Ketogenic diet wards off flu, study finds

The ketogenic diet has gained immense popularity over the past years because it helps lose weight speedily, with a wide range of health benefits. Similar to the Atkins diet, the ketogenic diet may not only help people shed off extra pounds but also boosting the immune system and warding off flu.

A team of researchers at New Yale University has found that the ketogenic diet can protect from influenza infection in mice. Feeding mice infected with influenza with a high-fat and low-carbohydrate diet has led to a higher survival rate compared to those placed on a high-carbohydrate diet. The research is published in the 15th Nov 2019 edition of the journal Science Immunology.

Ketogenic diet. Image Credit: SewCream / Shutterstock
Ketogenic diet. Image Credit: SewCream / Shutterstock

Keto diet suppresses the inflammatory response

The body’s immune responses to infections are shaped by many extrinsic factors, such as social interactions, weather, and diet. In this case, feeding mice with a keto diet confers protection in the context of lethal influenza infection.

The ketogenic diet, wherein people only eat foods like meat, poultry, fish, and non-starchy vegetables, activates a subset of T cells in the lungs, which was not previously tied to the immune system’s response to the influenza virus. As a result, there is heightened production of mucus from airway cells, which can effectively trap the virus.

“This was a totally unexpected finding,” Akiko Iwasaki, Professor of Immunobiology and Molecular, Cellular and Developmental Biology, said.

Targeting inflammasomes

They found that the ketogenic diet, otherwise known as keto, stimulated the release immune system cells to produce mucus in the lung linings and trapped the virus before it can cause infection. The diet was effective in suppressing the formation of inflammasomes, an immune system receptor that triggers an inflammatory response.

Mice fed a ketogenic diet and infected with the influenza virus had a higher survival rate than those fed with a high-carbohydrate diet. They found that the keto diet stimulated the production of gamma delta T cells, which are types of immune system cells that produce mucus in the cell linings of the lings. On the other hand, a high-carb diet did not produce the same results.

The study shows that the way the body burns fat to produce ketones can boost the immune system to fight flu infection.

However, health experts suggest that while the results are interesting and promising, they are not particularly transferable to humans due to metabolic differences. Further research is needed to determine if the ketogenic diet can ward off flu in humans.

Fighting influenza

The respiratory influenza A virus (IAV) infections are major causes of human illness and mortality, causing more than 20,000 deaths each year in the United States. Usually, normal therapeutic approaches are used as a treatment of flu. However, the best way to prevent getting the flu is by boosting one’s immune system.

Still, health experts say that aside from boosting the immune response, one way to prevent getting the flu or curb severe complications is to get the flu vaccine.

What is the ketogenic diet?

The ketogenic diet is a type of eating pattern wherein people consume a high-fat and low-carbohydrate diet. Though the diet is very restrictive in terms of consuming carbohydrates and sugar, there are still lots of food choices you can select from.

The ketogenic diet is a low-carbohydrate diet, wherein the only recommended amount of carbs is less than 20 mg per day. The major idea is to restrict carbs, eat moderate amounts of protein, and eat lots of fat. This way, you will be in a state of ketosis, wherein the body uses the fats in the body as an energy source, hence, losing fat fast and quick.

In keto, you should steer clear from foods high in sugar, grains, and starches. You are also not allowed to eat some types of vegetables and fruits, root vegetables, condiments that contain sugar, diet products, low-fat products, unhealthy fats like processed vegetable oils, sugar-free diet foods, alcohol, beans, tofu, and legumes, among others. You should avoid pasta, rice, grains, and potatoes.

Journal reference:

Ketogenic diet activates protective γδ T cell responses against influenza virus infection Emily L. Goldberg, Ryan D. Molony, Eriko Kudo, Sviatoslav Sidorov, Yong Kong, Vishwa Deep Dixit and Akiko Iwasaki, Science Immunology 15 Nov 2019: Vol. 4, Issue 41, eaav2026 DOI: 10.1126/sciimmunol.aav2026, https://immunology.sciencemag.org/content/4/41/eaav2026

Angela Betsaida B. Laguipo

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Angela Betsaida B. Laguipo

Angela is a nurse by profession and a writer by heart. She graduated with honors (Cum Laude) for her Bachelor of Nursing degree at the University of Baguio, Philippines. She recently completed a Master's Degree where she specialized in Maternal and Child Nursing and is now working as a clinical instructor and educator in the School of Nursing at the University of Baguio.

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