Can a special diet help in certain cases of asthma?
In a new study, researchers found mice that were switched to a so-called ketogenic diet showed significantly reduced inflammation of the respiratory tract.
The research was conducted by a team at the University of Bonn.
Asthma patients react even to low concentrations of some allergens with severe inflammation of the bronchi. This is also accompanied by increased mucus production, which makes breathing even more difficult.
A central role here is played by cells of the innate immune system, which were only discovered a few years ago and are called Innate Lymphoid Cells (ILC).
They perform an important protective function in the lungs by regenerating damaged mucous membranes.
For this purpose, they produce inflammatory messengers from the group of cytokines, which stimulate the division of the mucosal cells and promote mucus production.
This mechanism is normally very useful: It allows the body to quickly repair damage caused by pathogens or harmful substances. The mucus then transports the pathogens out of the bronchial tubes and protects the respiratory tract against re-infection.
According to the team, with asthma, the inflammatory reaction is much stronger and longer than normal. The consequences are extreme breathing difficulties, which can even be life-threatening.
The ILCs multiply rapidly during this process and produce large amounts of proinflammatory cytokines.
Scientists hope that if their division could be slowed down, it may be possible to bring the excessive reaction under control. In fact, the results now published point in exactly this direction.
But what happens if cells are forced to use these fatty acids elsewhere? To answer this question, the researchers put asthmatic mice on a diet that contained mainly fats, but hardly any carbohydrates or proteins.
With this diet, also known as a ketogenic diet, the cell metabolism changes: The cells now get the energy they need from burning fat.
However, this means that they lack fatty acids, which they need for the formation of new membranes during cell division.
As a consequence, the division activity of the ILCs in the rodents fed a special diet decreased—dramatically.
This is not only due to the switch to fats as an alternative energy source and the resulting shortage of fatty acids. The glucose deficiency presumably also directly contributes to the reduced activity of the ILCs.
The scientists now want to investigate on patients whether a ketogenic diet can prevent asthma attacks. However, this is not completely without long-term risks and should only be carried out in consultation with a doctor.
The researchers are therefore trying to determine which components of the dietary change are responsible for the effect. Maybe this will open the door to the development of new drugs.
It is known that a ketogenic diet can be an effective therapy for some diseases.
For instance, patients with certain forms of epilepsy are treated with this method. And the change in diet is also said to help with some tumors—after all, the cells in them also multiply unusually strongly.
One author of the study is Prof. Dr. Christoph Wilhelm from the Institute for Clinical Chemistry and Clinical Pharmacology.
The study is published in the renowned journal Immunity.
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