February 2, 2020, Richard L. Veech, M.D., Ph.D., passed away. He was 84. According to reports, he “died quietly in his sleep.”1 Veech has earned a place in medical history as a leader and pioneer of the ketogenic diet, having spent more than 50 years studying human metabolism as a biochemist.
I deeply regret not having interviewed him as he was a giant in the field. I was intimated by his pedigree and vast knowledge of not only molecular biology but the thermodynamics associated with biologic reactions. However, I think we would have had a great dialog. Thankfully Dave Asprey did a great job in the interview above.
The other person I regret never having interviewed was Robert Mendelsohn, the main pediatric leader that recognized the threat posed by vaccines. He died in 1988, shortly after I started practicing, and at the time I thought of him the way most view my position on vaccines today, as I had not yet done my homework.
However, even if I were enlightened about vaccines dangers at the time he passed, it would be 20 years before I started interviewing leaders in the field. Still, I deeply regret never connecting with him, especially since we both went to the University of Illinois.
Veech — A Leader and Hero
Veech studied under Sir Hans Krebs (after which the Krebs Cycle was named) while at Oxford in the mid-‘60s. Veech also served as chief of the Laboratory of Metabolic Control at the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism since 2000.2 As noted in the NIAAA’s announcement of his death:3
“He published broadly and deeply and achieved world-wide recognition as a father of metabolomics and advocate for the possible health benefits of ketones. His name will always be associated with cell metabolism, energy metabolism and ketones.
He was particularly interested in the relationship between cellular electrolyte balance and metabolism, as reflected in his controversial Donnan near-equilibrium hypothesis linking membrane voltage and ion changes to metabolism, redox and the free energy of ATP … He is also listed as an inventor on 26 US patents, most involving electrolyte composition of parenteral fluids or therapeutic uses of ketone bodies …”
Veech was also known for his real-world heroics. In the fall of 1968, he’d flown from Oxford to Boston to give a research presentation. His return flight crashed into Moose Mountain in New Hampshire. Veech was one of just 10 survivors on the flight; 32 passengers and crew died.
The death toll would have been even higher had it not been for Veech who, despite his own injuries, saved two other passengers trapped in the burning wreckage. In a 1968 news article about the crash, one of the survivors described Veech as “the real hero of this accident.”4
Veech’s Contribution to Public Health
Veech’s contribution to science and medicine, and indeed public health, cannot be overstated. He was the one who discovered the unique properties of the ketone body beta-hydroxybutyrate, which is generated in your liver when you fast or eat a ketogenic diet.
I have interviewed Travis Christofferson, author of “Tripping Over the Truth: How the Metabolic Theory of Cancer Is Overturning One of Medicine’s Most Entrenched Paradigms,” twice previously and he wrote a terrific memorial to Veech February 5. A highlight of that is below, but if you have any interest in this area I would encourage you to read the full article on Medium:5
“… Veech discovered beta-hydroxybutyrate had the unique ability to increase the potential energy of the critically important energy-storing, nucleotide coenzyme called adenosine triphosphate (ATP), thus, in effect, ‘supercharging’ our entire metabolism.
This feature of beta-hydroxybutyrate, Dr. Veech contended, was essential to human evolution; facilitating our survival through the inevitable food shortages that have occurred throughout history.
Our bodies ability to switch to ketone metabolism when food was unavailable allowed an average size person the ability survive 2 months, compared to 2 to 3 weeks under normal (carbohydrate) metabolism.
The state of ketosis, Dr. Veech believed, was vitally important to human health, yet has been marginalized in the western world simply because of our constant access to food, especially cheap carbohydrates.
‘… ketosis is a normal physiologic state. I would argue it is the normal state of man. It’s not normal to have McDonald’s and a delicatessen around every corner. It’s normal to starve,’ he said in a 2002 New York Times article written by Gary Taubes.”
Ketogenic Diet — A Proverbial Fountain of Youth
Veech, like me and many others today, was convinced that many of the health problems we now face result from never or rarely entering into nutritional ketosis. First of all, nutritional ketosis is a powerful yet simple way to improve your insulin sensitivity, thus minimizing your risk of a whole host of health problems, from Type 2 diabetes to heart disease and cancer.
While fasting, time-restricted eating and a cyclical ketogenic diet all improve ketone production naturally, you can also take exogenous ketones and MCT products that are less expensive but very effective, like caprylic acid.
Veech was a pioneer in developing a ketone ester that, when taken as a supplement, converts into the identical ketone bodies your body produces — thus allowing one to benefit from ketones even if you don’t fast or stick to a ketogenic diet.
In the video above, Dave Asprey of Bulletproof.com interviews Veech about nutritional ketosis and the ketone ester he invented. Veech has also been featured on Ben Greenfield’s podcast,6 where he touched on the benefits of ketones for Alzheimer’s patients.
In multiple studies, including those of Dr. Veech, ketones have been shown to be both neurotherapeutic and neuroprotective. They also appear to lower markers of systemic inflammation, such as IL-6 and others.
Veech believed beta-hydroxybutyrate had the ability to treat just about every disease state and predicted beta-hydroxybutyrate would play a role in longevity, a hypothesis that more recent research7,8,9,10 has shown to be an accurate one.
In the 2017 paper,11 “Ketone Bodies Mimic the Life Span Extending Properties of Caloric Restriction,” Veech and colleagues reviewed the current research and argued for exogenous ketone esters as a way to prevent and treat diseases of aging.
In a nine-page letter sent out to Veech’s friends and associates, his colleague William Curtis, who has educated me on ketone biochemistry during many long phone calls, details Veech’s contributions to science and medicine “in simple terms.” Curtis writes:
“Dr. Veech found out beta-hydroxybutyrate could provide more energy than other energy molecules. This was recently demonstrated at the 2019 Tour de France.
Each of the top three cyclists ascending the podium for the general classification category was known to be taking ketone monoester, an exogenous source of beta-hydroxybutyrate called ΔG®. It was developed by Dr. Veech and his long-time Oxford collaborator Prof. Kieran Clarke.
Dr. Veech did not set out to have his work used for athletes to win medals. His heart was in helping people. He wanted the ketone monoester to be used in medicine.
Dr. Veech knew that many diseases share a common trait. That trait is that in damaged, or stressed cells the gate that lets the glucose breakdown product, pyruvate, into the mitochondria shuts a door making it harder for pyruvate to enter. He also knew beta-hydroxybutyrate provided a way to circumvent the gate that blocks pyruvate.”
It’s with great sadness we say goodbye to one of the medical science’s great thinkers, researchers and inventors. While Veech had expressed frustration with the slow pace of change, being eager to share his knowledge with the world, I don’t foresee his contribution fading into the shadows anytime soon. Nutritional ketosis is here to stay, as more and more researchers are starting to investigate its power to radically improve health and reverse serious disease.