Effects of the Keto Diet on the Immune System

The Ketogenic, or Keto, diet refers to a low-carb, high-fat diet that's believed to have many health benefits. It involves taking drastic measures to reduce your carbohydrate intake and instead replace it with fat. As the body gets fewer carbs, it goes into a metabolic state known as ketosis. This enables the body to efficiently burn fat for energy.

Under normal circumstances, the body derives its energy from metabolizing carbohydrates. When it doesn't have sufficient amounts of carbs, the body turns to fat deposits. The fats are then converted into ketones in the liver, which are subsequently used to supply energy for the brain.

In this article, we will briefly give an overview of different keto diet types and their benefits, specifically of keto diet effects on the immune system. We will will conclude with some common-sense tips on supporting the immune system.

Reminder: This is article is only informational purposes. Each one needs to consult with their medical professional regarding the immune system and if the keto diet is safe for them. Moreover, they may be able to provide the best recommendations based on personal knowledge of your overall health, challenges, and goals. 

Types of Keto Diets

Ketogenic diets come in several versions, but they all aim at reducing the quantity of carbohydrates consumed. Across the board, all types of Keto diets strive to include meat, full-fat dairy, leafy green vegetables, fats, nuts and seeds, avocadoes, and berries.

As a guideline, people on a ketogenic diet should avoid grains, including rice and wheat, sugar, white or sweet potatoes, legumes, alcohol, and most types of fruit.

I). Standard Keto Diet

This is the most common type and is very low on carbs, moderate on protein, and very high in fats. Typically, it contains 75% fat, 20% protein, and only 5% carbs.

II). Cyclical Keto Diet

This type revolves around some periods of higher-carb refeeds followed by low-carb days. For example, you could have higher-carb food for the first two days of the weeks, followed by two days of low-carb foods.

III). Targeted Keto Diet

This type only allows you to have carbs in your diet if you work out regularly. It’s usually an advanced variation of the standard Keto diet. This diet is commonly used by low-carb athletes who want to improve their performance.

IV). High-Protein Keto Diet

A high-protein Keto diet is closely similar to the standard Keto diet. However, it contains a lot more protein than its counterpart. Its ratio is usually 60% fat, 35% protein, and 5% carbs.

Cyclical and targeted Keto diets are commonly used by athletes and bodybuilders as they’re more advanced. Standard and high-protein versions have been extensively studied and have been found to have the following benefits.

Benefits of the Keto Diet

Some studies demonstrate that the Keto diet can significantly help improve overall health conditions. It’s useful in reducing the effects of diabetes, epilepsy, brain injuries, cancer, and Alzheimer’s disease. It also causes a significant decrease in blood sugar and insulin levels and aids in weight loss.

The diet works by helping you lose excess fat which is closely linked to type 2 diabetes. In one study involving 21 diabetes patients, 7 of them were able to stop using diabetes medication completely.

Effects of the Keto Diet on the Immune System

keto diet effects on immune systemScience has shown a stronger link between Keto (low carb) and the immune system. Apart from promoting good health and a leaner body mass, the diet has also been found to boost immunity. It triggers the release of immune system cells in the body.

According to an article in Science Daily, experts carried out a test on mice. It was to see how they’d respond to the Keto diet. It emerged that the mice were better able to combat the flu virus. Overall, mice fed on the diet and who also had the flu had a higher survival rate than their counterparts.

The Findings of the Study

The research found that the Keto diet was responsible for activating the release of gamma delta T cells. These are crucial in the immune system, and they’re responsible for producing mucus in the cell linings of the lungs.

With the enhanced mucus production, the lungs improve their functions and are able to trap the virus. These results were not yielded from a high-carb diet.

Through the Keto diet, the body is pushed into a state of metabolism known as ketosis. Through the process, the body becomes starved of carbohydrates, but not calories. The reason why the diet avoids carbs is that it becomes the primary source of energy, instead of fat.

The effectiveness of the diet lies in the fact that the body burns fat as the primary source of energy. As the body burns fat, it releases ketone particles, which fuel the immune system to fight virus infections.

The immune response in the lungs is based on the expansion of gamma delta T cells in the lungs. By using mice lacking gamma cells, the scientists established the functional importance of these cells in boosting immunity.

Low-Carb Diet and the Immune System

Having a low-carb diet should be more of a long-term approach to diet and health. It’s essential for people who want to provide their bodies with crucial nourishment while at the same time keeps blood sugar levels in check.

By having a low-carb diet, you can boost the immune system by limiting conditions such as high blood pressure.

However, a Keto diet is low on some essential nutrients. This deficiency may increase the risk of infection and decrease your body’s ability to fight them. Basically, science recommends eating a well-rounded, balanced diet that is not too high in carbs, calories, or fats.

Keto Diet and the Flu

According to the study on mice, the Keto diet helps in the expansion of the gamma T cells. Subsequently, the cells strengthen the immune system and make it more efficient in fighting off infections, including the flu virus. The overall effect is that the viral titers and lowered, and there’s better preservation of the cells than line the airways.

Experts report that the cells induced by the Keto diet enhance the barrier and innate defense systems of the airway. As this happens at the baseline, the body becomes better at responding to the flu virus. This demonstrates that changing the diet can have tremendous results on how the body responds to infection.

Research on the effects of the Keto diet on the immune system is still in its infancy stages. You can try it out to fight the flu, but it’s also crucial that you observe other complementary practices.

1. The Basics

The Keto diet may not in itself be sufficient to fight or prevent the flu virus. Several other things you can do which won’t cost anything are as follows. They’ll help improve your overall health.

I). Proper Hand-washing

Regularly washing your hands with soapy water or hand sanitizer will go a long way in protecting you. Remember that in the course of the day you’re exposed to a multitude of germs, some of which could be the flu virus. Touching your face with dirty hands could potentially put you at the risk of contracting the flu.

II). Quit Smoking

Smoking tobacco exposes you to a higher risk of getting infections and suffering severe complications from the same. The flu is a recurrent illness, and its severity shouldn’t be underestimated.

The human body requires oxygen for proper functioning. The pathway is through the nose, the mouth, the throat, and the bronchial tube, eventually reaching the lungs. It then spreads throughout the body as the blood circulates.

As a smoker inhales tobacco, they fill the respiratory tract with air full of poisonous substances. These include tar and carbon monoxide. As a result, the two toxins go into the lungs.

Smoking takes a toll on the lungs, compromising the ability to support the respiration function.

The flu also weakens the respiratory system, and combining the two can be fatal, to say the least. When there’s a flu epidemic, smoking only increases the chances of catching the flu.

III). Adequate Sleep

Getting enough sleep is vital, not just to improve the immune function, but also for general health. People with insomnia, for example, have, on average, less immune response to the flu vaccine. Worse sleep problems cause altered expression of genes related to the immune function.

Less than eight hours of sleep may put you at a higher risk of developing flu symptoms.

IV). Right Amount of Exercise

People who exercise often tend to suffer fewer infections than those who lead sedentary lifestyles. However, over-training can lead to a temporary decrease in immune function. Additionally, athletes who train excessively may suffer more frequent infections than others.

So while on a keto exercise plan, be sure to know your limits and listen for when you are tired or need a break.

It’s recommended to stay active, but during a flu epidemic, that’s not the time to start a new high-intensity regime. If you already enjoy strenuous exercise, consider decreasing the frequency or intensity when you have the flu. Doing cardio on keto can produce great results, but do not overdue it.

2. Stress Management

Stressors of the immune system come in two types: acute and chronic. The acute stressors may temporarily enhance the functions of the immune system, while the chronic ones will hinder it.

Stress comes from various quarters and is an inevitable part of life. However, taking everything to heart will only make you sick, literally. The uncertainty of the future can raise your cortisol levels, negatively affecting the immune function.

The bad news is that you can’t make the stressful situation disappear. Fortunately, you can take adequate measures to control how you respond to the situation.

Mindfulness, proper meditation, breathing techniques, brisk walking, and mind games are activities that can help manage stress. Stress management activities will not only help your immune system but will potentially reduce blood pressure and blood sugar.

3. Take Your Supplements

Increasing your intake of vitamins, minerals, and other supplements will help your body fight against the flu virus. Some supplements that have some immune-boosting properties are as follows.

I). Vitamin C

For years, Vitamin C has been used to help prevent the common cold. It plays several roles like helping maintain healthy skin. This provides a barrier to germs and other invaders.

Vitamin C also improves the function of white blood cells that help fight infection.

The recommended intake of vitamins is 2,000 mg per day, which you may not be getting from a Keto diet. This is the reason why you need to take supplements alongside your Keto diet.

The supplement is water-soluble, and high-risk individuals should consider taking it.

However, be cautious about high doses. Overconsumption may cause diarrhea or increase the risk of kidney stones.

II). Vitamin D

Vitamin D is a hormone and a vitamin at the same time and plays very crucial roles in your health. It provides protection against respiratory tract infections, especially for people quite deficient in Vitamin C.

Although the body naturally gets Vitamin C when exposed to sunlight, consider supplementing the dose. Remember that too much exposure to sunlight can cause sunburns and also presents other risks.

Vitamain D3 coupled with Vitamin K2 is desirable combination with which to supplement.

III). Zinc

Zinc is crucial in boosting the response of the white blood cells to infection. Deficiency in zinc makes you more susceptible to the common cold, flu, and other infections. When taking zinc supplements, ensure you stay below the upper limit of 40mg per day. Check with your doctor for the right dosage for you and your specific needs.

IV). Tumeric

Turmeric is a herb that has its roots in Indian and Asian cuisine. The yellow compound it contains is known as curcumin, and it serves to enhance immune functions.

Furthermore, adding turmeric to your food improves the flavor and is unlikely to cause any harm. However, check with your doctor if you’re under medication before consuming curcumin.

If you do use it, make sure that you are using the curcumin with a high absorption rate. Check for popular products.

While on the Ketogenic diet, it’s also recommendable that you reduce your intake of alcohol. Chronic alcohol consumption increases your susceptibility to infections, despite being on a Keto diet. Remember that a low-carb diet may also decrease your tolerance for alcohol. If you do use it, choose a low carb option.


Final Thoughts

Many people are in favor of the Keto diet nowadays, with claims that it can help them shed extra pounds. The eating plan has also been found to bring about a host of other health benefits. It’s a promoter of better health against conditions like diabetes, cancer, and Alzheimer’s disease.

Among the other benefits is that the diet dramatically improves the immune system.

While research around this claim is still at an elementary level, one popular study on mice seems to prove this. From the test, it appears that the Keto diet enhances the release of some important cells that boost the function of the immune system.

If you wish to use the Keto diet to boost your immunity, remember to observe other practices. Proper hand-washing, exercise, stress management, and supplement intake should be on your priority list.

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