Mice fed a ketogenic diet—in which 90 percent of calories come from fat and less than 1 percent from carbohydrates—were less susceptible to the influenza A virus, according to a study published [November 15] in Science Immunology. The protective effects seem to be mediated by an increase of so-called gamma-delta T cells in the animals’ lungs that induce the epithelial cells in the airway to make more mucus to trap the virus.
The findings indicate that the keto diet could have similar protective effects in people.
“Obese and diabetic patients incur more hospitalizations and have increased severity of influenza infections each year,” Julie Jameson, an immunologist at California State University, San Marcos, who did not participate in the work, writes in an email to The Scientist. It’s already known that a ketogenic diet can help these patients lose weight and improve their cholesterol levels and blood pressure, she adds, and this study raises the possibility that it “may have even more health benefits than previously reported.”
And it’s probably best to hold off on switching over to a ketogenic diet during flu season for now. “We do not extrapolate the findings in mice to people,” cautions [researcher Akiko] Iwasaki.
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