Could the Keto Diet Help Mitigate Adverse Outcomes of COVID-19?

February 11, 2022

The world is still suffering from its ongoing battle against SARS-CoV-2, the virus causing COVID-19. And to finally put an end to this crisis, we need to reach herd immunity. 

That means vaccinating a significant portion of the population to suppress the spread of the virus. For the U.S., that’s around 70% to 85% of its population or around 232 million to 281 million people. 

That’s for a single country alone. If the entire population on the planet is factored in, that’ll amount to billions of vaccines. Put simply, there’s currently a shortage of vaccine supply, especially for developing countries

That’s not counting other factors like shipment delays, a decreasing supply of raw materials, and even political and geopolitical complications. The good news is that healthcare professionals are looking at other methods to help fight COVID-19. 

Enter ketogenic diet (keto diet), a low-carb, high-fat diet that has a lot of health benefits like helping with weight loss, improving heart health, and limiting cytokine storm occurrence. We’ll look at the last one in particular as it plays a significant role in the fatality of COVID-19.

Keto Diet, COVID-19, And Cytokine Storm

So how can the keto diet help against COVID-19? To understand its exact benefit, we’ll first explore this cytokine storm. What is it? And most importantly, what is its role in COVID-19 deaths?

In a nutshell, a cytokine storm is when your body produces too many cytokines. These are glycoproteins providing a wide range of benefits including immunity and inflammatory responses. Its activation is quite vital when your body is fighting infection caused by viruses and bacteria as it will recruit more immune cells to help eliminate the culprit. 

But for all its benefits, it also has its drawbacks. This is especially true when the body produces too much of these glycoproteins.

Organ Damage Due to Severe Immune Response 

One of these drawbacks can cause organ damage. And in the case of COVID-19, the main organ in question is the lungs. 

Virologist and immunologist Mukesh Kumar has been conducting experiments in his lab to observe the virus. One of his many findings is that the virus rapidly replicates itself once it has invaded a cell. 

In turn, this invasion places a tremendous amount of stress on the infected cell in question. This leads to the cell calling for help and your immune response is triggered. 

“When any cell senses that there is something foreign, that there is something bad happening, the immediate response of the cell is to kill itself. It’s a protective mechanism so it doesn’t spread to other cells,” Kumar explained

And as the lungs begin to fail, other organs will follow. This cascade ultimately leads to the patient succumbing to the damage on multiple organs. 

In short, the virus itself is not the only culprit for the patient’s demise. The patients’ bodies themselves also contributed, largely in part due to the aforementioned hysterical immune response. 

So How Can The Keto Diet Help Against COVID-19?

As mentioned earlier, the keto diet is a dietary pattern where you’ll mostly consume fat while limiting carbs and protein intake. In a standard ketogenic diet, the ratio will usually fall to 70% fat, 20% protein, and 10% carb. 

So how can the keto diet help fight COVID-19? Well, the carb restriction is mostly responsible for this benefit. Specifically, the restriction increases the plasma levels of ketone bodies like the hydroxybutyrate (ßOHB). 

ßOHB plays a role in preventing the occurrence of cytokine storms as it suppresses the activation of the NLRP3 inflammasome response. What’s more, since the keto diet considerably lowers glucose, it might also help in contrasting virus infections

It’s also a well-established scientific finding that high sugar levels will suppress your immune response. It’ll also inhibit the response of your neutrophils and phagocytes, two cells that are extremely important in fighting infection. 

Overall, encouraging the production of ßOHB is a valid healthcare approach against COVID-19 deaths considering it limits the manifestation of cytokine storms. Once this severe immune response is controlled, the chances of a patient’s survival against the disease increases.

Who Benefits The Most From A Keto Diet? 

Given the information presented above, who benefits the most from a keto diet in the context of fighting and preventing COVID-19 complications and fatality? While a lot of people can gain the advantages of this dietary pattern, obese and elderly individuals stand to benefit the most. 

The CDC (Center for Disease Control and Prevention) said that obese and overweight people are at greater risk with the current pandemic. This is due to a lot of factors including an impaired immune response, decreased lung capacity, and they’re at a higher risk of developing metabolic syndrome. 

With the help of a keto diet, some of these risks can be mitigated. In addition, it’ll also increase the prevention of COVID19 fatalities as those following this dietary pattern will have their weight reduced to healthy levels, with their immune response reverting to a normal state.

Keto Diet For Beginners 

Similar to most things, beginners should lightly approach their keto diet journey. Try limiting your carb intake to 20 or 30 grams a day from the outset. 

You should also identify which food to avoid. They are:

  • Sugary products
  • Fruits
  • Alcohol
  • Grains and starches
  • Beans
  • Select condiments like mustard and ketchup

Meanwhile, try composing your diet on meat, fatty fish, eggs, cheese, healthy oils, and low-carb veggies like onions and tomatoes. Here’s a more detailed list.

Keto Diet And COVID-19

Before you implement a keto diet into your daily lifestyle, consult your doctor first. After receiving the green light, try to ease your way into this new dietary pattern. Do not implement it outright as this will decrease your chances of sticking to it. 

And of course, you’ll also want to pair this strategy with simple exercises. Try easy workouts like yoga or bodyweight exercises to get you started. 

The Keto diet has shown to be a viable strategy against COVID-19. And with exercise thrown into the mix, you’ll increase your protection against this fatal virus, especially if you live in an undeveloped country where vaccine rollout has been slow and poorly handled. 

If you’re interested in more health tips and information, try to read other blogs from SmartPlate. We have a lot of pieces about health that could help in protecting you and your family from this persisting global health crisis.

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