Why you should never starve the flu virus

January 13, 2009
Volume 06    |   Issue 2

The old adage, “feed a cold, starve a fever” doesn’t tell you what to do when you’re fighting the flu. You may have lost your appetite and want to do nothing other than drink juices and herb teas, but that doesn’t mean you should give into these feelings. Here’s why...

Elizabeth Gardner, PhD, professor of nutritional immunology at Michigan State University found that when you’re fighting the flu, you’re likely to get better faster if you pack in those calories.

Dr. Gardner conducted a study using mice given either a normal diet or one that was calorie-restricted. Then she exposed them to the flu virus. The mice that ate a low-calorie diet were more likely to get sicker and die than those on a normal calorie diet.

The reason is simple.

When a new strain of the flu comes around — a common yearly occurrence — your body hasn’t learned to make antibodies to fight that particular virus yet. Whether or not you can fight it depends on your body’s supply of natural killer cells.

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Natural killer cells respond quickly to cells that have been infected with a virus. The calorie-restricted mice in this study weren’t able to produce large enough amounts of natural killer cells to fight a viral infection. The result was that the flu lasted longer, the mice lost more weight, and some of them died. The mice on a normal calorie diet recovered faster.

Dr. Gardner gave all of the mice in this study vitamin supplements. So the mice that did poorly didn’t lack nutrients. The vitamins were just not as protective as a diet with a few extra calories. But be careful what you eat. Some foods will increase your risk of getting a cold or flu, while others reduce your risk.

Viruses can’t live in an alkaline environment, so eat plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables. And keep your grains and proteins low. You can get extra calories by adding flax oil, olive oil, or butter to your veggies.

Sugar feeds viruses. Limit your sweets at each meal. Eat small amounts or eliminate them completely while you’re sick.

If you have no appetite, consider making a protein drink with added oils. Or have someone pick up a bottle of carrot juice at your local health food store and add a little heavy cream to it. These fats will not only help you fight the flu, they will increase your absorption of fat-soluble vitamins, such as the vitamin A in the carrot juice.

Your voice of reason in Women's Health,



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