Su B

‘Feed a cold and starve a fever’. That was a piece of traditional wisdom; the sort of thing that people hand down without thinking too much about it. But it’s worth having a closer look.

First of all, it’s true that when you have a fever, your system doesn’t want large quantities of food to deal with. It’s pouring energy into activating your immunity, rather than into digesting food.

You probably won’t feel much like eating in any case. Plenty of fluid, and the sort of foods that help the process of elimination: vegetable soup, especially the onion family, and fruit. Once you’ve turned the corner, old-fashioned remedies like chicken soup and beef broth come into their own, because you’ll need protein to rebuild body tissue.

However, colds and fevers are not mutually exclusive. In fact, a rise in core temperature is essential to the efficient working of your immune system, and it’s a good sign if it happens with any infectious illness; it means things are unfolding as they should, and your immune system is responding vigorously and appropriately to the situation, whether it’s a common cold, flu, a stomach bug or any other kind of infection. You can also run a fever when you’ve sustained an injury, or when you’re in shock; and again, it helps the healing process.

Unless the fever goes too high or goes on for too long – and this especially needs watching in children – you should be feeding the fever, not starving it.

But that doesn’t mean eating heavily. It means encouraging the fever with the kind of foods we’ve just talked about. It means not taking aspirin or paracetamol to bring your temperature down, because that slows down the process and, if you do it repeatedly, it will compromise your immune system’s ability to respond. It means going to bed and sweating, and feeling really ill, sleeping a lot, and then – in no more than a day or two if it goes well – starting to recover. There are herbs which can encourage this process; yarrow, elderflower and peppermint, in tea or tincture form, will help your body do what it needs to do. Some herbs directly address the infection too; the best known is Echinacea, but there are many many others, some of which work better on specific illnesses. You might have to take a day or two off work, and slow down for a little while, but that’s far better than suppressing the illness and dragging yourself around feeling half dead. After a ‘good’ illness, you should feel refreshed, and better than you did before. So next time you feel a ‘chill’ coming on, don’t ‘starve’ it by taking pills.

Try feeding it instead. The results may surprise you.

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