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Should You Feed a Cold and Starve a Fever?


Most Americans are obsessed about avoiding colds and the flu. And rightly so: There's no miracle solution or wonder pill to take once you realize that shit, I'm sick. You do know to drink fluids, get plenty of rest, and refrain from going to work. But what about that age-old advice about feeding a cold and starving a fever?

Surprisingly, the research on the ancient remedy—which medical historians believe dates back to the Middle Ages—is scant.

The only notable, modern, clinical vetting came in 2002 when researchers in The Netherlands measured the immune-boosting cells that help battle colds and those that tackle fevers and infections. When the subjects ate, their cold-fighting cell count slightly rose; when they went without food, their infection-fighting cells increased. The researchers concluded the historic cure "may reflect the observation that nutritional status has a bona fide effect on the immune response."

But here's why your doctor has never sent you home with the advice your mom or your grandmother told you: The study was hardly conclusive, as it only monitored six healthy young men who weren't suffering from a cold or a fever.

Anecdotally, many doctors and infectious disease researchers scoff at the premise of the advice. While short-term fasting may have some benefits, doing so when in weakened state is never a good idea. Nor is overeating.

The consensus in the medical community—when suffering from a cold or a fever (or even Typhoid fever)—has long been: Eat a healthy, balanced meal and drink plenty of alcohol-free liquids. Yes, that means skipping that wee bit of medicinal whiskey at bedtime—a "cure" you no doubt take whether ill or not.

—Mike Dawson is a magazine writer and editor and a regular contributor to Details.

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Also on Details.com:
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Can You Catch Up on Missed Sleep?
Does Smoking Pot Make You Dumber?

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