The truth about feeding a cold and starving a fever

Let’s talk about the old adage “feed a cold, starve a fever”. When we say it’s an old saying, we mean old. This phrase has been around since at least 1574 – a variant was found in a dictionary from that year that says fasting is an excellent remedy for fever. At the time, it was thought that eating and digesting food caused significant body heat, which aggravated fever. Although there is usually a slight rise in your body temperature within about 20 minutes after a meal, it is mild and lasts only a short time.

So while ‘starving’ a fever may have been considered beneficial before we knew better, today we know that depriving the body of energy-producing fuel, AKA food, does nothing to promote healing. .

Is a small rise in temperature a bad thing when your body is fighting an infection? Turns out that might be a good thing, but the evidence is inconclusive. While in ancient times fevers were actively averted, hence the “starve the fever” tactic, a medical about-face occurred in the early 20th century. Before the discovery of antibiotics, doctors used medically induced fevers (pyrotherapy) as a treatment for everything from rheumatic fever to syphilis, aiming to raise a person’s body temperature to between 103 and 107 degrees. Fahrenheit.

Was it effective? As an article on the subject in the New York Times succinctly summed up: Perhaps the most telling commentary on the value of pyrotherapy is the rapidity with which it was abandoned after the introduction of penicillin.

The “feeding a cold” part makes more sense. Fighting an illness like a cold or the flu takes energy, and we get energy from food. So eating nutritious foods when you have a cold can help you fight off the illness. Be careful not to overeat, however, and aim for comfort foods that are high in nutrients.

What about foods that are said to have healing properties?

Chicken soup. We know anecdotally that it’s a feel-good elixir, but now we have proof. A study from the American College of Chest Physicians found that chicken soup has a mild anti-inflammatory effect, which may help relieve upper respiratory infections like a cold.

Dear. According to the New York Times, several randomized controlled trials have shown that honey can reduce the severity and frequency of nighttime coughs in children, sometimes better than over-the-counter cough medicines.

Broth. Whether you choose something meaty like bone broth or a vegetarian version, broth is packed with nutrients and antioxidants. It also helps to hydrate you and is warm and comfortable.

Comfort foods. What feels good to you is probably what you should eat when you’re sick. Try to spruce it up in the nutrient department when possible. If your favorite comfort food is mac and cheese, consider topping it with garlic sautéed leafy greens for a nutritional boost.

The BRAT diet. Colds and flu can lead to gastrointestinal upset. The BRAT diet is an acronym that stands for bananas, white rice, apples, and toast, simple, low-fiber foods that are easy to digest.

What makes even more sense than feeding a cold or fever is flooding them. You should also flood an allergy attack. Drinking plenty of water is good for your body in sickness and in good health. This is very important when you are sick for several reasons. First, it will relieve congestion by thinning mucus in the nose, chest, and throat. Second, if you have a fever, you can easily become dehydrated. Water, ginger ale, clear soups, decaffeinated tea, and fruit juices are good options for staying hydrated when you’re sick.

Other remedies you can rely on to feel better for a cold, fever, or even the flu:

Rest. You’ll heal faster if you let your body focus on fighting your illness, so fight the temptation to “get through it” and go to bed. You will shorten your illness and feel better faster.

Gargle. A sore throat lollipop is probably sitting on your kitchen counter. For a gargle that will temporarily relieve a sore or sore throat, dissolve about half a teaspoon of salt in an 8-ounce glass of warm water. Gargle with this mixture as needed. Warning: children under 6 cannot gargle, so this is not a good option for little ones.

Humidify the air. Using a vaporizer or humidifier can help reduce congestion by adding moisture to the air. Be sure to clean the unit regularly (follow the manufacturer’s instructions) and change the water daily so it doesn’t grow mold or mildew.

Hot liquids. Sip a cup of tea or broth, even hot cider. This time-tested remedy will feel good on your throat and can help relieve congestion by thinning mucus.

Relieves congestion. Nasal sprays and saline drops are available over the counter and are safe for all ages. Adults can use the spray type and apply it as you would any nasal spray. It will lubricate your sinuses and loosen mucus. For infants, saline drops are the way to go: place a few drops of saline in one nostril, draw in the nostril with a bulb syringe, then repeat on the other side.

Next level: Neti Pot. It is an old and effective tool. The results will be similar to the saline nasal spray but the increased volume will provide even more relief. Neti pots look like small teapots with nostril-sized spouts. To use one, you’ll need to hold your head above the sink. Some people use their neti pots while showering. Fill your neti with sterile salt water. Lean over the sink and tilt your head to the side. Place the spout of the jar into the nostril on top. Breathe through your mouth and slowly pour the solution into your upper nostril. If you have the right angle, it will flow out of your lower nostril. You are mistaken if the solution runs down your throat or out of your mouth. It will take some practice, but the relief is worth it. Wash your neti pot after each use.

Tell your health care provider if your symptoms get worse or if you have new symptoms. If your symptoms do not improve within a few days, call your provider. For more health and wellness information, visit the INTEGRIS Health For You blog.

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