Study Suggests Dietary Changes May Enhance Flu Vaccine Effectiveness

by Ella

New research indicates that adjusting your diet before receiving a flu shot could potentially boost its effectiveness, with findings suggesting that cutting down on red meat and butter might be beneficial.

A recent study demonstrated that obese mice fed a low-fat diet prior to vaccination exhibited improved resistance against the flu virus.


The low-fat diet referred to in the study involves consuming items where only 30 percent of calories come from fat, as outlined by the American Cancer Society. This includes incorporating foods such as skim milk, lean meats like chicken, whole grains, and ample fresh fruits and vegetables.


Researchers observed that a low-fat diet not only led to significant and sustained weight loss but also bolstered the immune system.


Vaccinations function by instructing the body’s defense cells to identify and combat viral material, making them effective when administered to a healthy immune system.


Dr. Stacey Schultz-Cherry, co-author of the study and deputy director of the WHO’s Collaborating Centre for Studies on the Ecology of Influenza in Animals and Birds, highlighted that a low-fat diet contrasts with the typical Western diet, which is characterized by its high fat and processed food content.

According to research from the Human Vaccine Institute in 2017, overweight individuals are twice as likely to contract the flu compared to those of average weight, even after vaccination.

In 2023, approximately 370,000 Americans were hospitalized due to the flu, with around 24,000 fatalities, according to the CDC. The majority of hospitalized individuals had underlying conditions that exacerbated flu severity, such as obesity, high blood pressure, or heart disease.

Dr. Schultz-Cherry’s study, conducted at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, aims to address this gap in flu vaccine effectiveness for obese individuals.

The study involved administering the flu vaccine to 20 obese mice, half of which were placed on a low-fat diet prior to vaccination. A month later, all mice were exposed to the flu virus.

Results showed that all ten mice on the low-fat diet survived, while all ten mice on the high-fat diet perished. Interestingly, when a separate group of mice was placed on a diet after vaccination, the outcomes were not as favorable.

Dr. Schultz-Cherry emphasized the importance of the timing of weight loss in influencing vaccine effectiveness. She noted that while the findings are promising in mice, further research is needed to determine whether similar results can be replicated in humans.

Dr. Ri Scarborough, a veterinarian and cancer researcher at Monash University, cautioned that while mice and humans share biological similarities, there are significant differences that warrant careful consideration.

Nevertheless, the study suggests a potential avenue for improving vaccine efficacy in individuals with obesity, signaling the importance of future research in this area.



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