Last Updated on: 6th November 2022, 11:36 pm
It’s probably fair to say that most people looking at a keto diet want to lose weight.
But research is showing keto is the gateway to a whole new world of health benefits.
Research on keto and immunity
The relationship between keto and immunity has been well studied. After all, it’s important to know the benefits of a diet or lifestyle before you start. And when we look at the sort of benefits people want, the last couple of years have shown us that keeping your immune system strong is top of the list.
A quick sidenote – Most of the research you’ll hear about below is based around T cells. T cells are another name for the white blood cells that make up our adaptive immunity. In other words, the part of our immune system that learns about pathogens or antigens (the bad things) and how to keep them at bay.
Keto – 7 days to healthy mice
Back in 2019, a group of researchers from the Yale School of Medicine looked at whether a keto diet can help immunity.
The results came back clear and compelling.
After putting mice on a high-fat, low carb keto diet for seven days, they found:
Now two things jump out when reading this.
- First, the study came out conclusively saying that a keto diet can boost immunity.
- Importantly, it also found that a period of adaptation was required for it to be most effective. In other words, starting a keto diet after you have caught the flu isn’t going to help. On the plus side, it only took seven days for the protective effects of a keto diet to be effective.
Of course, you probably noticed that this experiment was done on mice, and while mice have been used in experiments because there’s a strong correlation between their biological systems and ours, it’s not always an exact match.
Study summary – Mice on a keto diet are protected from flu1
|Type of diet||Nutrient comparison||Result when mice were infected with flu|
|Keto diet||90% of calories from fat, <1% of calories from carbohydrate||Improved survival rates from influenza and protected from body weight loss.|
|High-fat diet||60% of calories from fat, 20% of calories from carbohydrate||Improved survival rates from influenza but no protection from body weight loss|
|Conventional diet||18% of calories from fat, 58% of calories from carbohydrate||Decreased survival rates from influenza and no protection from body weight loss|
Fair enough, but the good news is there have been a few studies done using humans, which can boost your confidence that following a keto diet can bring benefits to your immune system.
A low-carb diet can be a tool for human immunity2
2021 saw another group of researchers, this time from Germany, produced what they claimed to be the first study of how a three-week keto diet would impact the immunity of healthy volunteers.
Again, the results were clear:
With comments like “ketone bodies profoundly impact human T-cell responses”, the study authors ultimately concluded that “rethinking the value of nutrition and dietary interventions in modern medicine is required” – it’s very rare to see language as confident as this in published papers.
Study summary – Humans on a keto diet are protected from flu
|Type of diet||Nutrient breakdown||Result|
|Keto diet||<30g carbohydrates/day|
COVID – the immunity elephant in the room
In recent times, when we talk about immunity, COVID is the first thing that springs to mind.
The good news is researchers have started investigating this too, and in June 2022 have again found some positive benefits.3 The study was concentrated on immunoparalysis – where the body fails to recover properly from an infection and carries on in a weakened condition, making it more likely to catch another strain or other illnesses.
In other words, the dreaded long COVID.
Their findings were clear.
It’s important to note that the study used cells (in vitro), rather than an actual human trial, but we can look to another study showing that people who were put on a keto after they were admitted to hospital were less likely to need intensive care, and more likely to survive.4
Study summary – A keto diet lowers intensive care admissions and mortality
|Type of diet||Nutrient breakdown||Result|
|Keto diet||Protein 16–20%, fat 74%–80%, and carbohydrates 5-6%|
|Mediterranean style diet||Protein 16–20%, fat 26%–30%, and carbohydrates 42%–50%|
Of course, it’s important to note that these studies were of limited scope and there is no guarantee that they will work. That said, it’s exciting to see the frontiers of keto research are expanding, and seem to bring positive results wherever researchers take a closer look.
So, does keto make your immune system stronger?
Looking at the studies above, then answer is a clear “yes”.
The keto diet can not only improve your immune system, it can do it in as little as three weeks and has been shown to be effective even if started after someone has been infected.
The consensus is there are two parts to a keto diet that seems to make it so effective in building immunity.
- Firstly, it can inhibit inflammation.
- Secondly, ketosis protects the body by increasing its ability to create antioxidants.
Weight loss and immunity – this one-two punch from a keto diet has been shown to improve immunity and is another reason to embrace the keto lifestyle.
Nick has been involved in nutrition for over 20 years, at one stage weighing over 110kg (17 stone) and after experimenting with a combination of diet and exercise, has bought this back to around 80kg (12.5 stone). He’s currently running-obsessed, logging over 50 kilometres (30 miles) a week, and has been working in the nutracutical and supplements space for the last 5 years. He believes health and wellness start with the individual – you have to know what you’re doing, and have the passion to stick with it to get the results you want.
- Ketogenic diet activates protective γδ T cell responses against influenza virus infection
- Very-low-carbohydrate diet enhances human T-cell immunity through immunometabolic reprogramming
- Ketone Bodies Improve Human CD8+ Cytotoxic T-Cell Immune Response During COVID-19 Infection
- Clinical efficacy of eucaloric ketogenic nutrition in the COVID-19 cytokine storm: A retrospective analysis of mortality and intensive care unit admission