Feed a Cold and Starve a Fever: Fact or Fiction?

feed a cold and starve a fever

There are millions of cases of the common cold in the USA every year, with each adult American having a cold two to three times a year.

With cold symptoms lasting anywhere from seven days to three weeks, that’s a lot of time to spend having a cold!

Because of the prevalence of colds, there’s a lot of medicinal folklore regarding the best ways to treat a cold. The most famous of these is, “feed a cold and starve a fever.”

Everyone’s heard it, and maybe you’ve even said it once or twice. But is it true or is it all just a giant misconception? Let’s take a look at what the science and studies say.

Feed a Cold and Starve a Fever: Where Did This Idea Come From?

The idea that we should feed a cold and starve a fever is attributed to John Withals from the year 1574. It’s unclear whether this idea existed before his writing, but he’s given the credit for the idea that fasting could cure a fever.

Because people in the past believed that the common cold was due to a drop in your body temperature, they believed that eating and drinking could help raise your body temperature and stave off the flu.

Medical historians say that the doctors of the 16th and 17th centuries believed fevers indicated your metabolism was working overtime, which is sort of the case. It was believed that by eating and activating digestion a fever could get worse because less of your energy would be available to fight off a fever.

Feed a Cold, Starve a Fever: Fact or Fiction?

While almost everyone agrees that you should feed a cold, there’s less enthusiastic support for the idea that you should starve a fever.

(First, do you know the difference between the common cold and the flu? The symptoms can be similar, and it’s important to know what you’re dealing with!)

Many experts say that it could be dangerous to eat less during the early stages of sickness, as your body is working hard to assemble immune cells to fight off disease and needs all the energy it can get. The best way to provide your body with the energy it needs to combat illness is calories from high-quality food sources.

While being sick and particularly having a fever can naturally decrease your appetite, experts say that if you have a fever you should eat when you’re hungry and not starve yourself.

For both a cold and a fever you want to make sure that you are drinking plenty of fluids to replace your body’s electrolytes.

Feed a Cold, Feed a Fever

If a cold or fever has you running off to the urgent care clinic, be sure to stock up on healthy foods and liquids while you’re out. As we found out in this article, the old adage, “feed a cold and starve a fever” is really only half true.

Don’t forget to check out the rest of our urgent care blog! Urgent care is walk-in only, but if you have any questions you can give us a call.