HEALTH MATTERS: ‘Feed a cold, starve a fever,’ and age-old sayingThere’s an old saying that one should “feed a cold and starve a fever.” What does that mean? I’m getting over a cold now, and my dieting habits have gone downhill, maybe because all I want is comfort food!
By: Dr. Joshua Wynne, Grand Forks Herald
Q. There’s an old saying that one should “feed a cold and starve a fever.” What does that mean? I’m getting over a cold now, and my dieting habits have gone downhill, maybe because all I want is comfort food!
A. This saying has been around for a long, long time, but, unfortunately, there is little scientific evidence to support it.
We presume it originated centuries ago when home heating was inadequate and a feeling of body heat could be generated by eating and drinking, presumably by causing the blood vessels in the skin to dilate or enlarge. Thus, if you felt chilly when you had a cold, you would eat and feel warmer. But if you had a fever and were warm, it was suggested to fast in a false effort to break the fever. But neither advice is what we’d recommend today.
Rather, I recommend that when sick with a virus — whether a cold or with a fever — you should ensure that you stay well-hydrated (but please avoid alcoholic beverages) and eat as tolerated. Most of us lose our appetite when we are sick, and that’s OK — you shouldn’t force yourself to eat. But you should try to drink fluids to avoid dehydration.
Remember, listen to your body — but not necessarily every old proverb! And comfort foods are just fine as you recover, but then it’s back to a proper diet. I trust that you’ll feel better soon.
Q. My elderly grandmother had a prolonged hospitalization including a stay in the intensive care unit. Although she is now home with us, she is very frail and even more forgetful that before. What happened to her?
A. Although hospital care often is necessary and sometimes lifesaving when patients are sick or require procedures, prolonged stays — especially in the ICU — are associated with cognitive decline that can persist after hospital discharge.
A just-reported study found that one out of three survivors of life-threatening illnesses that required ICU care had a thinking impairment similar to someone who had suffered a moderate traumatic brain injury — and this was as long as a year after the hospitalization.
Both young and older patients were found to suffer impairment, and while some improved, unfortunately, many did not. We don’t know how to prevent the problem, and the toll it takes on patients, families and caregivers is enormous.
This recent scientific report undoubtedly will stimulate even more research to be done on this problem. Regretfully, I don’t have much more to suggest at this time that might help your grandmother other than to hope she’ll be one of the lucky ones to improve with time.
One thing that is clear is that while ICUs can lead to problems like these, they also can be life-saving. But it is important for patients and families to realize that many — perhaps most — things in medicine (such as ICUs) are two-edged swords that harbot advantages and disadvantages. We need to have the wisdom to balance them both.
Wynne is vice president for health affairs at UND, dean of the School of Medicine and Health Sciences, and a professor of medicine. He is a cardiologist by training.
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