Flus & Colds

Feed a fever, starve a cold. Or is the other way around?

It seems to be a  common confusion.  Is it the F’s that go together? How do I remember?

Well my in depth research has uncovered that the original saying goes : “Starve a fever, feed a cold”.

Starve? Is there really something to be gained by starving during an infection or at any point in life?

I’m dubious.

But there may be some wisdom we can glean from the saying.  First, let’s get into basic definitions.


Colds and flus are both caused by viruses, not bacteria.

Several different types of viruses. Antibiotics are often prescribed for complications that could result if the viral infection creates the opportunity for bacteria to settle in.(So the scrip is not for naught, your doctor has a rationale).*

Even though they are both viral respiratory infections, the show up in two distinct ways.

First etymologically:

Cold (n.)  c.1300, a sense of  “coldness,” The common cold term was used in 1530s, from symptoms resembling those of exposure to cold; Earlier senses “indisposition caused by exposure to cold” (early 14c.); “discomfort caused by cold” (c.1300).

Influenza (n.) c 1743, borrowed during an outbreak of the disease in Europe, from Italian “influenza” “influenza, epidemic,” originally “visitation, influence (of the stars),” . Used in Italian for diseases since at least 1504 (cf. influenza di febbre scarlattina “scarlet fever”) on notion of astral or occult influence. Often applied since mid-19c. to severe colds.

Then symptomatically:

Colds: onset within 1-2 days

- Tired, sneezing, coughing, runny nose, mild-moderate headache.

Think: Gradual Upper Body Involvement

Flu: onset hours – 1 day

– Body Aches, Fever, Cough, Sore Throat, Headaches, Chills, Sweats, Fatigue/Exhaustion, Nausea, Vomiting, Diarrhea.

Think - Sudden Whole Body Involvement

Depending on the virus, colds and flus can last anywhere between 3-14 days. The most natural and effective way to recover is to let the virus run its course while you assist your immune system & manage your discomfort.

So without further ado, 5 ideas for cold/flu management:


1. Rest.

Rest more than you think.

When you have a cold, get at least 8 10 hours sleep per night. The Achille’s heel of cold recovery is thinking that you aren’t in fact, tackling viruses all day. Take time off work – respect your coworkers and give yourself recovery time. That means calling it quits a little early, or taking a day off. If that feels lazy or gratuitous, remember: your body may have been holding up a good front, but it is probably dying to lie down. It sure doesn’t feel lazy.

Flus can cause extreme exhaustion. Your body’s immune system is working very hard and it is important to let it focus on its task. When you are sick, if you are tired, rest. Even if your mind wants you to do something.

Play sudoku. Watch a Pixar movie. Read. Hire a babysitter if you have kids.


2. Fluids. 


Flus generally cause fever and chills, which come with losses of fluid from sweating.

Even with colds, the water chemical, h2o, is being converted and needed in your cells as your immune system thwarts the virus. 

The standard advice is to drink 1/2 your body weight (in pounds), in ounces. But that gets mathematical, and can over do it. The formula is fake, but gets most people to get the required amount. So let’s say: drink somewhere between 4-12 “small size” cups. That’s anywhere between 1-2-3 litres. 

Use a rehydration solution, like 1/2 teaspoon of salt, in 2/3 cup of apple juice, 1/3 cup water. This will give you appropriate amounts of electrolytes so the water you drink absorbs into your body quickly.


2.5. Gargle with Salt Water at least 3 x day. 

1/2-1 tsp of salt to 1 cup of fairly warm water. Stir. Gargle.

Why is your throat sore? Because the virus takes up residence and begins to inflame the area. The natural infectious process causes the tissues to swell (we call it edema). Salt draws water out of the tissues,  reducing the swelling.

Plus, it’s fun and how often to you get to make that gargling sound?


3. Vitamin C.

Vitamin C from food not capsules.

For this purpose, there are plenty of food sources so you really don’t need to take a supplement. The common choices are citrus fruit like oranges, lemons, limes and grapefruit. But Chili & Bell Peppers, Broccoli, Brussel Sprouts, Parsley, Guavas & Kiwi Fruit all have at least twice as much vitamin C per equal weight. Who knew!? I did.


4. Get steamy.

Stuffed up? A steam inhalation  is a non-invasive, low maintenance method. A make shift steam room, with less strangers.

  • Get a big salad bowl and a towel big enough to cover over your head, face and shoulders.
  • Boil 1 Litre of water. Pour water into your bowl
  • If your bowl is glass put a large steel spoon/item in it to conduct the heat as you pour – it may shatter otherwise.
  • Take a seat and lean your head over (not into) the bowl, cover your head and the bowl, so that the steam coming out is encased in with you.
  • This is the most important part: Breathe. In and out of your mouth Let your nose drip.
  • Optional: Add 2-3 drops of essential oil of peppermint, lavender or thyme to your hot water. (Essential oils are quite concentrated, so try not to eat them) I have just discovered that a Vicks Vapo lozenge does the trick as well!


5. Metallica.

Zinc is a metal, a micro mineral and it is shiny. Like a shield. Because that’s what it is does. It shields you from infection.

Zinc is a vital component of immunoglobulins, your sense of smell and taste, wound healing and fertility. It is also decreases inflammation in the respiratory tract. That’s handy during a cold or flu.

Zinc has got your back. Too much and he bullies out the other minerals, but in the right amounts, he’s a good friend.  If you take it as a supplement, don’t exceed 30 mg per day, or it will displace other minerals. It can also make you nauseous. Supplements are not harmless.

Food is a balanced source, so go wild,  like Wild Oysters, Pumpkin (or Squash) Seeds, Crab and Liver. Yes. I said it. Liver. If it is from a healthy animal, it is an amazing, sustaining source of nutrients.


Starve a Fever. 

The flu axiom may have come from the fact that digestion, especially of heavy foods, takes energy. Energy that is better directed towards the immune system. What constitutes “starve”?Lighter foods and fluids – that are still nutritious – several times a day. During a time when immune services across all systems are enlisted, light and frequent is a better choice for energy and hydration than 3 square meals. Besides, when you’ve got the flu, that fried chicken meal is likely a lot less appetizing than a bone broth. Generally your body lets you know what it needs.


Feed a cold. 

This may have originated in the fact that even a bad cold is generally milder than the flu, with less fluid loss, and more energy. Meals tend to feel manageable on digestion. Immune services are able to get some downtime, so eating to replenish nutrients and protein will feel good, and stop the cold from getting worse. The fried chicken meal isn’t my recommendation, but a hardy meal with reasonable amount of protein, fat and carbohydrates should go down just fine. Stay consistent by eating regular healthy meals. They will recharge your immunity.

So what of all this?


I’ve decided to make a new axiom. I’m not interested in extreme dieting or binging.

Feed a fever, Feed a cold, which one is starve? Let’s temper that a little, how about:

Fluids for Flus,  Solids for Colds? Pretty simple. Less confusing. I like it!

Keep it nourishing, hydrating and stay well!

*Although both the cold & flu are generally self limiting, if a bacterial infection does take root (by your doctor’s assessment), please don’t avoid prompt action via pharmaceutical or proven herbal remedy. These bacteria don’t go away so neatly and easily. The concept of feeding and starving viruses comes from early home care, and not extended infection.