New Flu Treatment: Ketogenic Diet

I have said a million times that there is no perfect diet for everyone. Each person begins life wired differently, and individual persons need individualized nutrition. For that reason, I have not jumped on the ketogenic bandwagon like many who sound like it fixes everything. However, I have to admit this research is pretty intriguing. In this mouse model, mice on a ketogenic diet survived flu infections at a higher rate than the normal carbohydrate diet mice.

Before you get your alarm bells going off thinking this is some wild eyed functional medicine propaganda, look at where the research came from… Yale University. These are serious researchers trying to unravel how influenza A can be controlled. With 20,000 annual US deaths and an estimated economic burden of $87 billion, a lot is at stake (1,2)

Researchers used genetically prepared mice to test their response to an influenza A infection after 7 days of a ketogenic diet. Earlier findings that a ketone called beta hydroxy butyrate (BHB) could inhibit inflammasome pathways which are stimulated in influenza A infections. Besides showing a higher survival rate, the mice also showing better oxygen saturation and lung gas exchange when ill.

Now with any study, correlations do not prove causation. A plausible mechanism of action must explain why a ketogenic diet for the mice could benefit them in their influenza attack. The researchers provided this as well. Mice fed the ketogenic diet had a higher γδ T cell number in their lungs. These immune cells improved lung barrier function by increasing mucous production. The increased γδ T cell number and the improved flu survival did not occur if a high fat + high carb diet was given or if only the BHB ketone was given alone.

Before everyone goes “KETO” for the winter, let’s go back to my first paragraph. There is no one diet that is perfect for everyone. You may not be a good fit for a keto diet if you have ACAT or SLC22A5 SNPS or if you are low in carnitine. Some patients just don’t process the high fat diet as well as others. However, if your body is friendly to the ketogenic diet, it may not be a bad idea to give a whirl over the winter especially since this year’s vaccine is pretty weak.

Living a healthier more abundant life requires knowing yourself in terms of what diet is right for you AND applying that knowledge or wisdom to your lifestyle. If you aren’t sure, find a functional medicine doctor to help you out.

Original Article:
Emily L. Goldberg, Ryan D. Molony, Eriko Kudo, Sviatoslav Sidorov, Yong Kong, Vishwa Deep Dixit, Akiko Iwasaki. Ketogenic diet activates protective γδ T cell responses against influenza virus infection. Science Immunology, 2019; 4 (41): eaav2026 DOI: 10.1126/sciimmunol.aav2026
Thanks to Science Daily:
Yale University. “Ketogenic diet helps tame flu virus.” ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 15 November 2019. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2019/11/191115190327.htm>.

Other Articles mentioned:
1. W. W. Thompson, E. Weintraub, P. Dhankhar, P.-Y. Cheng, L. Brammer, M. I. Meltzer, J. S. Bresee, D. K. Shay , Estimates of US influenza-associated deaths made using four different methods. Influenza Other Respi. Viruses 3, 37–49 (2009).
2. N.-A. M. Molinari, I. R. Ortega-Sanchez, M. L. Messonnier, W. W. Thompson, P. M. Wortley, E. Weintraub, C. B. Bridges. The annual impact of seasonal influenza in the US: measuring disease burden and costs. Vaccine 25, 5086–5096 (2007).


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.

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