Feed a Cold, Starve a Fever

The following is a folk medicine belief that my informant heard from his mom in the 1980s California. My informant is a middle aged white man who will be referred to as T.

Text: Feed a cold, starve a fever.

Context: T heard this folk belief from his mother who was a nurse. His mom followed this belief as well, and if T had a cold, she would feed him a lot, and if he had a fever, she would just give him small amounts of soup. T’s mother was German, but had grown up in America. The reason behind this folk belief is that it was believed that eating heated up the body, and if you fed someone while they had a cold, it could warm them up, but visa versa if you didn’t feed someone who had a fever, it could cool them down. T says he never thought this worked particularly well, and he never instilled this belief on his children. However, T also said that he never questioned his mothers knowledge as a child, and always thought that eating with a cold would help him recover faster as a child. However, T does believe in the placebo effect, and thinks that there is some advantage to thinking you are helping your body, even if you aren’t at all.

Analysis: I liked this folk belief, and like many others the first question I had was whether or not it worked. When I looked it up, their were numerous articles written about it, all of which said that there is very little evidence to support it but also very few studies to disprove it. Due to the sheer amount of articles regarding it, it seems like this is a common folk belief and according to Scientific America,  “This saying has been traced to a 1574 dictionary by John Withals, which noted that “fasting is a great remedy of fever. (1)” This folk belief shows the importance of the knowledge we receive from our parents. If our parents tell us something is going to make us feel better, we never question it and always accept it. It also shows how well folk beliefs can spread, with this belief being heard and used by so many different people, despite having no scientific or medical support.

For a more in depth examination of this folklore go to

O’Connor, Anahad. “The Claim: Starve a Cold, Feed a Fever.” The New York Times, The New York Times, 13 Feb. 2007, www.nytimes.com/2007/02/13/health/13real.html.

Works Cited

1) Fischetti, Mark. “Fact or Fiction?: Feed a Cold, Starve a Fever.” Scientific American, 3 Jan. 2014, www.scientificamerican.com/article/fact-or-fiction-feed-a-cold/.