Much ado about keto and influenza (in mice)

The concept of runny nose. Rat scratching his nose.

File this one under the heading of “Fascinating but not quite sure what to make of it.”

A new study shows that mice fed a ketogenic diet for seven days were protected from a lethal flu virus by increasing the number of specialized immune cells in their lungs. But interestingly, this protection only came once the mice had metabolically adapted to the high-fat diet. Giving exogenous ketones without the metabolic adaptation did not confer the same benefit.

The paper is incredibly dense with detailed discussion of the immunologic and genetic responses, but I think the basic conclusion is good enough. The metabolic adaptation to a ketogenic diet can affect the function of the immune system to the point where it can prevent a lethal infection.

That sounds amazing.

But here comes the caveat. I don’t like writing about mice studies because… well, because we aren’t mice and I don’t have any pet mice.

Would the same effect happen in humans? I can’t wait to find out, but something tells me we can’t do the same study where we purposely infect people with a lethal influenza strain. We could take a group of people who chose to not get the flu vaccine and randomize them to a keto diet or a standard diet and follow them for the flu season and see who is more likely to get the flu. That sounds interesting.

But until we have human data, our best conclusions are:

  1. A keto diet may have beneficial immunologic effects.
  2. These benefits require metabolic adaptation and are not only from the ketones themselves. (In other words, you can’t drink your way to better immunity.)

But for now, in my opinion, this study will stay in the “Fascinating but not quite sure what to make of it” category.

Thanks for reading,
Bret Scher, MD FACC


Keto for beginners

Is it possible that the keto diet doesn’t work for some people?

All weight loss is not created equal