A ketogenic diet, commonly referred to as “keto,” is a low-carb diet that has seen a surge in popularity this year. Keto works by swapping high-carb foods like bread, pasta, and fruit for foods high in protein and fat, like meat, eggs, and cheese. Like any diet that requires seriously restricting intake of one food group in favor of others, keto has faced its share of criticisms. However, just like other restrictive diets, many swear by keto as a means of quick weight loss, though the long-term results may prove unsustainable.
All keto debate aside, new research suggests that the diet could improve symptoms in people with asthma. This might be good news for anyone who loves exercise but struggles with asthma attacks. That said, these findings are still new, and should be taken with a grain of salt (which, coincidentally, you actually need more of on the keto diet).
The study, published in April of this year, looked at the effect of a keto diet on innate lymphoid cells in the lungs. These cells serve important purposes, including inflammation response and mucus production, but too much activation can cause breathing difficulty. Asthma attacks are caused by overactive innate lymphoid cells.
In order to curb asthma symptoms then, researchers looked for ways to slow down the replication of these lymphoid cells. They discovered that lymphoid cells are chronically activated when the pathway used to assemble the cell membranes is also activated. This pathway needs fatty acids in order to function. Using this logic, researchers needed to find a way to reroute those fatty acids elsewhere in the body.
This is where the keto diet comes in. Carbohydrates are the body’s primary energy source, and a low-carb diet forces the body to derive energy from somewhere else. On the keto diet, fats are the next best thing. This means the fatty acids that would otherwise be available to activate those pesky lymphoid cells are suddenly being used up for energy instead. With a shortage of fatty acids, the overactive lymphoid cells are forced to slow down.
Researchers tested this theory on mice and found that a keto diet did indeed slow down the lymphoid cells. It actually made a dramatic difference. Mice on a keto diet saw almost no change in their lymphoid cells when exposed to allergens. Without the keto diet, those cells typically reproduced at four times the normal rate as an allergy response. Mice on keto also had less visible asthma symptoms and produced less mucus.
While more research is needed to explore this avenue of treatment further, this study offers a promising picture of how the keto diet could potentially mitigate asthma symptoms. It may not be for everyone, and you should certainly look at the big picture before making any drastic dietary changes. However, if you have asthma, and you decide to try the keto diet, you may just notice a positive effect.
Fotios Karagiannis, Schekufe Kharabi Masouleh, Klaus Wunderling, Jayagopi Surendar, Vanessa Schmitt, Alexander Kazakov, Marcel Michla, Michael Hölzel, Christoph Thiele & Christoph Wilhelm: Lipid-droplet formation drives pathogenic group 2 innate lymphoid cells in airway inflammation; Immunity