Researchers at Yale University found that mice that were fed a ketogenic diet were able to ward off the flu virus better than mice that were fed a diet high in carbohydrates. The results are published in the Nov. 15 issue of the journal, Science Immunology. Mice consuming the ketogenic diet were more likely to survive a serious strain of influenza and lost less weight than mice eating the high-carbohydrate diet.
The scientists discovered that the ketogenic diet stimulates a subgroup of T cells (gamma delta T cells) in the lungs, which increases mucus production and traps flu virus particles, according to the study results. The diet also improved the barrier function of the mice’s lungs, so they were less sensitive to infection.
“The ketogenic diet is a high-fat diet that drastically restricts carbohydrates. It produces a reaction in the body that is similar to the fasting state,” according to Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD, of MedicineNet. The diet is sometimes used to treat seizure disorders. The ketogenic diet is not recommended for weight loss because it may be associated with health risks and nutritional deficiencies.
The key to the ketogenic diet’s ability to combat the flu in mice may be that it tames inflammation. Inflammasomes are compounds that activate inflammatory responses that may harm their host, according to study co-author, Ryan Molony. Prior research conducted in co-senior author Visha Deep Dixit’s lab showed that the ketogenic diet inhibits the secretion of inflammasomes. Inhibiting inflammasomes prevents this damaging inflammatory response.
Influenza, or the flu, is caused by viruses that infect the respiratory tract, according to Charles Patrick Davis, MD, PhD, of MedicineNet. The flu causes symptoms like fever, chills, headache, muscle aches, fatigue, cough, and sore throat. The flu can be serious, and even deadly. The mortality rate (death rate) of influenza is about 0.1% of people infected with the virus.
The illness may be more serious for certain high-risk populations, including infants, the elderly, and pregnant women, Dr. Davis said. People who have asthma, lung conditions, and cancer are also at greater risk of complications from the flu.
“Annual influenza vaccination can prevent most of the illness and death that influenza causes,” Dr. Davis said. If you get sick with the flu and are otherwise healthy and not part of a high-risk group, you can treat symptoms at home. Stay well hydrated, take warm showers, and apply warm compresses to reduce body aches, reduce nasal congestion, and head congestion. Nasal strips and humidifiers may help you breathe more easily. Over-the-counter medications may help relieve fever, pain, and cough.
Further research is needed to determine if ketogenic diets may help people combat the flu. In the meantime, follow your doctor’s recommendations for how to stay healthy during cold and flu season.