Mental Health

Feed A Cold, And Starve A Fever? Why Eating More Could Help You Heal Faster When Sick

Typically, food is the last thing on your mind when you’re sick; nausea, sore throats and a general lack of appetite can make eating uncomfortable. A new study, however, shows that feeding your illness can actually speed up recovery.

Researchers at the Salk Institute for Biological Studies found that eating even when you’re not hungry could help aide in recovery. Assistant Professor Janelle Ayers and her team gave mice the Salmonella Typhimurium bacteria, which caused appetite loss and spread quickly to other parts of the body. Mice that consumed more, despite lack of hunger, lived longer than those that didn’t.

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The natural thinking is that the extra nourishment boosted immunity, but that wasn’t the case in the study. Ayers found that the bacteria didn’t spread as much when mice were well fed, allowing them to stay healthy. Turns out, Salmonella suppresses appetite in the body so it can spread to new hosts and create additional infections.

"What we found was that appetite loss makes the Salmonella more virulent, perhaps because it needs to go beyond the intestines to find nutrients for itself,” said researcher Sheila Rao in a press release. “This increased virulence kills its host too fast, which compromises the bacteria's ability to spread to new hosts.”

rat New study suggests eating more when sick could help you heal faster. Pixabay

So, the longer the infected mice lived, the better off the Salmonella bacteria fared. To ensure its survival through transmission, Salmonella decide to give up virulence; they do this by producing a molecule that stops appetite from waning. After all, you don't want your host to drop dead too quickly. 

This study only reflects how the bacteria works in mice and not humans, but the team is hopeful this is a good start to do additional research on decreasing appetite for those inflicted with metabolic diseases like high blood pressure. Additionally, the team is hopeful that nutrition-based treatments could provide an alternative to more typical antibiotic medicines.

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“Finding alternatives to antibiotics is incredibly important as these drugs have already encouraged the evolution of deadly antibiotic-resistant strains,” Ayres said in the release.

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