus decreasing the activity of the IIS and its attendant changes in the pathway described above.
However, in addition ketone bodies act as a natural inhibitor of class I HDACs, inducing FOXO gene expression stimulating the synthesis of antioxidant and metabolic enzymes. An added important factor is that the metabolism of ketone bodies in mammals increases the reducing power of the NADP system providing the thermodynamic drive to destroy oxygen free radicals which are a major cause of the aging process.