14. July 2020
Does a low carbohydrate diet prevent asthma attacks?

Eating more fat than carbohydrates appears to curb inflammation in the lungs. This was the result of an animal study conducted by the University of Bonn.

The image shows two lymphoid cells (ILCs; the nuclei are marked in blue) that have stored fatty acids in small fat droplets (lipid droplets, green) (source: Dr. Fotios Karagiannis, Uni Bonn).

Immune cells called ILCs (innate lymphoid cells) are an important part of the inflammation process in the lungs. They promote the production of mucous, which makes it easier to cough out pathogens.
But for people with asthma, this is not always a good thing. “With asthma, the inflammatory response is much stronger and longer than usual”, explains Wilhelm. In the acute stage, excessive mucous production can worsen breathing problems.

High-fat diet slows down mucous production

Wilhelm’s research group investigated how ILCs could be prevented from proliferating in mice. They found that the cells need fatty acids to stimulate the production of mucous. They fed the animals a high fat, low carbohydrate diet, otherwise known as a ketogenic diet.

ILCs normally increase in the bronchi fourfold when exposed to allergens. “However, they remained almost the same in our animals. As a result, both mucous production and other asthma symptoms decreased”, said Wilhelm, leader of the working group at the University Hospital in Bonn.

How it works

The low carbohydrate level causes the absorbed fatty acids to be used for energy production. They are then no longer available to promote the proliferation of the ILCs. The result is that the number of ILCs in the bronchi remains nearly constant. Mucous production and other asthma symptoms are reduced.

Wilhelm and his team now want to investigate whether the higher fat, lower carb diet can prevent asthma attacks on patients. However, Wilhelm warns that this should not be attempted without medical supervision.




Wilhelm C. Forscher schlagen eine spezielle Diät gegen Asthma vor (Researchers propose a special diet for people with asthma). Press release from the University of Bonn, 7 April 2020. (In German)

Original publication

Karagiannis F et al. Lipid-Droplet Formation Drives Pathogenic Group 2 Innate Lymphoid Cells in Airway Inflammation. Immunity, April 2020.