Flu season is bad every year, but it was especially bad this year. Over 30,000 people across the country were hospitalized. One hundred and sixty-five children died. And while millions of people get their flu shot, most people don’t, which keeps the CDC one step behind the deadly infection whenever winter rolls around.
Getting a flu shot gives the best chance at avoiding infection, but according to a new study published in Immunology today, our best chance for maximizing the effectiveness of a flu shot and avoiding the wrath of flu season may be a high fiber diet. Yes, as in eating high-fiber cereal, beans, peas, seeds, and fruit.
According to the study (which used mice, not human subjects), eating more fiber doesn’t just provide a boost to immune systems; it affects the way the whole immune system actually works and makes it better at fighting the flu. According to a Monash University press release, Benjamin Marsland, a lead author for the study, it’s possible that a high-fiber diet could also benefit people with asthma or severe viral infections, all through the same pathway.
Different types of white blood cells—the heavy-lifters of the body’s immune system, responsible for targeting and fighting infection—are more effective and useful for certain kinds of infections. In the case of the flu, according to the study, a high fiber diet leads more stem cells—blank-slate cells which could become basically anything in the human body—to become Ly6c, the types of cells bodies need in order to effectively fight the flu.
Ly6c cells work wonders in the human body: They can actually build up protective layers of lung tissue, which makes a person less likely to have painful, soul-crushing coughing. These cells can also repair lung tissue, meaning recovery from the flu won’t be as slow and generally awful as it could be. In the case of a severe infection, this tissue repair could even prevent long-term lung damage.
In the case of the flu, it’s important for the immune system to function like a well-oiled machine and dedicate only the best resources where they’re absolutely needed. Ly6c cells actually act like an immune system’s traffic manager throughout the lungs, recruiting only the necessary, most efficient cells.