Starve A Cold? Not Really; 5 Cold And Flu Season Myths Debunked

“How do you starve a cold?” Briana asked me. I was explaining this post on cold and flu season myths and ‘starve a cold, feed a fever’ was the first one I could think of.

“I don’t know, I think you just starve … yourself?” I said. That seemed like dumb advice. “I’ll look into it,” I told her. There’s plenty of other, equally suspect wisdom about cold and flu season.

“Yeah,” she said. “I feel like maybe a lot of them are just …”

“Wives’ tales?” I was sure that was where she was going.

“I was going to say placebos.”

Placebos, wives tails, myths — whatever you call them, these five tips are more hype than help when it comes to cold and flu prevention. If you really want to stay well this winter, you’d do well to ignore the following advice.

Bad tip: Starve a cold, feed a fever

Don’t starve a cold or a fever. Feed both a balanced diet; eating a nutrient-packed whole foods diet when you’re sick can help your immune system fight infections and illnesses. And certain foods, spices and herbs can help relieve cold and flu symptoms, as well.

Bad tip: Take echinacea, vitamin C, vitamin D or zinc to keep colds and flu away. 

Maybe not so much “bad” as “unlikely to be helpful;” in studies, none of these alleged cold- and flu-fighters have shown consistent or promising results, at least not when taken alone. There is some evidence that a high-dose combination of zinc and vitamin C could be helpful.

Bad tip: Treat it with antibiotics.

Antibiotics treat bacterial infections, not viral infections like the flu or common cold.

Bad tip: Have some chicken soup. 

If you like chicken soup, go right ahead. But if you don’t, don’t worry that you’re missing out on its magical power to heal. Hot liquid can soothe sore throats and provide hydration. But there’s nothing about chicken noodle soup per se that makes it a good choice (and most canned chicken broths and soups are way too high in sodium).

Bad tip: Stay out of the cold.

People associate the flu with cold weather because flu season coincides with cold weather, but they’re not related. The only way to get the flu is to come in contact with the influenza virus (no matter the weather). That means it’s okay to go out with wet hair, be out in wet clothes and just generally be out in the cold without worrying you’ll catch your death out there.

Stay tuned later this week for natural remedies that work surprisingly well.

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    • Liza

      There’s been research done on Chicken soup and why it helps with colds. http://www.ors.od.nih.gov/pes/dats/food/balance/Documents/January2010.pdf

    • April Gunn

      “Feed a fever, starve a cold” has nothing to do with actual food you eat. Goodness. This comes from the days when people thought that the best way to bring a fever down was to keep the person cool (ice baths were a popular method), when in reality this is a terrible idea unless their fever is at a dangerous level and needs to be gotten down very quickly. Basically, the expression means that no matter what, when you’re sick, stay warm.

      When you “starve” a cold, that means you keep yourself out of cold weather conditions as much as possible.

      When you have a fever, you will generally either feel like you’re freezing or like you’re burning up. “Feeding” a fever means keeping the person warm in either case. The goal with this is to get the fever to break, or sweat itself out. It’s gross, and maybe it’s still an old wives’ tale…but I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve gone to bed with a fever, wrapped up like a burrito and miserable, to wake up practically drenched in sweat but otherwise at a normal temperature and feeling much, MUCH better than I did before I went to sleep.