You may have been curious about Keto as a method of weight loss. Or perhaps you’ve heard of some other health benefits associated with ketogenic diets. Lots of discussion around the Keto diet centers on its potential ability to boost your immune system, a point of view that is highly relevant during the current COVID19 crisis. But can Keto really boost your immune system?
Not many people realize that Keto is not a new fad diet. In fact, it’s been around since the early twentieth century as a means of treating the symptoms of neuro disorders such as epilepsy. Lots of recent studies suggest that Keto can also have a significant impact on your immune system, but to what extent?
What is Keto?
Ketogenic diets consist of low carbohydrate intake, moderate protein intake, and high fat intake. But how does Keto work?
On a typical diet today, carbohydrates are considered the major food group that fuels our body. We take in carbohydrates that our body then converts to glycogen in order to distribute energy to all the different cells in our body.
With ketogenic diets, the goal is to transform the way your body produces energy by making a drastic change to your food intake. Keto trains your body to break down fat for energy instead of carbohydrates. Your body converts fat into chemical structures known as ketones which take the place of glycogen in energy distribution. This metabolic process is known as “ketosis.”
Why is Keto so popular?
While Keto started out as a dietary method of reducing fits in epilepsy patients and has now grown popular as a weight loss plan, there are tons of other benefits too.
Ketogenic diets can:
- Increase energy levels
- Help reduce and regulate appetite
- Reduce the risk of Type 2 diabetes
- Help shift stubborn belly fat
- Improve cardiovascular health
- Helps prevent neurodegenerative disorders (e.g. Parkinson’s disease or Alzheimer’s)
However, it’s important to understand that most of these benefits require long term dedication to Keto and keeping your body in a state of ketosis. Some Keto beginners are put off by the initial side effects of Keto which can include:
- Low energy
- Bad breath
- Leg cramps
- Reduced physical performance
It’s essential to remember that these side effects are temporary and very easy to alleviate.
Inflammation and the Immune System
We all associate inflammation with sickness or injury. When you cut yourself, twist your ankle, get a throat infection, or even get a pimple, swelling occurs at the site. But this inflammation is actually part of your body’s natural immune response to infection or injury.
Your body sends components such as T Cells through your blood to the area to fight infection. It can feel warm and painful to us, but it’s a vital component of warding off sickness and repairing damaged tissue.
However, sometimes our bodies get a little trigger happy with the inflammation response. In fact, inflammation in overdrive is a huge contributing factor to many autoimmune diseases. The good news is that through diet and lifestyle, we have the ability to control many of these immune responses.
High insulin levels cause inflammation in the body. The Keto diet has been proven to reduce insulin levels and lower the inflammation that can contribute to the onset of autoimmune disorders, thereby boosting the immune system and regulating correct immune responses.
Your Immune System and T Cells
T Cells are made in your bone marrow and are the infection-fighting component of your white blood cells. T Cells (T lymphocytes) come in a few different forms. For example, regulatory T Cells are part of controlling your immune response. Whereas Cytotoxic T Cells kill cells that are contaminated by an infection in your body.
T Cells are also vital because they contribute to your body’s immunity to specific bacteria and viruses. Memory T Cells contain “memories” of past infections. When a similar infection enters your body, those T Cells then motivate the correct immune response to fight the infection. Vaccinations help to create Memory T Cells so your body knows what to do when it encounters the same infection in the future, making us immune to specific diseases.
Without T Cells, our bodies would be powerless to fight off infection and keep us healthy.
But how does the relationship between T Cells and a ketogenic diet work?
Keto Boosts Your T Cells
Recent research has shown that the Keto diet has the potential to directly impact the production and functionality of T Cells in the body. The Yale School of Medicine conducted a study in which they infected two groups of mice with Influenza A, a common strain of flu. They fed one group a ketogenic diet for just one week prior and fed the other group a regular diet.
The results of this study showed that the mice who were fed a ketogenic diet were much more successful in fighting off the flu. Only half of the “Keto group” of mice died during the study. In contrast, all of the mice on a regular diet succumbed to the flu within the first four days.
When the mice were analyzed further, the researchers concluded that a ketogenic diet has increased T Cell numbers in the lungs of the mice, which is why they were able to fight the flu off much better than those on a standard diet.
Keto Reduces Obesity
Keto has been proven to dramatically reduce obesity in comparison to low-fat diets. A research study in 2003 found that those on the Keto diet lost three times more weight than the group on a low-fat diet when both groups comprised patients in the obese weight category.
There is some limited research that suggests obesity is linked to poor immune system health. One study showed that obese mice were 40% more prone to infection and illness than lean mice. The link is clearly there, however, the exact reason obesity causes poor immune health has not yet been established.
Increase Your Micronutrients
Keto is a great way to increase your overall health when followed correctly. You’ll spend a lot less time overeating on carbs and more time carefully selecting a wide variety of foods to minimize carbohydrate intake and maximize healthy fat intake.
This naturally leads to a lot more varied selection of foods which can boost your micronutrient intake. Micronutrients are the vitamins and minerals that are essential to our overall health. Some micronutrients are particularly important to the immune system. They include Vitamin A, C, D and E, Zinc, Selenium, and Iron. By shifting to Keto, you’ll incorporate a lot more of the fruits, vegetables, and nuts that provide these vital nutrients and help to maintain your immune system.
The outbreak of COVID19 has caused a lot of us to search for ways to boost our immune system. Science says that the Keto diet can help keep your immune system healthy by reducing inflammation and boosting your body’s response to infection, among other things as outlined here. Many popular yoga teachers such as Bad Yogi and contributors on MindBodyGreen have discussed the potential benefits of combining Yoga with Keto. Even fitness advocate Jen Widerstrom (from the Biggest Loser U.S.) has talked about how well Keto worked for her. So, if you’re looking for a change in your nutritional plan, give Keto a try.