Three science-backed tips for getting over a cold or the flu

There are many theories circulating about how to shorten the duration of a cold or the flu. Some folks swear by the old adage, “feed a cold, starve a fever.”

But instead of relying on some old theories for how to feel better faster, I suggest following three simple, science-backed tips to get over viruses.

I’ll tell you all about those effective, tried-and-true tips in a moment. But first, let’s explore the history of that old adage…

Some old advice just won’t go away

The idea to “feed a cold and starve a fever” probably dates back to 1574 when dictionary writer John Withals wrote, “fasting is a great remedie of feuer.” Indeed, doctors in the 1500s and 1600s thought that getting a fever meant your metabolism had gone into overdrive. They also believed that digestion would use up all of the body’s energy, which should go toward fighting the fever, potentially making your fever worse.

Well, we now know that early theory was more wrong than right.

When you eat a meal, you do take in and create a certain amount of “heat.” After all, a calorie is a unit that measures heat energy. And eating changes how your body uses blood flow and energy. For example, when you eat, blood shifts from the rest of the body to your portal system—your intestines and liver—to help digest and metabolize food.

But eating when you already have a fever won’t raise your body temperature. And you may actually need that extra fuel.

Remember, the body uses a lot of energy to create and mobilize the large numbers of immune cells needed to fight any infection. So, eating less when you have a fever, or during the early stages of an infection, can actually be counterproductive.

Of course, in my experience, fevers often naturally decrease your appetite. So, my best advice is to simply follow your natural inclinations. The body knows what it needs.

Most of all, try to let fevers between 99° and 101° Fahrenheit (F) run their course without intervention. And remember, a fever actually helps your body fight the infection by slowing the rate of microbial multiplication (a natural antibiotic).

But if a fever gets above 102° F (especially among children), make sure to consult a medical professional. You may need additional treatments and interventions to bring your temperature down, such as intravenous fluids to prevent dehydration.

Now, let’s look at the other piece of that old adage…

Where did the “feed a cold” advice originate?

Early physicians thought you could “catch” a cold by going outside into the cold. Which made them believe that you get over a cold by eating and drinking, which would theoretically raise your body temperature.

Of course, now we know that you don’t “catch” a cold by going outside. And, on the contrary, some exposure to the cold is actually good for you!

In reality, you can only catch a cold by coming into contact with a virus, which most often spreads through physical contact with a contaminated surface.

Sometimes, you might feel a “chill” before coming down with a cold or the flu. But that sensation is most likely your immune system reacting to an early stage of the infection.

Now, let’s talk about the three science-backed, time-tested tips for getting over a cold or the flu in record time…

1.) Stay hydrated. Make sure to drink plenty of fluids to avoid dehydration. This step is especially important if you also experience nausea, vomiting, or loss of appetite. You can even drink one of my favorites—rooibos tea. It keeps you hydrated at the cellular level and has healthy levels of electrolytes.

2.) Make healthy food choices. When you do eat, make healthy choices. I highly recommend keeping a batch of my “cure-all” Russian Bear chicken soup in the freezer for such an occasion. You should also aim to keep up good nutrition all year long, as experts believe that malnutrition puts you at greater risk of catching a cold or the flu in the first place! As always, stick to a Mediterranean-type diet, full of fresh, whole foods.

3.) Supplement wisely. When you feel like you’re coming down with a cold or the flu, I recommend taking vitamin C and zinc. In addition, the herbal remedies Echinacea and goldenseal can reduce the duration and severity of a cold. However, you should only start taking them when you feel you are coming down with a cold or the flu, due to their strong effects on the immune system.

It’s also worth noting that you can naturally boost your immune system year-round with adaptogens, such as Sutherlandia. And with healthy levels of the key vitamins. In fact, I outline my flu prevention checklist in the October 2019 issue of my monthly newsletter, Insiders’ Cures (“What’s more effective: Modern medicine’s flu shot, or the concoctions of Shakespeare’s witches?”). So if you haven’t already signed up, now’s the perfect time to get started!

And if you’re very achy, go ahead and take ibuprofen to ease some of the discomfort. But whatever you do, don’t take Tylenol to reduce a fever (or for any other reason) or the horrible Tamiflu, which (maybe, at best) only shortens the duration of the flu by a paltry 16 hours.

Now, before I go, here’s one final note to help you get through the final stretch of cold and flu season…

As I mentioned, most viruses—including the flu—spread by contact. So, avoid crowded places if you can. And if you must go out, make sure to wash your hands afterward with plain old soap and water. In a pinch, you can also use plain saline solution. As I reported last month, a new study found that it actually works better than alcohol-based hand sanitizer!