Monday, June 7, 2010

Feed a Cold, Starve a Fever?


The well known advice, “Feed a Cold, Starve a Fever,” has been passed down from mother to mother for what seems like forever. We’ve all heard it before, and most of us assume it’s true because it, indeed, sounds pretty legitimate! Unfortunately, all those mothers weren’t as scientifically savvy as we thought, because this somewhat extreme medical advice is not really supported by doctors today. In fact, doctors have been trying to get rid of this medical myth for years! So why has it stuck around for so long?

Although there are several small studies that insist feeding a cold and starving a fever could possibly be somewhat reliable medical advice, it is important to note that this adage is a bit extreme and could be potentially dangerous for those who are sick. Doctors caution taking this old medical advice too seriously, because starving yourself or overconsuming will not speed up the healing process, and could actually extend the time it takes for you to get better! So think twice before you try to gorge or malnourish yourself. Instead, a perfect balance between the two is ideal. For fevers, doctors suggest eating when you are hungry, but not to worry if you are not, because fevers typically decrease appetite (your body’s natural defense mechanism) so the body can better fight off the pathogens. Drinking fluids is always helpful in recovering from a fever too. As for colds, they typically last longer than fevers, so it is important to eat properly, as well as stay well hydrated, because it thins out secretions and gets them through the body faster. Rest is also equally as important as these factors; so it can be concluded that a combination of these factors is what will make you better, not the old “Feed a Cold, Starve a Fever” rumor!

The exact origin of this myth is not quite known, but it can be dated as far back as 1574, when a dictionary writer named John Withals wrote that “Fasting is a great remedy of fever.” However, it is expected that this notion originated far before Withals. It is thought that it perhaps came from the traditional understanding of common illness that some illnesses are caused by low temperatures and some are caused by high temperatures. Therefore, giving your body fuel when it has a low body temperature, and holding off on the fuel when it has a high body temperature, seems like a reasonable idea. And indeed it does, the human mind is thinking very systematically in this myth, but the body just doesn’t work like that! Instead, taking care of yourself by eating, drinking, and resting, can be considered the universal cure for these common illnesses!

Sources:
http://www.dukehealth.org/health_library/health_articles/feed_a_cold
http://www.straightdope.com/columns/read/1126/is-it-feed-a-cold-starve-a-fever-or-vice-versa

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