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Should you feed a cold, starve a fever?

As part of a weekly series, in association with LloydsPharmacy, Colin Dougall from LloydsPharmacy in Glasgow answers your common medicine queries…

Colin Dougall, from LloydsPharmacy in Glasgow, gives expert advice

Q: Should you feed a cold, starve a fever?

This well-known saying has only been put to the test in a very small study, in 2002, with just six patients. 

This suggested it’s best not to starve an infection caused by a virus because eating a meal boosts the type of immune response that destroys viruses responsible for colds.

Instead, try to make sure you are taking on the right nutrients as this helps the body function properly to combat the infection – and yes, this does mean a healthy, balanced diet, with plenty of fruit and vegetables.

Some people say vitamin C helps, but this is a personal preference, rather than based on medical advice – some trials have shown that vitamin C may shorten the duration of a cold but more research is needed before it can be recommended.

If you don’t feel like eating, do make sure that you are well hydrated.  

Q: Which is worse, a used tissue or handkerchief in your pocket? 

Neither is great because they both carry the risk of spreading the cold to others. Different viruses survive for varying lengths of time once they’re coughed or sneezed out.

For example, the flu virus will survive on a tissue for about 15 minutes, but for up to 24 hours on a hard surface.

The best advice is to use a tissue because you can dispose of it immediately.   


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