The diet activates a sub-set of T cells in the lungs that trap the virus and stops it spreading. The discovery is something of a scientific first because the T cells, known as gamma delta, hadn't been thought to be part of the immune system's response to influenza.
Researchers from Yale University made the discovery when they fed two diets—the keto and a high-carb diet—to laboratory mice who were then infected with the influenza virus. Those on the keto diet had a higher survival rate because it triggered the release of the gamma delta cells, while the standard high-carb diet didn't have the same protective effect.
The release of the T cells must have something to do with the way the body burns fat, said lead researcher Visha Dixit.
The keto diet includes meat, fish, poultry and non-starchy vegetables.