Feed a Cold, Starve a Fever

January 15, 2014

I have used this saying 3 times in the last 3 days in my practice. If you google the saying the search comes back with conflicting information about whether you should feed or starve yourself. So I thought that I would take the opportunity to explain where this saying came from and the ideas behind it.

As many of you know, I am a good one for using folk medicine and "old wives tales". Very ften there is tens, hundreds and in some cases thousands of years of experiential evidence behind folk medicine and old wives tales. Many times the conventional medical world - being wrapped up in their ideas that the only true evidence is double blind placebo controlled studies - is quick to disregard traditional wisdom. They say it was from times well before we "knew" anything about science and viruses and bacteria. I find it interesting about this perspective, because if we were so lost, shouldn't we have died out as a species long ago?

Cold_virus

So what is behind the saying FEED A COLD, STARVE A FEVER?

Ok, enough of my rant. First of all I would like to explain the part about "starve". This does not truly imply that one should not eat or drink anything while they have a fever. When our body is fighting a virus or bacteria, it takes a large amount of metabolic activity to battle the invader. Our body uses a fever to thermally destroy the virus or bacteria by making an environment in which the invader cannot survive. Since digestion requires a lot of energy, fasting helps to divert more energy into fighting off the illness. What "starving" or "fasting" implies is minimizing food intake and consuming lots of fluids - teas, water, clear broths. This provides fluid and easy to digest and absorb energy. What most people find, if they listen to their bodies and not their heads, is that they have minimal appetite when they are experiencing a fever. Most people eat because they are supposed to, not because they are actually hungry. Fevers generally last for 1-2 days, and we should all know by now that humans can survive for 4 days without food, as long as we are consuming water.

A cold, on the other hand, tends to last for 5 days to 2 weeks. "Starving" ourselves for that long would be counterproductive as it would fail to provide the nutrients needed to support our immune system and help it rid the body of bacteria or virus. Eating foods rich in vitamin C and other nutrients supports the cellular immunity to fight off the illness.

The take home message is this: Eat nutrient dense, vitamin C rich foods when you have a cold, and consume water, herbal teas and clear broths, and food - if you feel hungry - when you have a fever.

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