A ketogenic diet containing high fat and low carbohydrates is linked to a better ability to fight off flu virus infections in mice, than food rich only in carbohydrates, according to a study.
The researchers, including Indian origin scientist Vishwa Deep Dixit from Yale University in the US, said the keto diet -- which includes meat, fish, poultry, and non-starchy vegetables -- activates a subset of the immune system's T cells in the lungs.
The study, published in the journal Science Immunology, said these cells -- which were previously not associated with the immune system's response to influenza -- enhance mucus production from airway cells to effectively trap the flu virus. The researchers had earlier found that immune system activators -- called inflammasomes -- can cause harmful immune system responses in their host. In earlier studies, they had also found that a ketogenic diet blocked formation of inflammasomes.
The findings of the current study revealed 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. The researchers said the ketogenic diet triggered the release of gamma delta T cells -- the immune system's cells which produce mucus in the cell linings of the lung -- while the high-carbohydrate diet did not generate this effect.
They added that the ketogenic diet did not provide protection against the influenza virus in mice that were bred without the gene for gamma delta T cells. "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 Dixit.