With old and new viruses running amok and disrupting our lives, nearly everyone is searching for an extra immunity boost. While billions are poured into attempts at finding the next wonder drug, others are searching for those simple hacks of daily life that can get the odds to favor us when we next encounter a feisty virus in a dark alley. While many over the counter supplements like vitamin D and vitamin C offer clear benefits, a popular nutritional adjustment may offer benefits as well. In this study, researchers not only demonstrated that a ketogenic state could improve CD8+ T Cell function but isolated the likely mechanism behind the molecular switch.
CD8+ T cells play a key role in clearing pathogens like viruses and bacteria as well as well dealing with cancer cell surveillance. When they are in their effector state, they can pack a good punch against both the pathogens and the cancer cells before either get the upper hand. In a memory state, they remain poised to reawaken and address present threats when they arise. These immune cells turn on when triggered by specific receptors, but the increased energy needs of the effector state require more nutrients to keep up. How to flip the switch on these immune defense was not previously clear.
Through several stages of study, the researchers demonstrated that activated CD8+ T cells increased their metabolic activity in response to ketone bodies. These ketone bodies increase when glucose levels are low in the blood and the liver responds by increasing ketone body production. When they experimentally increased ketone bodies, the activity of CD8+ T cells increased. This appeared to occur through modifying which genes were turned into proteins (transcribed) and by shifting metabolic pathways towards ketone utilization rather than glucose utilization. By blocking an enzyme involved in ketone body utilization, the T cells did not become activated.
In the big picture, more research is needed to confirm these mechanisms as well as study how to utilize ketone inducing conditions in human illnesses. The ketogenic diet or fasting can both increase ketones and could therefore potentially augment immunity. At the same time, other cellular processes require only energy production and nutrition provision. Like any other tool, we must discern when and how and where to use it. Questions to ask include whether a short burst of ketogenesis early in the infection would be better than a later or continuous intervention and exactly how long should one stay in ketosis.
While the internet may label the old saying ‘Starve a fever’ as a myth, there may be some truth to that cliché. At the same time, adequate hydration and an adequate supply of immune nutrients is critical for optimal immune function. If starving a fever means not getting enough vitamin C, zinc, and other nutrients, then the combined effects may be a wash or worse. Helping patients live healthier, more abundant lives means sorting through these studies with their varying outcomes to guide each patient on their own personal health journey to optimal wellness.
Katarzyna M. Luda, Joseph Longo, Susan M. Kitchen-Goosen, Lauren R. Duimstra, Eric H. Ma, McLane J. Watson, Brandon M. Oswald, Zhen Fu, Zachary Madaj, Ariana Kupai, Bradley M. Dickson, Lisa M. DeCamp, Michael S. Dahabieh, Shelby E. Compton, Robert Teis, Irem Kaymak, Kin H. Lau, Daniel P. Kelly, Patrycja Puchalska, Kelsey S. Williams, Connie M. Krawczyk, Dominique Lévesque, François-Michel Boisvert, Ryan D. Sheldon, Scott B. Rothbart, Peter A. Crawford, Russell G. Jones. Ketolysis drives CD8+ T cell effector function through effects on histone acetylation. Immunity, 2023; DOI: 10.1016/j.immuni.2023.07.002
Thanks to Science Daily:
Van Andel Research Institute. “Alternative cellular ‘fuels’ boost immunity.” ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 28 July 2023. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2023/07/230728113401.htm>.
Sanctuary Functional Medicine, under the direction of Dr Eric Potter, IFMCP MD, provides functional medicine services to Nashville, Middle Tennessee and beyond. We frequently treat patients from Kentucky, Alabama, Mississippi, Georgia, Ohio, Indiana, and more... offering the hope of healthier more abundant lives to those with chronic illness.