The ketogenic diet has gained tremendous popularity over the past years, given the belief that it can promote weight loss and be associated with a variety of health benefits. Now comes research that suggests you may not only get a quick weight loss benefit; the ketogenic diet may not only help you shed off extra pounds, but also boost the immune system and warding off flu. The caveat? We are only talking among mice currently.
Researchers at my old alma mater, Yale Medical School (USA) fed mice infected with influenza with a high-fat and low-carbohydrate. They found these mice had a longer survival, as compared to those on a high-carbohydrate diet. Publishing in the 15th Nov 2019 edition of the journal Science Immunology, they also discovered that:
Mice fed a ketogenic diet were better able to combat the flu virus than mice fed food high in carbohydrates.
The ketogenic diet — which for people includes meat, fish, poultry, and non-starchy vegetables — activates a subset of immune system gamma delta T-cells in the lungs not previously associated with the immune system’s response to influenza. These are immune system cells that produce mucus in the cell linings of the lung, enhancing mucus production from airway cells that can effectively trap the virus.
They showed that mice fed a ketogenic diet and infected with the influenza virus had a higher survival rate than mice on a high-carb normal diet. Specifically, the researchers found that the ketogenic diet triggered the release of gamma delta T cells, — while the high-carbohydrate diet did not.
“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.
When mice were bred without the gene that codes for gamma delta T cells, the ketogenic diet provided no protection 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. While I don’t know that there is anything actionable for the human readers of this piece amongst us (mouse readers, you know what you need to do), if you already are on a ketogenic diet, perhaps you will get a bit of protection against the flu!
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; 4 (41): eaav2026 DOI: 10.1126/sciimmunol.aav2026