Clinical review: ketones and brain injury

Crit Care. 2011 Apr 6;15(2):219. doi: 10.1186/cc10020.


Although much feared by clinicians, the ability to produce ketones has allowed humans to withstand prolonged periods of starvation. At such times, ketones can supply up to 50% of basal energy requirements. More interesting, however, is the fact that ketones can provide as much as 70% of the brain's energy needs, more efficiently than glucose. Studies suggest that during times of acute brain injury, cerebral uptake of ketones increases significantly. Researchers have thus attempted to attenuate the effects of cerebral injury by administering ketones exogenously. Hypertonic saline is commonly utilized for management of intracranial hypertension following cerebral injury. A solution containing both hypertonic saline and ketones may prove ideal for managing the dual problems of refractory intracranial hypertension and low cerebral energy levels. The purpose of the present review is to explore the physiology of ketone body utilization by the brain in health and in a variety of neurological conditions, and to discuss the potential for ketone supplementation as a therapeutic option in traumatic brain injury.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Brain Injuries / drug therapy*
  • Brain Injuries / metabolism*
  • Critical Illness / therapy
  • Humans
  • Ketone Bodies / metabolism*
  • Ketones / metabolism*
  • Ketones / pharmacology
  • Ketones / therapeutic use*
  • Neuroprotective Agents / metabolism
  • Neuroprotective Agents / pharmacology
  • Neuroprotective Agents / therapeutic use*


  • Ketone Bodies
  • Ketones
  • Neuroprotective Agents