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More than 20,000 people die every year in the United States from influenza-related complications. Findings from a new study demonstrate that a ketogenic diet confers protection against the influenza virus and improves survival rates in mice.

A ketogenic diet is a high fat, moderate protein, low carbohydrate eating pattern that causes the body to oxidize fat to produce ketones for energy. The ketogenic diet has been used in the clinical setting to reduce seizures in children and is being investigated for the treatment of traumatic brain injury, Alzheimer’s disease, weight loss, and cancer.

The authors of the study fed a ketogenic diet or regular chow to mice for seven days and then infected them with influenza virus. The mice that ate the ketogenic diet lost less weight, maintained better blood oxygen levels, and had improved survival rates compared to the mice that ate the regular chow. In addition, the mice on the ketogenic diet had higher levels of specialized T-cells in their lungs that enhanced airway cell mucus production to improve lung barrier function.

Interestingly, the beneficial effects of a high fat diet were only observed with the ketogenic diet. Feeding the mice a high-fat, high-carbohydrate diet or providing exogenous ketones in the diet had no beneficial effects against influenza virus.

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