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Does Feed a Cold Starve a Fever Work?

Does Feed a Cold Starve a Fever Work?


Feed a cold starve a fever does not work.

Feed a Cold Starve a Fever Myth

Even though the origins of the saying “Feed a Cold, Starve a Fever” date back more than 450 years, the fact that it was conjured up by a dictionary writer rather than a doctor explains why the effectiveness of the principle espoused is next to nil. Dr. Scott Joy, chief of clinical services at Duke University, suggests that even though both a cold and a fever will take five to seven days to run their course, regardless, there is a reason sayings such as this one are so popular. They allow sufferers to take their minds off the symptoms of a cold or flu and focus instead on something else, like whether they should eat or not eat.

Eating Helps You to Feel Better

A colleague of Dr. Joy at Duke, Denise Snyder, agrees. Although there is a kernel of logic to the idea of eating less while suffering from a fever, the saying is essentially a flimsy piece of popular folklore that has been passed down among generations of mothers. Colds tend to last longer than fevers, but in both cases, consuming fruits, vegetables, and warm broths are excellent ways to combat the feelings of weakness and sickness.

Research behind the Theory

Given the enduring popularity of the saying, some researchers at the Academy Medical Center in the Netherlands decided to put it to the test. They subjected six male non-smokers to short-term starvation and quickly were able to determine that while the ingestion of calories favors cell-mediated immunity, starvation tips the human metabolism towards a negative immune response. The researchers were the first to admit that their study was small and that a broader sample of patients would be needed to yield comprehensive data about the connection between food consumption and the human immune system. But even based on this limited research, the conclusion was inescapable. The popular saying coined in 1574 should long ago have been replaced with “Feed a Cold, Feed a Fever”.



Duke University – Myth or Fact: Feed a Cold, Starve a Fever, Retrieved October 5, 2010 from

American Society for Microbiology – Feed a Cold, Starve a Fever, Retrieved October 5, 2010 from


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