Should You Actually Starve a Fever?

Most of us have heard the old adage, ďfeed a cold and starve a fever.Ē But have you wondered whether there is any truth behind the sentiment? Yale University professor and author of a new study published in the medical journal Cell had that thought. He wondered whether eating during a cold or flu would impact the immune systemís ability to fight the infection, so he and his team of researchers set to work to put the strange saying to the test, not just with cold and flu viruses but other infections as well.

Does Eating Impact the Outcome in Food Poisoning?

First the researchers explored the effects of eating on mice suffering from food poisoning, or the bacterial infection known as Listeria monocytogenes, to be more specific. Like you might expect, the mice naturally stopped eating after they began experiencing symptoms of food poisoning. And, it worked: they survived. But the ones that ate died. The researchers found that glucose was the factor that determined their fate. It appeared that glucose during the infection influenced whether the animals lived or died.

Now for the Flu

Next, the researchers assessed the effects of eating on animals infected with the flu virus (A/WSN/33). This time the results were quite different. The animals that were force-fed glucose survived while those that didnít eat died. In the case of the flu, animals that ate lived.

Itís hard to imagine that anything as simple as the decision to eat or fast during an infection could determine an outcome of life or death, but that is exactly what this study found.

Why Did Food Make Such a Difference?

When the researchers analyzed the brains of mice that died from either of the infections, they found that different parts of the brain were affected by either the bacteria or the viruses. They believe that, depending on the type of infection, the body may have different needs (either for food or to fast).

Said lead study author, Ruslan Medzhitov: ďOur study manipulated the ability of these mice to tolerate and survive infection without doing anything that had an effect on the pathogens themselves.Ē In other words, the animals were not given antibiotics or antiviral drugs or any other substances known to inhibit the infections. The only factor was whether or not the animals ate while they were infected.

While the research into eating during infections is young and still has not been conducted on humans, it does give us something to consider. We still donít know the outcome of eating or fasting on the common cold, but when it comes to the flu (or at least this particular strain) we now know that the adage is FALSE. Keep in mind that one of the†characteristics of the flu is that it is accompanied with a fever. If the animal study is any indication, we should reconsider the notion of starving a fever if that fever is caused by a flu virus.

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Dr. Michelle Schoffro Cook, PhD, DNM is the president of PureFood BC, and an international best-selling and 20-time published book author whose works include: Be Your Own Herbalist: Essential Herbs for Health, Beauty & Cooking.



sharon b
sharon b7 days ago


William C
William C1 months ago


W. C
W. C2 months ago

Thank you.

Jetana A
Jetana A11 months ago

Haha, I had the adage backward, and logical explanations for it. But actually, I just listen to my body, which sometimes says, "Don't eat" and other times craves something in particular....

Jennifer F
Jennifer F11 months ago

It's whatever works for the individual I think.

Lindsay K
Lindsay Kabout a year ago

I had a fever recently and for me it wasn't a case of starving it, it was a case of not having any interest in food at all! In the end I took some well-known energy drink because I had lost kg in less than a week and needed something! The energy drink boosted me a bit ( I only had a little) and then I started to eat small amount again. Actually, the whole thing was a bit scary!

Patricia L
Patricia Labout a year ago


Sarah H
Sarah Hillabout a year ago


Marie W
Marie Wabout a year ago

Thank you for sharing.

Elizabeth Brawn
Elizabeth Brawnabout a year ago