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By Geoffrey Woo & Michael Brandt, Co-founders and Dr. Latt Mansor, Research Lead

October 29, 2021

Ancestral Metabolism

Ketones — specifically D-β-hydroxybutyrate (D-BHB) — are a metabolic superfuel. Scientists have known for decades that the human body naturally creates ketones during both fasting and intense exercise. Essentially in ancestral humans, when the body was metabolically challenged during periods of starvation, ketones came and saved the day. However, in the hyper-industrialized and hyper-consumption food environment of today, humans rarely, if ever, use ketones. 

Thus, the key question is this: is it possible to invent something that delivers the benefits of ketones in a quick and easy way? This was what the United States Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) began pondering in the early 2000s.


DARPA is often at the forefront of what is possible. Enhancing human performance and endurance is usually sci-fi fodder, but it’s science reality for DARPA and collaborators.

For decades, the standard fueling for endurance performance has been simply to slam more carbs — sports drinks, glucose pouches, etc. While that works to an extent, it’s an incomplete strategy with biochemical limits. Plus, consuming too much sugar over time can lead to insulin insensitivity. Joe Belitski, a DARPA Program Manager, was interested in novel ways of improving mitochondrial (the “power plant” of the cell) functioning. In his words, he only looks at projects that are “revolutionary,” not “evolutionary.” 

(Take a rare look behind the scenes at DARPA with H.V.M.N. co-founder, Geoffrey Woo, sitting down with Joe on the H.V.M.N. Podcast.)

Joe’s program was called “Metabolic Dominance” (later renamed to “Peak Soldier Performance”). A number of research projects spun off from this initial seed. As expected with moonshot type endeavors, many of these efforts never left the academic lab bench.

In 2017, H.V.M.N. entered the picture. Co-founders Geoff and Michael were early pioneers of intermittent fasting and biohacking in Silicon Valley. They intuitively understood the power of ketones and the discipline required to actually re-shape one’s metabolism to generate them. 

Geoff and Michael became obsessed with finding better methods and techniques to more easily metabolize ketones and stumbled upon the nigh forgotten research initiated by DARPA. After deep literature review, conversations with top researchers, and recruiting world-class metabolic biochemists like Dr. Latt Mansor from University of Oxford, H.V.M.N. quickly realized that ketones were a nutritional primitive, something different from anything else out there. H.V.M.N. led the effort to re-invigorate the languishing research and funded the supply chain to productize and launch H.V.M.N. Ketone 1.0, the first-ever drinkable ketone. 

Soon after, H.V.M.N. made headlines around the world and became trusted partners with some of the very best performers in the world. We supplied drinkable ketones to many of the top teams on the Tour de France; helped cyclist, Vittoria Bussi, break a world record; and supplied athletes in every three-letter sports league in the United States. We also recruited General Peter Pace (retired), former Chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the highest ranking military officer in the nation, to be a Senior Advisor to H.V.M.N. He was the senior official who signed off on the initial DARPA work in the early 2000s, and with his help and guidance, H.V.M.N. is continuing the next chapter of research:the deployment of ketones into the US Department of Defense.

H.V.M.N. x USSOCOM Phase 1

But we didn’t just rest on the laurels of previous research. H.V.M.N. is proud to carry the “out-of-the-box” ethos forward, and further the limits of human understanding of metabolism and performance. In 2018, H.V.M.N., in partnership with the Institute for Human & Machine Cognition (IHMC), was awarded a Phase I STTR by the US Special Operations Command (USSOCOM) to look at the application of ketones for operator performance in extreme environments, specifically hypoxic or low-oxygen environments. This research has applications for soldier performance at altitude, in mountains, on fighter jets, and, potentially one day, in space. 

Low oxygen degrades and can compromise both individual and team performance. In the brain, this is linked to falling energy levels, an increased reliance on anaerobic energy production from glucose, and the accumulation of lactate. Could ketones be the reserve superfuel that mitigates performance decrements? Our study was designed to answer this question. 

Long story short, the data was so impressive that USSOCOM chose to fund H.V.M.N. with a $6 million award to pursue a broader and more expansive R&D effort in 2019.

H.V.M.N. x USSOCOM Phase 2

Phase 2 broadened out the R&D parameters. We were no longer just investigating efficacy for cognition, but potential efficacy of ketones for a number of physical performance and recovery variables.

Our research team led by Dr. Latt Mansor has been working on this project for the past two years, and we’re set to have definitive data by June 2023. Through this research, we’ll have a better understanding of:

  • How ketones impact cognition under stressors like hypoxia
  • Ketones and physical endurance under stressors like hypoxia
  • Ketones’ impact on physiological reserve and oxygen availability during hypoxic exposure
  • Strategies to improve the taste, affordability, stability, and scalability of ketones

This research has come full circle after more than twenty years, from DARPA to H.V.M.N. We’re proud to continue the important work of basic science, standing on the shoulders of brilliant researchers, advisors, and mentors. Below, check out co-founder Geoff participating in a trial simulation of a high-altitude cognitive and physical performance assessment.

A Future of Possibilities 

One of the most exciting and important aspects of our mission at H.V.M.N. is the work we do with the US Department of Defense to research and develop best-in-class nutrition for our troops. On a patriotic note, there’s nowhere else in the world we’d rather be as inventors and citizens, and we’re glad to do our part to contribute.

With the announcement of H.V.M.N. Ketone-IQ, we reduced the cost of drinkable ketones by 66%, improved their palatability, and extended the duration of elevated blood ketones. While we might not all be elite operators, we all want better health and a healthier metabolism. We hope to extend our understanding of extreme performance in demanding environments to support better metabolic health and wellness for every human.

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