There is an addition to the list of benefits of the Keto diet. The popular diet may protect a person against the flu, a study has revealed. According to the research, ditching carbohydrates for lots of fat boosts certain immune cells in the mice, which protects them against the flu, as a higher survival rate has been observed in the influenza virus-infected rodents than those on a normal high-carbohydrate diet.
The high-fat, low-carbohydrate diet triggered the release of immune system cells that produce mucus in the cell linings of the lung and trapped the influenza virus before it became worse, the research suggested. The controversial diet that forces the body to burn fat for energy, which helps with weight loss, has also been linked with improved heart health and control of blood sugar in diabetic patients.
Akiko Iwasaki from Yale School of Medicine, who previously found that keto diet reduced inflammation in mice with gout, experimented whether the diet similarly dealt with flu-related inflammation that severely damages the lungs as inflammation was common to both gout and flu.
The team fed mice infected with influenza A either a keto or standard diet for a week before infection to note that all seven mice fed a standard diet died after four days of the infection, compared to only five out of the 10 mice on the keto diet, who did not even lose as much weight, a clear sign of flu infection in animals.
Influenza A virus (IAV) infection-associated morbidity and mortality are a key global health care concern, necessitating the identification of new therapies capable of reducing the severity of the infections.
The team found the keto diet amped up the numbers of a specific type of T cell – key players in the body's immune response and found in the lungs – that dampened the sensitivity of cells lining the lungs to infection and increased mucus production.
Iwasaki explained the extra mucus was important for protecting the mice as it trapped the flu virus to stop its spread, and stressed the finding could mean that people got similar protection from influenza when on the keto diet.
"We already knew of a link between diet and immunity," stressed John Tregoning from the Imperial College London, who wasn't involved in the work published in the journal Science Immunology.
Eating food rich in vitamin C, for example, strengthens our immune system, and switching to a keto diet may trigger the same effect to fights off the infection, said Tregoning. Respiratory influenza A virus (IAV) infections cause more than 20,000 deaths each year in the US and incur an economic burden in excess of $87 billion annually.