A sick girl having throat pain and fever standing in front of a table with plenty of medicines.

Feed a Cold, Starve a Fever – Does this Old Wives’ Tale Work?

You’ve got a cold – again!  Why does it keep happening to you?  What can you do about it?  You may even have a fever, but no cold in sight, you’re bound to feel under the weather. All you want to do is crawl into bed.  Isn’t there anything that you can do to make you feel better fast?  Well, apart from the regular remedies, sleep, rest, paracetamol and ibuprofen, there are other things you can do.  To stave off a cold, you should load up on Vitamin C and take it regularly to build up your immune system.  An anti-oxidant vitamin it’s great for cell turnover and resistance building.  Echinacea is another excellent, natural supplement that helps to guard against colds and flu, but what can you do now you’ve got a cold or fever?  There’s an old expression, Feed a Cold, Starve a Fever.  What does it mean? Does it work?  Let’s explore the topic.

Where Feed a Cold, Starve a Fever Came From

Your mom, grandmother or even your great grandmother possible swore by the words feed a cold, starve a fever and there’s good reason.  Roll back a few hundred years to the Middle Ages and there wasn’t any medication around to fight against illness.  In fact, the common cold was so dangerous that people died from it!  At the time, the two most common illnesses were colds and those that caused high body temperature (fever).  It was believed that those illnesses caused by exposure to low temperatures (they’re not actually caused by low temperatures, but when you’re exposed to low temperatures your immune system has to work extra hard and when you’re run down, you become more susceptible to catching viruses).  To fight back against “cold” illnesses, it was said that you should fill up on warm food whereas a fever made you hot and you needed to cool down. In the Middle Ages, that meant not eating much, to stop burning up energy.

There’s No Need to Starve!

There’s some truth in feeding up a cold but you can equally feed yourself when you have a fever, there’s no need to starve. As mentioned earlier on, it’s about rest and recuperation, taking over-the-counter medication but it’s very important to give your immune system strength and that comes from eating well.  So, feed a cold, starve a fever has some truth – but the truth is more in the feeding area!  As well as eating, you need to keep your body hydrated, and warm fluids are good when you feel shivery and cold.  Warm fluids can actually help to cool down a fever too so don’t deprive your body of what you need.

Your Body Needs Energy to Fight Illness

Perhaps the feed a cold, starve a fever anecdote should be updated to feed a cold and feed a fever!  Food is energy and your body needs extra energy to fight illness.  Plus, eating food when you have a cold virus helps your body warm up.  If you have a fever, please don’t feed a cold, starve a fever!  A fever is your body’s defense against the virus that’s in your body and it needs the food to combat the attack.  Here’s some more useful information on the common cold: https://www.cdc.gov/features/rhinoviruses/index.html.

Tips to Feel Better Soon

So, whatever you do, don’t feed a cold, starve a fever – feed both. Here are some more things you can do to get better soon:

  • Apart from eating nutritious food (vegetable soups, protein, vegetables, fruit – lots of vitamins), drink lots! From hot drinks to milky drinks and plenty of water, especially if you’ve had a bad tummy as well (often associated with illness), you need to replenish lost water and electrolytes.  Sip hot liquid rather than taking large gulps.  Coffee isn’t recommended as it’s a diuretic so can increase dehydration (along with Diet Coke). Avoid it if you can.
  • Washing your hands regularly can stave off viruses as your hands touch everything so come into contact with the common cold and other illnesses. Keep your touch phone, tablet, and keyboard nice and clean too as these can harbor viruses.
  • Gargle with salt water if your throat is sore. ½ a teaspoon of salt with 8 ounces of water should be sufficient.
  • Steam a cold by dropping some Vicks into a glass bowl and pouring boiling water over it. Place your face over the bowl and cover with a towel, inhaling for a few minutes to clear blocked airways.  Be careful not to burn your face!
  • Use a humidifier to add moisture to the air as dry air can make your throat feel scratchy.
  • Get plenty of sleep. It’s harder to sleep when your nose is stuffed up but use a decongestant before bed, even one with a mild antihistamine to help you sleep.

You should feel better within 7 to 10 days but during that time in-between, take it easy and allow your body plenty of time to recuperate.  You’ve been ill, if you don’t treat your body with the care it deserves, you may relapse quickly.  Give yourself a break!  You got ill because your immune system wasn’t working to the optimum, so going forwards, promise yourself lots of vitamins, good nutrition, and plenty of R&R.  Now you know all about how to feed a cold, starve a fever and whether or not it’s the correct way to treat mild illness.


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