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Feed a Cold and Starve a Fever: Myth or Not?

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posted on Sep, 18 2008 @ 03:39 PM
Well, I've had a touch of "something" lately and have had a slight fever, so, of course when you have a fever the old saying, "Feed a Cold, Starve a Fever" always pops into your mind!

But is this good advice? Or is it just a myth or an "old wives tale"?

Actually, it's hard to say if this is good advice or not.

First of all, what causes a "fever"!

Feed a Fever?

Surprisingly, fever is caused by a substance made by our own cells. This chemical then acts on the temperature regulating center in the brain to raise body temperature, presumably to make the environment of germs less hospitable and hastening their departure.

Despite being uncomfortable, fever is generally not harmful unless temperatures higher than 105 degrees are sustained.

Thought that was pretty interesting!

Where did the saying come from? Feed a Cold, Starve a Fever!

Myth or Fact: Feed a Cold, Starve a Fever

No one really knows the origins of the axiom, but most accounts link it back as early as 1574, when dictionary writer John Withals wrote “Fasting is a great remedie of feuer.”

In those days, medical wisdom dictated that a drop in body temperature caused colds, while fevers produced a temperature spike.

The rationale behind “feed a cold, starve a fever” may have been that eating food and drinking tonic helped the body generate warmth during a cold, while laying off the calories helped temper the inner heat during a fever.

Another way of putting the "temper the inner heat" quote above.

Is it "feed a cold, starve a fever" or vice versa? And should you?

A more plausible interpretation is that the feed-a-cold idea arose out of a folk understanding of the disease process, namely that there were two kinds of illnesses, those caused by low temperatures (colds and chills) and those caused by high temperatures (fever). If you had a chill, you wanted to stoke the interior fires, so you pigged. If you had a fever, you didn't want things to overheat, so you slacked off on the fuel.

So in other words, they just thought of the body like a human fireplace! When it was cold (and had chills), you would add more wood (food) to the fire.

If the "human fireplace" was hot with a fever, you didn't want to make it hotter by adding more wood (food) to the fire so you starved the fire to cool it down.

Pretty interesting line of thought!

So, now for the real question, SHOULD you "feed a cold and starve a fever?

Well, depends on who you ask!

"Feed a Cold, Starve a Fever" May Be Right

The maxim "feed a cold, starve a fever" may be right after all, researchers have discovered.

Until now, most doctors and nutritionists have rejected the idea as a myth. But Dutch scientists have found that eating a meal boosts the type of immune response that destroys the viruses responsible for colds, while fasting stimulates the response that tackles the bacterial infections responsible for most fevers.

What they found was that after eating, levels of gamma interferon quadruple in the human body, gamma interferon fights viral infections which cause colds.

When fasting (starving) occurred, levels of gamma interferon fell :

"while levels of another chemical messenger, interleukin-4, nearly quadrupled. Interleukin-4 is characteristic of the humoral immune response, in which B cells produce antibodies that attack pathogens lurking outside our cells. This response is needed to tackle most bacterial infections,

Bacterial infections are the cause of most fevers.

So, it seems the old proverb is true!

Some physicians don't agree with this "old proverb" though!

True or False: Feed a Cold, Starve a Fever

Evidence Against the Health Claim

Current medical opinion puts the “feed a cold, starve a fever” maxim in the same category as other medical advice from the Middle Ages–false and maybe even dangerous! An infection–particularly one associated with fevers– is no time to deny your body the nutrients and fluids it needs. Like any bodily system, the immune system requires energy to function properly.

So there you go, there are opinions for both sides of this, true and false.

What I gathered out of this is if you have a fever drink plenty of fluids, and if you hungry, EAT, if your not hungry, DON"T EAT!

There seems to be benefits from "starving a fever" and "feeding a cold"!

Just don't actually "starve" yourself, that will NEVER be good advice!

[edit on 9/18/2008 by Keyhole]

posted on Feb, 17 2009 @ 12:06 PM
The axiom has always worked for me...

Of course, when I have a fever, I'm generally not hungry at all, but I do drink a lot of fluids, even though I don't feel like it...

When I have a cold, I get ravenous and eat everything in the house not nailed down, hehe....


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