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A high fat diet protects mice from flu

Ketogenic diet

17 December 2019

Could the beneficial impact some people see while on a ketogenic diet extend to protecting them from influenza?

A ketogenic diet, low in carbohydrates and high in fats, seems to protect mice from influenza. Mice fed a keto diet for one week showed reduced flu symptoms and the ability for the virus to replicate in the lungs was also compromised.

The study was carried out by a team at Yale School of Medicine, US. A small number of specially bred mice were fed one of three different diets before being infected with influenza A virus. Mice fed a keto diet were less susceptible to infection and had a higher survival rate than mice on a high carbohydrate diet.

The researchers surmise that the keto diet activates a subset of immune cells in the lungs – gamma delta T cells – not previously associated with the response to influenza. These cells enhance mucus production in the cell lining of the lung, helping to trap the virus. When mice were bred without the gene that codes for gamma delta T cells, the keto diet provided no protection against the virus. Mice fed a high carbohydrate, high fat diet also had a greater number delta T cells in the lung, but this did not protect against infection.

With the metabolism of mice and humans being so different it is unclear what these findings would mean for people on a keto diet. However the significance of the study is that it does add to the body of evidence indicating that diet plays an important role determining risk of both non-infectious and infectious diseases.

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