Fasting and The Common Cold

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  • Does fasting have any effect on the immune system, positive or negative?

    I caught a cold a few days ago, something which rarely happens. I can’t remember the last time I had a cold. The runny nose last night in bed was particularly miserable. I had to get up every few minutes to blow my nose and clear things out. Needless to say I didn’t get much sleep, but I watched some decent horror movies on TCM while I was up!

    I’m not blaming 5:2 for catching a cold. I’m just curious if I may not have gotten it if I wasn’t fasting, or because I am fasting will they symptoms be milder or shorter than they otherwise would have been.

    One positive (for me) is I usually lose my sense of taste during a cold so that will keep me from wanting to eat for a few days.


    I have a massage therapist that swears colds are really just your body trying to get rid of toxins (not flu’s of course but colds) and that its best not to suppress them too much but to drink lots of water and rest and let the gunk be cleared out (ensuring no infection ensurs)
    Not sure if I truly believe this, but I guess, according to her it could just be that your body is detoxing a little faster than usual. Cold symptoms do occur during detoxes sometimes. Also, depending on the way you’re restricting calories, your body can revolt against losing weight (it generally hates dropping kilos) and will even fake having a cold to stop you ‘wearing yourself out’.
    Just make sure you’re eating plenty of calories on eat days and this won’t be a normal symptom (in my experience 🙂 )
    Good luck!


    Thanks for the reply; interesting theory from your therapist. Unfortunately I haven’t had much of an appetite the past few days and haven’t been eating much. Today’s an “Official” fast day and it will be really easy to complete. Oh well, still going with this cold on day 5 and my nose seems to be slightly less runny today. Hope it’s just a normal cold and will be gone in a few days.


    I’ve experienced more colds while I have been doing the 5:2 diet over a period of 3.5 years. Just posting my experience…interested in hearing from others.

    Fasting places stress on the body, which in turn requires a response of more cortisol secretion. This quote is from the link below: During periods of increased stress, “the immune cells are being bathed in molecules which are essentially telling them to stop fighting,” according to Dr. Esther Sternberg (20). These molecules, namely cortisol, suppress the immune system and inflammatory pathways, rendering the body more susceptible to disease.

    I too came down with a flu for first time in years after starting 5:2. Interesting for me though that my flu developed after I’d experimented with one week of ADF, which puts even more stress on the body. What I’ve learned from the experience is that I need to be vigilant about managing stress caused by other aspects of life, while I’m living this WOL. This means ensuring I get quality sleep, not just the number of hours, but also consistent sleep wake rhythm. I also have to heed my time limitations and scheduling, allow myself ‘time out’ breaks to enable me to devote time to relaxing. Being more conscious of what I eat also plays a part since sugar is one substance that is directly related to lowering immune function. The week leading to the flu I developed, I’d been regularly indulging in home made sweet treats that I’d created using unrefined sugars such as coconut sugar, rice malt and xylitol. Nonetheless, those were still sugars!

    I read a really interesting summary of a med study earlier this year but I can’t find the link–I know the search I used to start was “starve a cold, feed a fever?”–this was research very precisely measuring the presence of different “T cells”–what it showed was dramatic–the kind of “systemic” cells that fight off the initial attacks of bacteria or viruses were enhanced by fasting. BUT the “intracellular” immune cells you need once you are already sick were degraded! So the bottom line was that fasting keeps you from getting sick but if you are already ill you need to each nutrient-dense foods to get healthy again. So this may be the basis for the old-school “chicken soup” thing.
    This fits with my experience as I once fasted at the start of a cold with the mistaken idea it would help–after a week I still was in a weakened condition and when I came off the fast it seemed I got sick anyway!

    Haven’t experienced more colds since fasting. After a viral infection in 2006 I now have colds which last a very long time, typically a month or more. Fasting does not seem to have made any difference.
    Have you heard of the old saying “Feed a cold and starve a fever” ? Most people interpret this as ADVICE, the need to eat plenty of food if you have a cold and not eat at all if you have a fever. But consider that it may instead be interpreted as a WARNING, i.e. “If you feed a cold it may turn into a fever and you will have to starve it out.” Food for thought – pun intended.

    My idea is that you should stop fasting while undergoing a cold. That’s what I learnt from advice for sports training, that you should cut on training and increase your calorie intake so that the body can utilize all possible energy in the recovery. That’s also the piece of advice given in the FAQ here: if you’re feeling unwell, why stress your organism even more?. Unless you have no appetite, eat a bit more, you’ll have time to lose the weight you put on after you recover.

    I have had several colds during the past month but only indirectly because of fasting. Fasting helped me feel so much better that I signed up for classes at the University and came into contact with lots more viruses. I just carry on as usual. A cold is an inconvenience not a reason to stop your life, although my son seems to think it is. But there has actually been research that shows that men do suffer more from colds – Man Flu apparently has a biological basis!

    I also keep fasting during a cold because I would feel worse if I didn’t. Digesting takes energy away from that available for activity or for healing. I only eat when I don’t have anything else to do. But I always eat well, meeting nutrient needs even on fast days including at least five different fruit or veg. Longer fasts would probably be a bad idea.

    @ fatrabbit
    Totally agree. The body uses a lot of vitally needed energy to process food. And fasting means I think quite carefully about how to obtain the best nutrition in only 500 calories. Also most people do actually go off their food somewhat when they have a cold, but have family nagging them with, “Feed a cold and starve a fever.”
    Just be sure to keep up your fluid intake.

    Hi @fatrabbit. Manflu definitely has a biological basis – see this really “helpful” website for more! (And a good laugh too.0

    I started this program in August. I am find that so far I am not getting sick when I normally would. Every year I get bronchitis in late September without fail, except this year so far. Everyone else is getting sick around me, but not me. I would like to think its from the fasting, and ai hope it continues.

    I know that Walter Longo’s studies on fasting simplified explain it like this. In laymens language, during fasting after a certain time, your body will start to shed old cells in cluding white blood cells. When you start to eat again, new ones are regenerated.

    Whatever it is, I am hoping to stay brochitis free.

    Just an update on my experiences with colds. As I mentioned in earlier post, the first 3.5 years I was fasting twice a week and experienced more colds. The last two years I increased my calories to 700 on my fasting days from the 600(I’m 6’2″ and 200lbs, so a bit bigger than average) anyway, my colds have dropped substantially. (It also may be related to being much more careful when flying…(not touching the magazines, tray tables and seats backs, disinfecting hands often, directing fresh air over face)). I became mostly vegetarian at about the same time I started the fasting and feel my colds are usually much shorter duration and/or less severe when I was getting them frequently. I can’t say for sure if it was the fasting or vegetarian diet but I don’t fear colds as much and do believe my immune system is generally stronger than it use to be. Best of luck to all!!

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