Feed a cold, starve a fever? Not always!

Oct 5, 2021 by Carol Bareuther

The adage “feed a cold, starve a fever” got its start in Hippocrates day and proved the popular prescription up to the 19th century. Yet, given our modern medical wisdom, does this lore hold up today as the right way to treat common upper respiratory tract infection (URTI) symptoms like cough, runny nose, sore throat, headache and fever? No. Instead, the 21st century rendition should read: “Feed a cold, feed a fever.”

The root of this old saying came from the observation that not eating — or in other words, a state of starvation — lowered body temperature, and thus, seemed to cure a fever. In the late 19th century, physicians flip-flopped when they found that for every degree Celsius a fever elevated temperature, a person’s metabolic rate (the rate at which the body burns calories) increased 10 percent. Hence, treatments turned towards “feeding a fever” to prevent weakness and weight loss.

Nowadays, we know that starvation can promote the body’s immune system to fight against bacteria, but not viruses. What’s more, fasting and dehydration can reduce the body’s antiviral immune response. These are both facts important to note since most upper respiratory tract infections are caused by viruses.

When treating an upper respiratory tract infection, drink! Keep hydrated with water, juice, broth and soups. Eat a balance of protein, carbohydrates and fats, plus a wide variety of vitamins, minerals and phytochemicals, or plant-based nutrients.

Also consider the preventative power of probiotics. Research published in 2018 in the journal Synthetic and Systems Biotechnology looked at adults who had experienced an URTI four or more times during the past year. When given a 6-ounce serving of a yogurt drink containing three probiotic organisms once a day for 12 weeks, these folks experienced an immune system boost, as tested by blood levels of interferon, interleukins and immunoglobulins — and this boost helped to prevent flu-like respiratory infections. The specific probiotics used were Lactobacillus paracasei, Lactobacillus casei and Lactobacillus fermentum — all found in some commercial yogurts, certain cheeses like aged cheddar and Parmigiano Reggiano, naturally fermented vegetables and Sicilian green olives.

The bottom line is, if you have fever due to a cold or flu, keep well hydrated — and eat!

Carol Bareuther is a registered dietitian and freelance health and nutrition writer.

Topics:


Related Articles

Take It In: The pros of protein undenied

Take It In: The pros of protein undenied

Take It In: by Carol Bareuther Protein has long been the favorite of the three dietary macronutrients, sought out for years while the other two, carbohydrates and fats, have

Take It In: Control weight with meal timing, exercise

Take It In: Control weight with meal timing, exercise

Take It In: by Carol Bareuther Eat breakfast like a king, lunch like a prince and dinner like a pauper. Add moderate exercise to this age-old wisdom and you’ve

Take It In: Pro’s and con’s of the ketogenic diet

Take It In: Pro’s and con’s of the ketogenic diet

Take It In: by Carol Bareuther The ketogenic diet was first a hot topic when it was introduced in the 1920s. Physicians at the time found that the high-fat

Take It In: Navigate the breakfast dilemma

Take It In: Navigate the breakfast dilemma

Take It In: by Carol Bareuther To eat breakfast or not? A new study published in the January issue of the British Medical Journal has threatened to overturn the

Take It In: Plant-based diet delivers better health – for people and planet

Take It In: Plant-based diet delivers better health – for people and planet

Take It In: by Carol Bareuther Adios, Atkins. Sayonara, South Beach. It’s a plant-based diet that’s capturing attention today. In fact, 51% of adults surveyed for the 2019 Food

Take It In: Boost your immunity with these foods

Take It In: Boost your immunity with these foods

Take It In: by Carol Bareuther Colds and flus viruses are everywhere. In this age of globe-trotting travel and with nearly a quarter of the world’s inhabitants living in