Study supports feeding colds, starving fevers

May 29, 2001 in Nutrition Topics in the News

Study supports feeding colds, starving fevers

"Feed a cold, starve a fever" may be sound advice for the immune system, according to scientists from the Netherlands. Researchers from the Academic Medical Center in Amsterdam measured immune cell production of IFN-gamma (a measure of virus-fighting prowess) and IL-4 (a marker of bacteria-killing power) during fasting and after a liquid meal containing as many calories as a Big Mac and fries.

Six hours after the meal, anti-virus IFN-gamma production rose 4.5-fold, the researchers reported. After overnight fasting, though, IFN-gamma production fell to 83% of its usual level. In contrast, food intake resulted in only a 42% increase in IL-4 production, the results indicated, whereas fasting brought nearly a fourfold rise in bacteria-fighting IL-4 levels.

The authors concluded that significant calorie intake favored the type of immune response needed to fight cold viruses, whereas fasting boosted the kind of immune response required for fever-causing bacterial infections.

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