A study published in the journal Science Immunology suggests that a high-fat, low-carbohydrate diet like the Keto regimen may help combat the flu virus.

Researchers had previously found that immune system activators called inflammasomes can cause harmful immune system responses in their host. They also had shown that the ketogenic diet blocked formation of inflammasomes. In this study, the researchers set out to test whether diet could affect immune system response to pathogens such as the flu 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, immune system cells that produce mucus in the cell linings of the lung—while the high-carbohydrate diet did not. The mucus helps trap the flu virus, the researchers reported.

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,” said co-senior author Visha Deep Dixit, the Waldemar Von Zedtwitz professor of Comparative Medicine and of Immunobiology at Yale University, in a press release.

Study

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