A new study suggests that eating the high fat, low-carb keto diet means individuals who get the flu have a better chance at beating the illness than those not on the diet.
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The study was published in the journal Science Immunology and reported by Medical News Today. It tested how a keto diet would affect the host against a lethal influenza infection. Professors Akiko Iwasaki and Vishwa Deep Dixit of the Yale School of Medicine's department of immunobiology randomly assigned mice a keto diet or a high-carb diet one week before injecting them with the flu.
The results showed that the mice that ate the diet, which typically includes various meat, fish, poultry and nonstarchy vegetables, had higher survival rates than mice who ate carb-heavy diets. The two senior researches believed this is tied to the keto diet-blocking inflammasomes, which induce inflammation in response to infections.
Inflammasomes can also induce harmful immune system responses in the host, triggering gamma delta T cells. These cells produce mucus in the lungs, aiding the body to expunge infectious agents via coughing them out through the airways. The study found that T gamma cells, which expand more rapidly in humans than in mice, resulted in lowered presence of the flu virus in mice who ate the keto diet.
Still, an instance arose when the keto diet offered no protection against the flu. Researchers found when mice were reproduced without the gene that produces gamma delta T cells, keto didn’t shield them from influenza.
"This was a totally unexpected finding," Iwasaki said.
But researchers expect that the rise in T gamma cells may improve the barrier and natural defense line of airway-lining cells, which promotes an enhanced response to the flu. Although more studies are needed, this indicates that a change in diet, not taking prescription drugs, could be the key to combating the virus, which the AJC previously reported has been steadily rising.