Food affects viral and bacterial infections differently

What you eat when you’re sick may determine if you’ll get better | New Scientist | September 2016 – By Debora MacKenzie

Crave chicken soup when you have a cold? There may be a good reason for that.

Research in mice has found that changing eating habits could be crucial for surviving the body’s own immune responses to different types of infection.

Ruslan Medzhitov at Yale University and his team have found that giving mice with flu glucose saved their lives, but it killed those that were infected with bacteria.  

Protecting the brain

Inflammation is a general activation of the immune system that occurs when an invader is detected.

It causes most disease symptoms, and can damage and even kill the host it is trying to save.

Researchers increasingly believe that surviving an infection is as much about tolerating your own immune response as it is about killing the invaders.

Mice seem to survive their own immune responses thanks to feeding strategies

bacteria and viruses trigger different inflammatory responses, and feeding is helpful for surviving the viral response, but harmful when fighting off bacteria.

Ketogenic diet

when mice were in bacterial defence mode, they benefitted from a lack of sugar. As many dieters know, not eating sugar pushes the body to metabolise fat instead, generating chemicals called ketones.

This “ketogenic” switch seems to benefit mice with bacterial inflammation

Inflammation due to viruses, however, does not produce radicals.

Chicken soup

The findings may help explain the ancient adage that it’s best to feed a cold, but starve a fever.

Colds are usually caused by viruses, while fevers would traditionally have been more likely to be down to a bacterial infection.

Sepsis – a severe systemic inflammation of the body that often occurs in response to an infection – kills around a third of those who develop it.

Efforts to fight sepsis with fasting or feeding have yielded no clear results. That could be because so far, none of these studies distinguished or recorded whether patients had bacterial or viral sepsis.

It may be that feeding those infected with bacteria or viruses differently boosts their survival rates.  



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