A new animal study from Yale University suggests the ketogenic diet helps prevent flu virus infection when compared to a high-carb diet.
But what does the latest keto flu study really mean for humans?
Is there reason to believe your diet affects your immunity, and if so, is a low-carb diet best for immune function?
In this article, you’ll learn what science says about your diet and your immune system, and why the high-fat keto diet could offer unique immune-boosting benefits compared to other diets.
The most effective tips for preventing cold or flu might be common knowledge, but what about the role of foods you eat on a regular basis?
As it turns out, scientific studies have found that diet does affect your immune function in multiple ways.
- A nutrient deficiency in your diet increases infection risk[*].
- Including microbiome-boosting probiotics and fermented foods in your diet may lower the risk of infection, decrease the severity of illness, or help you recover faster[*][*].
- Insulin resistance from overeating carbs increases inflammation and changes how your immune system works[*].
- Obesity, especially excess belly fat, can lower immune function and raise your risk of an infection[*].
Keep reading to learn about new and exciting findings on the keto diet and your immune system.
#1: Keto May Fuel Your Immune System to Fight the Flu
In a 2019 flu study performed at Yale University, researchers stumbled upon a surprising finding: mice on the keto diet had a higher survival rate compared to mice eating a high-carbohydrate diet[*].
Akiko Iwasaki and colleagues published their research in the peer-reviewed journal Science Immunology.
Initially, they became interested in the ability of the keto diet to block the formation of inflammasomes, immune system activators that can damage or destroy cells during infection.
For the purposes of the experiment, the scientists divided mice into two groups, one receiving a low-carb, ketogenic diet and the other eating a diet much higher in carbohydrates.
After influenza virus infection, the keto diet mice were not only more likely to survive, but also had better lung function.
Iwasaki and colleagues found that the lungs of keto mice were less affected by the flu, and that the keto diet supplied lung cells of infected mice with more energy to fight off infection.
As a result, the mice on the keto diet produced more gamma delta T cells, protective mucus-producing immune cells that helped to increase their survival rate.
While it’s not yet 100% certain whether keto has similar anti-flu effects in humans, the authors of the paper think there’s a good chance that it may.
However, there’s a minor catch: taking exogenous ketones didn’t work for the mice, so the researchers suspect that, like mice, people need to achieve ketosis for immune-enhancing benefits.
#2: The Keto Diet Could Fix Your Microbiome
At least seven human studies and three animal studies suggest that going keto could change your microbiome[*].
Essentially, your gut flora and the bacteria throughout your body play an essential (and complex) role in your immune function[*].
And disruptions or imbalances in your body’s bacteria can increase the risk of some health problems, including infection[*].
Therefore, it’s too early to be certain, but future studies may demonstrate that keto enhances your immune response by improving the health of your microbiome.
#3: Beta-Hydroxybutyrate Reduces Inflammation
Keto might reduce the damage that infections do to your body by helping to decrease inflammation.
When you eat very few carbohydrates, your body burns fat for fuel. And when you rely on fat oxidation, your liver also produces ketone bodies–including beta-hydroxybutyrate (BHB).
The keto diet is anti-inflammatory, and BHB appears to be one of the primary reasons why.
For example, studies show that BHB provides an efficient energy source for mental function while reducing inflammatory activity in your brain[*].
Additionally, researchers have found that BHB can reduce inflammation in other areas of your body, too.
The anti-inflammatory effects of BHB are partially due to its ability to block the formation of inflammasomes[*].
Let’s connect the dots: when you’re with a viral or bacterial infection, inflammasome formation can wreak havoc on your body, but going keto appears to decrease harmful immune system responses thanks to BHB.
Therefore, it’s possible that the ketogenic diet could reduce the adverse effects of a variety of infections, not just the flu.
#4: Insulin Resistance and Infection
It’s common knowledge that poor insulin sensitivity and high blood sugar increase your risk of certain diseases, but did you know that infectious diseases can actually cause insulin resistance?
In one study of middle-aged men, chronic low-grade infections not only increased inflammation, but also decreased insulin sensitivity[*].
And other research shows that even short-term viral or bacterial infections can interfere with your body’s ability to use glucose correctly[*].
What does all that mean? Actually, no one’s entirely sure yet, but we do know that metabolic problems like insulin resistance aren’t desirable.
Fortunately, going keto can help improve your insulin sensitivity and provide insulin-resistant cells with the energy they need to do their jobs correctly[*].
Research into keto and immune function is early, but extremely promising.
Keto may provide your immune system with more energy to fight off infections like the flu.
It also has positive effects on your microbiome, lowers your body’s inflammation levels, and helps to reverse insulin resistance–all of which are good news for the flu and other infections.
Stay tuned for more fascinating keto study results in the coming years. However, if you’re having trouble deciding which diet to adopt, don’t forget all the proven ways a very-low-carb, high-fat diet can enhance your health starting today.