No, a keto diet won't prevent Coronavirus...
Misinformation and myth is spreading like wildfire
The Coronavirus pandemic has been overshadowed by a plague of misinformation. People are buying enough toilet roll to last a lifetime, and enough dried pasta to eat like a student for the rest of their days. Chinese restaurants are seeing reduced traffic due to fears that the virus has a natural affinity to Chinese people. People are wearing masks despite widespread acknowledgement that they do precious little. It should be no surprise then that on the rumour mill that is the internet, various 'cures' and prevention methods are floating around the unsourced depths of facebook memes and parent forums.
One in particular is becoming prominent: that a ketogenic or 'keto' diet can protect individuals from infection. Sites like this one are promoting the diet as an immune system booster, and many are taking to twitter to spread the word. The issue is that almost none of these claims have a scientific basis.
Dr Farhat, a nutrition expert registered with the UK Association for Nutrition, says a keto diet will not protect you. She said to the Metro: ‘There are certain claims being made that adopting a keto diet could help to boost your immune system, and therefore stop you being infected with coronavirus.'
‘But I can say with confidence that there is no scientific evidence to show that ketosis can help ward off viruses – particularly coronavirus – in humans.'
Farhat's final words tell the whole story essentially:
‘As ever, you should always be discerning about any medical claims made on social media.’
What actually is a keto diet?
The ketogenic diet is essentially a low carb, high fat diet. The concept is that by reducing carbohydrate intake and replacing it with fat, you put your body into a metabolic state called ‘ketosis’. During ketosis, your body uses fat reserves, rather than carbs, as an energy source and which helps you to lose weight.
The reason people are turning to this weight-loss diet during the epidemic is because of a study which suggested that the diet might cause improved protection against viruses.
Last year, a study by scientists at Yale School of Medicine, USA, suggested that a ketogenic diet might provide a degree of protection from the flu. Lead author Akiko Iwasaki found ketosis in mice boosted certain immune cells and the production of protective mucus in the lungs. And the study concluded that the method may, ‘represent a viable avenue toward preventing or alleviating influenza disease.’ It’s often this piece of research that keto fans are quoting when making claims about coronavirus protection.
So it was proven to help. End of story, right?
Not quite; this was a study done on mice, and Dr Farhat emphasises that there’s a big difference between mice and humans. Just because it works for them does not mean it will for us, and worst of all, if thousands of people suddenly 'go keto', there is a possibility that we'd have another national health disaster on our hands.
This is because ketosis produces acidic substances called ‘ketones’ – and too much in the bloodstream can damage the liver and kidneys.
'This is a study done in mice – and although it shows promising results, unless we prove it in humans, we can’t make any bold claims about the way the diet might affect us.'
‘Humans and mice are two different creatures. We have different immune systems. Yes, there are some benefits of the ketogenic diet, particularly in terms of inducing satiety and helping to reduce weight, and it works well for some people.
‘The keto diet could overload the kidneys due to an excess of protein, and there’s also the risk of liver problems.'
‘What’s also important is that a keto diet deprives the body of carbohydrate, which is needed for daily energy.’
Ultimately, keto is a drastic weight loss diet, and not a healthy, balanced diet. A balanced diet that gives you all the vitamins and minerals you require, and a correct amount of protein, carbohydrate and fat will leave you in just as good stead for the virus as any other diet.