GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — A new study by the Van Andel Institute is exploring how a substance made by the liver may supercharge immune cells fight to infection and disease.

According to the study, when T cells — the soldiers of the immune system — absorb ketone bodies, their function improves by reprogramming them to fight threats to the body better.

Authors of the study think ketone bodies could be an evolutionary failsafe that boosts the immune system when certain nutrients in the body are low. The study said this can happen when appetite is suppressed or during illness.

Ketone bodies are increased when glucose is low. This can be caused by exercise or during fasting.

“When you’re under a dietary regiment such as the ketogenic diet or fasting, it’s one way that our bodies boost production of these ketone bodies and so we think this might unlock a way of boosting immunity,” Dr. Rusty Jones, who worked on the study, said. 

Although the study suggests increasing ketone bodies with fasting may enhance T cell function, other studies show that fasting might suppress immune function.

Authors say that both show the complex relationship between diet and the immune system.

Going forward, scientist hope to explore how fasting and ketone body supplementation affects immune function-focusing on T cells’ ability to fight cancer.