Is The Famous Phrase “Feed a Cold Starve a Fever” True? – 5 Interesting Facts

The proverb “feed a cold starve a fever” has been around for generations. Have you ever wondered what it means or the veracity of the claim it makes?

In this article, let us dissect this adage and determine whether it is a fact or fiction!

1. A Brief History of the Maxim

The proverb has been around for a long time. The phrase feed a cold starve a fever may be traced back to John Withals’ 1574 dictionary. It stated that the remedy for fever was fasting.

Why is that? This claim of “feed a cold starve a fever” is based on the belief that eating food during the time of cold may heat the body and raise the body temperature while starving at the time of fever may bring the body temperature down.

In the Middle Ages, it was believed that illnesses could only be of two types, those caused by low temperatures and those by high temperatures. Food was considered the fuel of the body, which would invariably raise the temperature because of metabolism.

In the simple minds of the people of that time, an adage to eat food during a cold and starve oneself during a fever became popular.

However, there is little truth and a lot of doubt regarding the claim of “feed a cold starve a fever.”

2. Truth or Fiction?

Let us find out if “feed a cold starve a fever” is truth or a myth. The first thing to observe is that a fever is not an illness in and of itself, although a cold is.

Colds are caused by viruses and can induce various unpleasant symptoms such as a stuffy nose, coughing, body aches, sore throat, and, in some cases, fever. A fever, on the other hand, can be a sign of a cold, the flu, or any type of bacterial or viral illness.

Nowadays, doctors and health workers claim only one thing, that the proper remedies for both cold and fever are food, lots of rest, and fluids.

As a result, the phrase “feed a cold starve a fever” is entirely fictitious! There is no evidence to suggest that starving while having a fever can cure a fever.

Eating healthy food is always right for you in cases of illness when the body uses the energy to fight foreign germs.

2.1. Cold and Fever Need Fluids

Fluids are also an essential part of the diet during cold or fever. A fever dehydrates the body. During a cold, too, as the body temperature increases, more and more water is lost through sweating. You need to replace that water.

Staying hydrated promotes the formation of mucus, which, while unpleasant, is one of our natural defences. Dehydration causes mucus in the nose, throat, and lungs to dry up, clogging sinuses and respiratory tubes. Coughing, which is our means of eliminating mucus and the viruses it contains, gets more difficult when mucus hardens.

2.2. Nutritious Food Can Keep the Virus Away

Nutritious and healthy foods can keep the viral infection away for sure. It provides you with the required energy to fight when a germ attacks. Similarly, you would need more and more food for energy as your body battles illness.

Let us take a cold first. Eating food during a cold will raise the body temperature, as rightly observed by the people of bygone times. You can always pair that with an extra layer of clothes and lots of rest on the bed, or inside blankets to raise your body temperature as well.

The case for fever is more interesting. Fever is merely the body’s attempt to fight illness. It is a manifestation of the fight that is constantly going on inside your body.

It raises body temperature, increases metabolism, and increases the number of calories burned. Hence, the more calories burned, the more will be your energy demand. And where does energy come from? Food!

3. Cold and Fever Remedies

Cold and fever are both caused due to viral infections, and the symptoms are also quite similar. Cold and fever, however, can be caused due to many reasons:

  • A bacterial infection
  • Inflammatory conditions
  • A side effect of some medications and vaccines
  • Dehydration or heatstroke

Now that it has been established that feed a cold starve a fever is fiction, how do you treat cold and fever? Let us look at some common remedies you can easily do at home.

3.1. Treating a Cold

You can treat a cold with the following remedies:

3.1.1. Hydrate Yourself

Drink lots of fluids, but alcohol and caffeine should be avoided because they tend to dehydrate the body. Chicken soup is a fantastic way to keep yourself hydrated since the broth provides nutrients. It will help relieve the symptoms of a cold.

3.1.2. Food

Keep eating nutritious and healthy foods to bring energy to the body when fighting the cold virus.

3.1.3. Doctor and Medication

Alternatively, you can choose from the over-the-counter (OTC1) medications that are available, like a decongestant, a cough suppressant, or aspirin. You can also take non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) to relieve aches and pains. Consult a doctor for medicines.

3.2. Treating a Fever

You can treat a fever with the following remedies:

3.2.1. Hydrate Yourself

Stay hydrated with water, juice, and broth. Similar to the treatment of cold, chicken soup may help. It will help the body flush out more germs.

3.2.2. Food

Eat healthy food. Eat lots of fruits and vegetables.

Check this out to know more about healthy food.

3.2.3. Take Rest

Avoid wearing too many layers of clothes. It can give you immediate relief, but bundling up too much can raise the body temperature. Get plenty of rest.

3.2.4.  Doctor and Medication

Take over-the-counter (OTC) non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs2).

4. Some Other Remedies

Some other cold remedies and flu remedies to combat and relieve symptoms of cold and fever are:

4.1. Sleep

Sleep has several advantages since it allows our bodies to recharge their energy levels. Sleeping strengthens your immune system and prepares it to combat viruses such as the common cold and flu. Sleeping with an additional pillow might help raise your head and relieve sinus congestion.

4.2. Moisture in the Air

Using a vaporizer, or humidifier, or even placing small bowls of water throughout your house can help to enhance the moisture in the air. Cold weather may cause air to dry up, which increases your chances of developing a cold or flu3.

Nasal congestion and chest congestion are two potential signs of a cold or flu. It can help you breathe in the vapour and alleviate your congestion by providing moisture to the air.

4.3. Honey

Honey contains antiviral qualities that can help reduce cold and flu symptoms. To remain hydrated and relieve a sore throat, add honey to your tea.

4.4. Making a Tent

Making a “tent” is a simple technique to clear blocked airways. Bring a pot of water to a boil, then remove from the heat. Close your eyes, put a towel over your head, and inhale deeply through your nose for 30 seconds while kneeling over the water beneath the tent.

For more phlegm-busting effectiveness, add a drop or two of peppermint or eucalyptus oil to the water. This should be done as many times as necessary to relieve congestion.

4.5. Gargling

Gargling with salt water aids in the removal of thick mucus that might accumulate at the back of the throat, particularly after lying down. It can also be used to relieve congested ears. In an eight-ounce glass of warm water, dissolve some teaspoons of salt. Please keep in mind that youngsters under the age of six are unlikely to gargle correctly.

5. How to Strengthen the Immune System?

The primary way to keep illnesses away is to strengthen your immune function. How do you do that? Firstly, choose a healthy lifestyle. Your lifestyle plays a significant role in attracting or preventing any illness. Secondly, follow the guidelines written below to keep your lifestyle healthy:

  • Don’t smoke
  • Consume a lot of fruits and veggies.
  • Regular exercise is essential.
  • Keep a healthy weight.
  • Get enough sleep.
  • Take precautions to avoid infection, such as washing your hands often and thoroughly cooking meats.
  • Make an effort to reduce stress.
  • Maintain all prescribed immunizations. Vaccines prime your immune system to fight diseases before they reach your body.

6. So, is “Feed a Cold Starve a Fever” True?

Food and nutrients are essential for any illness, especially cold and fever. When the body fights foreign germs and viruses, it demands more energy. The energy is provided by food. Instead of being “feed a cold starve a fever,” the adage should be “feed a cold feed a fever.”

It may be that you lose the appetite to eat food; even then, eat as much as you can. If you haven’t lost your appetite, do not deprive yourself of food.

Hence, never compromise with food when you are ill. Don’t press on daily chores and have plenty of respite during an illness. Your body needs rest to replenish.

7. FAQs

Q1. Is It Good to Feed a Cold and Starve a Fever?

The saying “eat cold, fever hungrily” is just a myth. The truth is when you are sick, whether you have a cold or a fever, your body needs adequate nutrition and hydration to fight your illness.

Q2. Is It Bad to Feed a Cold?

The common advice to “catch a cold, get rid of a fever” is one you’ve heard many times when treating a cold or flu. But is that advice you should heed? No answer. Mark A. says: Cold and fever should actually be fed, not starved.

Q3. Which Fruit Is Good for Fever?

Citrus fruits such as oranges, lemons, and grapefruits contain high amounts of flavonoids and vitamin C. This reduces inflammation and boosts immunity, which can help fight fever. Some research shows that a flavonoid called quercetin also found in berries, can help treat rhinovirus infections.

  1. Hollister, Robert D., et al. “A review of open top chamber (OTC) performance across the ITEX Network.” Arctic Science 9.2 (2022): 331-344. ↩︎
  2. Bindu, Samik, Somnath Mazumder, and Uday Bandyopadhyay. “Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) and organ damage: A current perspective.” Biochemical pharmacology 180 (2020): 114147. ↩︎
  3. Barello, Serena, et al. “The psychosocial impact of flu influenza pandemics on healthcare workers and lessons learnt for the COVID-19 emergency: a rapid review.” International journal of public health 65.7 (2020): 1205-1216. ↩︎

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Ramyani Bhattacharya

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