Research Reveals Keto Diet Could Help Fight the Flu

Turns out cutting carbs could boost your immune system’s ability to fight the virus.

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(Note: Regardless of what else you read here, get the flu shot, no matter what. And don’t even think of betting on diet to fight coronavirus. Stay home, social distance like crazy.) 

Keto diets work. That is, if you follow the rules even loosely, you will lose weight. Whether a diet focused heavily on fats and proteins and lacking in carbs is good for you long-term or not, however, is a subject of much debate

The arguments for keto have another boost, though, in research from Yale University that appears to indicate a high-fat, low-carb diet has the potential to help you fight the flu. 

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Let’s be clear: It’s not smart to mess with influenza. People should just get the vaccine. But every year plenty of people wait a little too long to get it, or they catch a flu bug not covered by the shot. In their study published in Science Immunology, Yale researchers revealed that through research with flu-infected mice they put on a keto diet they discovered that the keto mice simply had a better survival rate than the mice on a regular diet.

A Yale blog post published after the study was released in mid-November elaborated:

The ketogenic diet — which for people includes meat, fish, poultry, and non-starchy vegetables — activates a subset of T cells in the lungs not previously associated with the immune system’s response to influenza, enhancing mucus production from airway cells that can effectively trap the virus, the researchers report.

“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.

A byproduct of keto’s effect on the body appears to trigger an extra immune-boosting response, then, kind of an extra boost to the systems that fall in place when the body’s normal defenses come into play.

The research project that discovered the keto effect on flu sufferers came about after a pair of trainee scientists noted that the immune system could produce damaging “inflammasomes,” which are harmful because they can cause the body’s bug-fighting defenses to kick into overdrive, overwhelming the organs and possibly killing the patient. 

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Someone noticed that diets consisting of meat, fish, poultry, and non-starchy vegetables tended to block inflammasomes. So they went to work on their unfortunate mice—and discovered the happy carb-consuming rodents were less likely to develop the mucous that can coat the lungs and isolate the body from influenza’s onslaught. 

Co-senior study author Vishwa Deep Dixit concluded, “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.” 

Chalk one up for keto this time, then. But seriously, don’t rely on diet.