February 20

It’s Flu Season! Can The Keto Diet Help Defeat The Flu?

Flu season is officially in full swing and many people are knee deep in the annual struggle to try and not contract the flu.  Whether or not you decide to get a flu shot is entirely up to the individual preference though as a provider I feel it is my duty to inform the masses of the many benefits the flu shot contains.  To dispel the rumor, getting a flu shot will not make you sick. The flu shot is a recombinant vaccine that uses parts of a dead virus to build a shot term immunity to help get you through the season.  It takes about two weeks for your body to start to really have a defense, and so if exposed before the flu shot has become active you can still contract an active infection.  Those that opt to get a flu vaccine and do contract the flu will often have abbreviated symptoms and a lot les severity than those that don’t.             

 If you do contract influenza however, there may be options outside of Tamiflu.  Recent results show a study in mice that suggest the body may be able to defeat the virus if the body has the right sort of diet, such as a keto diet. Since the flu vaccine’s introduction, infection and morbidity rates have been greatly reduced although there is still no cure for the illness. Healthcare professionals and scientists alike continue for novel approaches to the flu, yet the ultimate key may be contained within the body’s own immune system.  Moreover, the key may be activated by the keto diet.  

The objective of the study was to determine how the keto diet affected host defense against a lethal flu virus infection.  The researchers randomly assigned the mice to diet groups 1 week before they induced the infection.  Next, the rodents were monitored for signs of infection and their immune responses were assessed.  The team found that keto diet feeding confers protection against the flu virus in mice by increasing the number of gamma delta T cells in the airway, which are responsible for producing mucus in the linings of the lungs and helps the body get rid of infectious agents. 

Previous research in mice has shown that a specific subset of gamma delta T cells can efficiently induce the cytolytic killing of flu infected airway cells.  In the current study, the expansion of gamma delta T cells resulted in lower viral titers in mice that had received the keto diet, meaning less cells affected by the flu virus. 

So how exactly do the gamma delta T cells help a host in response to the keto diet?  The current theory is that the expansion of these cells in response to ketogenic feeding, leads to more efficient killing of the flu virus. This in turn results in lower viral titers and better preservation of the cells lining the airways. These results demonstrate that the answer to combatting the flu virus does not necessarily lie in producing drugs to relieve flu symptoms and that changing the diet can have a dramatic effect on how the body responds to infection. The results would also suggest that if the flu can be handled this way, perhaps other viruses can be tackled in a similar way.

So if you are diagnosed with the flu, or even have flu like symptoms: fever, sore throat, body aches, chills, nausea, or vomiting. Consider going on the keto diet, at least temporarily, to aid your body in the defense of this annual pest! 


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