Asthma: Ketogenic Diet To Relieve Symptoms?

Asthma: Ketogenic Diet To Relieve Symptoms?

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Asthma: This diet could relieve the discomfort

The symptoms of asthma can possibly be significantly alleviated by a ketogenic diet. In experiments on mice, researchers at the University of Bonn found that a ketogenic diet significantly reduces the inflammation of the airways.

The new study at the University of Bonn suggests that people with asthma could benefit from a ketogenic diet, the research team reports on its results. For example, mice that were switched to a ketogenic diet showed a significantly lower inflammation of the airways. The study results were published in the journal "Immunity".

Asthma is characterized by inflammation of the bronchi

In asthma, severe inflammation of the bronchi can already be seen due to contact with low concentrations of some allergens, the researchers explain. These are also accompanied by increased mucus production, which makes breathing even more difficult.

Innate Lymphoid Cells with a key function

A key role in asthma is played by cells of the innate immune system that were only discovered a few years ago and are called Innate Lymphoid Cells (ILC), according to the University of Bonn. ILC perform an important protective function in the lungs by regenerating damaged mucous membranes. This is done by producing inflammatory messengers from the group of cytokines, which stimulate the mucosal cells to divide and promote mucus production.

Mucus production is usually a protective mechanism

Mucus production actually makes a lot of sense, as the body can quickly repair damage caused by pathogens or harmful substances, the mucus removes the pathogens from the bronchial tubes and protects the airways against re-infection, the researchers report. But "in asthma, the inflammatory response is much stronger and longer than normal," emphasizes Prof. Dr. Christoph Wilhelm from the Institute for Clinical Chemistry and Pharmacology at the University of Bonn. The result is extreme breathing difficulties, which can even be life-threatening.

In asthma there is a rapid increase in ILC and this produces large amounts of inflammatory cytokines. However, if their division could be slowed down, the excessive reaction could probably be controlled. This is exactly where a ketogenic diet might help.

ILC depend on fatty acids

The researchers discovered that the ILC depend on fatty acids for their multiplication. "Activated ILC absorb fatty acids from their environment and briefly store them inside in small droplets, an important intermediate step in order to be able to generate membranes from them," explains Dr. Fotios Karagiannis from the University of Bonn. Here, the researchers asked themselves what happens if the cells are forced to use these fatty acids in other ways.

Ketogenic diet changes metabolism

In mice with asthma, they investigated whether a so-called ketogenic diet, which is primarily based on healthy fats and low in carbohydrates and proteins, has an impact on ILC. Because with this diet, the metabolism of cells changes in such a way that the energy is obtained primarily from fat burning. For example, the ILC lack the fatty acids they need to form new membranes during cell division.

Decreased asthma symptoms

The researchers were actually able to determine that the division activity of the ILC decreased significantly in the appropriately fed rodents. If the number of ILCs in the bronchi normally increased fourfold when in contact with allergens, it remained almost constant in the test animals. "Both mucus production and other asthma symptoms decreased accordingly," emphasizes Prof. Wilhelm.

Glucose deficiency is also important

It is presumably not only the switch to fats as an alternative energy source and the resulting shortage of fatty acids that is decisive for the lower ILC activity, but also the lack of glucose is likely to have a part. “Asthma has increased significantly in frequency in the past decades. This may also have something to do with the increasingly high-sugar and high-fat diet, ”says Prof. Wilhelm.

Ketogenic diet effective against asthma in humans?

In the next step, clinical trials in humans are now planned to check whether a ketogenic diet can prevent asthma attacks. However, since this is not entirely harmless in the long term, it should only be carried out after consulting a doctor. "We are trying to find out which components of the diet change are responsible for the effect" and "maybe this will open the way to the development of new drugs," summarizes Professor Wilhelm. (fp)

Author and source information

This text corresponds to the requirements of the medical literature, medical guidelines and current studies and has been checked by medical doctors.

Dipl. Geogr. Fabian Peters


  • Fotios Karagiannis, Schekufe Kharabi Masouleh, Klaus Wunderling, Michael Hölzel, Christoph Thiele, Christoph Wilhelm: Lipid-Droplet Formation Drives Pathogenic Group 2 Innate Lymphoid Cells in Airway Inflammation; in: Immunity (published April 7, 2020),
  • Rheinische Friedrich-Wilhelms-Universität Bonn: Researchers propose a special diet for asthma (published April 7th, 2020),

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