Can The Ketogenic Diet Beat The Flu?

Mention that you’re on the ketogenic diet and you are just as likely to get scoffed at as you are to hear support.

However, according to new research published in the November 15 edition of the journal Science Immunology, those who want better resistance to the influenza virus may want to consider the “keto” diet as part of their anti-flu arsenal.

Ketogenic diets employ high levels of dietary fats paired with very low levels of carbohydrate intake. Keto is reported to have many benefits, including easier weight loss, improved joint health and improved brain function. Until now, however, any claims of better flu resistance were anecdotal, at best.

Researchers at Yale University fed mice a ketogenic diet and made a startling find. The keto mice were better able to fight off the flu virus than their carbohydrate-fueled counterparts.

It turns out that the keto diet turns on a subset of T cells found in the lungs that enhance mucus production in certain cells in the airways, which are effective at trapping the flu virus. These cells were not previously observed as part of the immune system’s response to influenza.

“This was a totally unexpected finding,” said co-senior author Akiko Iwasaki, the Waldemar Von Zedtwitz Professor of Immunobiology and Molecular, Cellular and Developmental Biology, and an investigator of the Howard Hughes Medical Institute.

Two separate sets of researchers cooked up the experiment. In the lab of Akiko Iwasaki, Waldemar Von Zedtwitz Professor of Immunobiology and Molecular, Cellular and Developmental Biology at Yale, researcher Ryan Molony found immune system activators called inflammasomes. Inflammasomes cause harmful immune system responses in their hosts.

Meanwhile, in the lab of Visha Deep Dixit, Waldemar Von Zedtwitz Professor of Comparative Medicine and of Immunobiology, Emily Goldberg discovered that the keto diet blocked the formation of those same inflammasomes.

Naturally, the pair asked the obvious question; “Can the ketogenic diet influence the immune system response to pathogens like the flu virus?”

Their research revealed that mice fed the ketogenic diet produced more gamma delta T cells. These cells produce mucus in the cell linings of the lungs. Mice on a high-carbohydrate diet had no such improvement. As a result, the “keto mice” enjoyed a higher survival rate than the carbohydrate-fed mice.

Researchers bred mice without the gene which codes for the gamma delta T cells and found that the ketogenic diet then provided no added defense against the influenza virus.

“This study shows that the way the body burns fat to produce ketone bodies from the food we eat can fuel the immune system to fight flu infection,” Dixit said.

It seems that while the ketogenic diet can split opinion like a Donald Trump-Hillary Clinton election, it may be just what the doctor ordered when it comes to fighting the flu. While I’m sure I’ll hear plenty from the vegan and vegetarian crowd, this is science and I’m just sharing it as I found it!

Keep the faith and keep after it!


Journal Reference – Emily L. Goldberg, Ryan D. Molony, Eriko Kudo, Sviatoslav Sidorov, Yong Kong, Vishwa Deep Dixit, Akiko Iwasaki. Ketogenic diet activates protective γδ T cell responses against influenza virus infection. Science Immunology, 2019

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