We’re always told to feed a cold and starve a fever, but that may not always be the best advice. An infection can spread if we don’t eat, for example, researchers have discovered this week. Although eating less when we’re ill can sometimes help achieve a faster recovery, a loss of appetite when we have an infection is a biological ‘trick’ that allows bacteria to spread. Instead, eating some nutritious foods when we have an infection can reduce its severity and recovery time, say researchers from the Salk Institute.
They tracked the health of laboratory mice that had been infected with Salmonella bacteria, and discovered that the natural loss of appetite helped the bacteria spread from the intestines to other tissues. By comparison, mice fed extra calories lived longer. The discovery could lead to new ways of tackling bacterial infections that don’t rely on antibiotics. The timing couldn’t be better: around 2 million Americans are each year infected with bacteria that are resistant to antibiotics, and around 23,000 of these die as a result.