Vegan and Low Carb Diet Effects on the Immune System

In this video Dr. Seheult of Medcram discusses what effect diet has on the cells of the immune system. The innate immune system is what identifies things in your system as foreign. This is what causes fevers and generalized malaise, and produces interferon. The adaptive immune system is where antibodies are made. 

Interferon and the immune system

Today we will talk about which type of diets affect these aspects of the immune system. MedCram has spoken about the importance of interferon and how a virus needs to get around interferon in order to cause infection in the body. There was a study done that showed when giving pegylated interferon lambda to patients with COVID-19, there was a significant decrease in hospitalization or emergency department visits within 28 days compared to those in the placebo group. The number needed to treat for this was fairly low at 35  and had an absolute risk reduction of 2.9%. This occurred regardless of vaccination status. The conclusion was that the risk of COVID-19 related hospitalization or an emergency department visit was approximately 50% lower in the interferon group than in the placebo group and results were consistent regardless of vaccination status.

Which diet does what for interferon?

So what is it that you can do as an individual to help increase your interferon levels to mount a better immune response. Medcram has talked about this before in terms of hydrotherapy by causing hyperthermia which articles have shown enhances interferon synthesis. Medcram has also talked about diets and there was a study done in BMJ Nutrition, Prevention and Health that was a population-based case-control study in six countries covering plant-based diets, pescatarian diets, and low carbohydrate-high protein diets and how this related to COVID outcomes and COVID-19 severity. This particular study concluded that plant-based diets or pescatarian diets were associated with lower odds of moderate to severe COVID-19 compared to the control group.   The low-carbohydrate and high protein diets had a statistically significant higher incidence of moderate to severe COVID-19 than the control group. However, a flaw of this study is that the diets were self-reported.  When they reviewed the types of foods that were eaten in those that followed a plant-based or pescatarian diet compared to those that did not, they found there was a statistically significant difference in the amount of total vegetables consumed and legumes and meat products. So this did appear to go along with the types of self reporting done in these diets.  Furthermore, this study did not have a “healthy user” effect as there was no statistical difference between sweets, fruit juices, alcohol or sugar sweetened beverages that were ingested between the two groups. 

Is one diet better?

The question then becomes is it possible that ingesting a plant-based or pescatarian diet vs a low-carb high protein diet can lead to a better interferon immune response? There was a paper published in Nature Medicine that looked at the different peripheral immune signatures elicited by vegan versus ketogenic diets in humans. It should be also noted that a vegan diet is not mutually exclusive to maintaining a ketogenic diet. However, for the purpose of this study they did define what was considered a vegan diet versus a ketogenic diet such that the vegan that had a 10.3% fat and 75.2% carbohydrate composition and the ketogenic diet was 75.8% fat and 10% carbohydrate composition. They did a randomized controlled crossover trial and had each group do a vegan diet for two weeks or a ketogenic diet for two weeks and then had blood samples done. The results were found as follows. Everything that had to do with innate immunity markers (enriched  in monocytes, enriched  in neutrophils, immune activation, monocyte signature, and TLR signaling) was increased when participants were on a vegan diet compared to a ketogenic diet. What was most important was that the interferon signature was greatly increased in all points when on a vegan diet; however, in a ketogenic diet it was significantly decreased. The ketogenic diet did have some noted benefits. It needs to be clarified that to be on a ketogenic diet or to get to a ketogenic state does not necessarily involve eating a high-fat diet. Intermittent fasting even on a vegan diet can also lead to ketosis. The ketogenic diet had more T cell activation, B cell signature, enrichment in B cells, enrichment in T cells, NK cell signature enrichment and natural killer cells. This appeared to be more of an improvement in adaptive immunity. So the take away from this study is that a vegan diet  in this randomized crossover trial appeared to provide a greater interferon activity and response than a ketogenic diet. This was also seen in other studies where those who had less of a interferon response tended to have more severe COVID-19 infections.

Dr. Seheult discusses a pneumonic he likes to use NEWSTART where N  stands for nutrition, E for exercise, W for water, S for sunshine, T for temperance, A for air, R for rest, and T stands for trust in relationships and spiritual aspects. MedCram has discussed most of these in previous videos. It is important for everyone to do what they can to improve their immune system. 


Differential peripheral immune signatures elicited by vegan versus ketogenic diets in humans (Nature Medicine) |…

Plant-based diets, pescatarian diets and COVID-19 severity: a population-based case–control study in six countries (BMJ) |…

Impaired type I interferon activity and inflammatory responses in severe COVID-19 patients (Science) |…

SARS-CoV-2 Mac1 is required for IFN antagonism and efficient virus replication in cell culture and in mice (PNAS) |…

Early Treatment with Pegylated Interferon Lambda for Covid-19 (NEMJ) |…

Hyperthermia in humans enhances interferon-gamma synthesis and alters the peripheral lymphocyte population (Journal of interferon research) |

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