‘Feed a Cold, Starve a Fever’ and 4 Other Old Wives’ Tales About Being Sick

“Pinch your nose so don’t taste the cough medicine.” “Take a spoonful of honey for a sore throat.” “An apple a day keeps the doctor away.” We all remember those one-liners from childhood, whether they were passed down through generations or brought about by superstition (or both). But do they actually hold water? Is it really bad to leave the house with wet hair in winter? Here, the verdict on five old wives’ tales about being sick, according to real doctors and medical experts.

And if you want to learn more, watch our virtual roundtable, ‘Self-Care Is Health Care,’ presented by Mucinex.

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1. “feed A Cold, Starve A Fever”: False

We’ve all heard this one before, and its origin is unclear—though, according to CNN Health, it may have come about from “antiquated thoughts” that eating could warm you up. Therefore, a patient with a fever was advised against consuming food. “I always say to my patients, I don’t want you starving anything,” says Dr. Jen Caudle, D.O. and family physician. Her advice: If you’re feeling sick, remember to drink lots of water. “Make sure you stay hydrated and properly nourished, that’s the name of the game,” says Dr. Caudle.

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2. “clear Snot = Viral; Green Mucus = Bacterial”: False

We know this is gross, but bear with us: Does snot color actually mean anything? “In some cases, this holds true. But in a lot of cases, viruses can give you a colored discharge, and vice versa,” Dr. Ian Smith, M.D. and bestselling author, tells us. So basing your entire care off of just mucus color is definitely not the way to go. In fact, mucus color can change during the course of one illness. So the best idea—no matter the color—is to use Mucinex, the#1 doctor-trusted OTC brand for cold and cough symptom relief. And, as always, consult your doctor if your symptoms become serious.

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3. “chicken Soup Will Heal You”: True (sorta)

The one thing that makes us feel better when we’re sick: a warm bowl of homemade chicken noodle soup. “There are some properties in chicken noodle soup that help support the immune system, like micronutrients and macronutrients,” says Dr. Cassie Majestic, M.D. and Emergency Physician. “The steam can kind of be like a natural therapy for congestion,” she adds. Plus, the heat of the soup can feel soothing on your throat. But, of course, it won’t actually “heal you” of your cold or illness, Dr. Majestic explains. You’ll need rest and plenty of fluids to do that.

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4. “going Outside With Wet Hair In The Winter Will Make You Sick”: False

Remember your mom or grandma telling you that you’d “catch a chill” if you went outside with wet hair? “It doesn’t work that way,” says Dr. Smith. “Your body gets a cold from a virus, and that’s not because it’s cold outside. We tend to be indoors in winter months more often,” says Dr. Smith, which means that germs spread more easily when everyone’s clustered indoors.

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5. “avoid Dairy When You Have A Cold”: False

The theory behind this one is that dairy will increase your mucus production and congestive process, which can make you feel worse than you already do. Multiple studies, including one from the Journal of the American College of Nutrition, have refuted this. “We know that when we feel ill or have stomach cramps in association with a cold, we may not tolerate dairy as well,” says Dr. Majestic, so that could be one reason to avoid it. “But dairy actually has a lot of great nutrients, vitamins and minerals—like calcium, for one,” says Dr. Smith.


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