Research demonstrates how keto diet helps combat influenza

Keto diet has attracted many people towards it, but evidently, flu viruses do not see the appeal. A study conducted by researchers from Yale University has concluded that a ketogenic diet, which is a high-fat, low-carbohydrate diet, mainly including fish, meat, non-starchy vegetables, and poultry, triggers a subset of T cells in the lungs. These cells have never been linked to the immune system’s reaction to influenza, and their release was shown to improve mucus production from airway cells, virtually trapping the virus. The study showed that mice that were fed a ketogenic diet were more capable of fighting against the virus than mice that were fed a high-carbohydrate diet. The researchers have outlined their work in the journal Science Immunology.

Co-senior author Akiko Iwasaki, Waldemar Von Zedtwitz Professor of Immunobiology and Molecular, Cellular and Developmental Biology, and Investigator, Howard Hughes Medical Institute, says that it was an unexpected finding. Two trainees undertook the research project; Ryan Molony, who was working in Iwasaki’s lab, and Emily Goldberg, who was working with Visha Deep Dixit, Waldemar Von Zedtwitz Professor, Comparative Medicine and of Immunobiology, and a co-senior author of the paper. Iwasaki’s lab is credited with the discovery that the immune system activators known as ‘inflammasomes’ can harm the host’s immune system responses. Goldberg was working in Dixit’s lab that demonstrated that the ketogenic diet prevented the formation of inflammasomes. The two researchers wanted to inspect if diet could impact the immune system’s response to pathogens like the flu virus. Their experiments showed that mice on a ketogenic diet and infected with flu had a higher survival rate than mice that were on a high-carb normal diet. Notable, the researchers observed that the ketogenic diet prompted the release of gamma delta T cells, immune system cells that produce mucus in the cell linings of the lung, which was not observed in the mice that did not.

When the mice were bred without the gene responsible for coding for gamma delta T cells, the ketogenic diet was not able to provide any protection against the flu virus. Professor Dixit concludes that their study has shown that the technique employed by the body to burn fat to produce ketone bodies from the food consumed can power the immune system to combat flu infection.

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