Do You Starve A Cold...?

Do You Starve a Cold, Feed a Fever...?


An old wives’ tale that frequently gets mixed up suggest that you should starve a cold, feed a fever – or is that feed a cold, starve a fever? In reality, there are arguments to support either variation.

However, there is one remedy that has withstood the test of time. Scientists have now confirmed that which grandmothers have known for generations: chicken soup is good for relieving colds. Considered a comfort food, chicken soup is one we habitually turn to when we are sick or fatigued. A team at the University of Nebraska Medical Center has found that this soup contains several ingredients that affect the body’s immune system, act as an anti-inflammatory, and inhibit movement of neutrophils (which stimulate the release of mucus).


Still, rather than trying to commit an old wives’ adage to memory, a person caring for an ill individual should allow the patient to dictate their need for nourishment.

A caregiver’s instinct to ‘feed a cold’ should be discouraged if a decrease in appetite and thirst is noted. This is especially true during the final stage of life. With a terminal illness, the physical systems of the body begin the process of shutting down and start to conserve energy. This condition may be observed when the patient spends more hours of the day asleep than awake; they may be difficult to arouse as they prepare to detach from their physical surroundings and loved ones.

Force feeding a dying person, often driven by the emotions of the feeder, can actually cause suffering. The dying body can not manage liquids normally. The lungs may already be filling up with fluid, and providing additional liquid may make the problem worse. Accumulation of edema around tumors may increase pressure and aggravate the pain. Force feedings often leave the person feeling bloated and nauseated. And, increased urine output increases the need for trips to the bathroom at a time when a person is already extremely weak and frail.

When a dying person is experiencing dehydration, their most common symptom is a dry mouth. If the person is conscious, they should be offered ice chips. It is also helpful to cover their lips with a protective coating, such as a lip balm. Avoid the drying effects of lemon and glycerin. Encourage fluids as the dying person desires. Save the chicken soup to use as a comfort food to aide the caregiver.

Sue Collins, R.N.
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