Should you treat fever or not?
As children, we were raised to think that fever is a monster that we have to get rid of as soon as it looms. And as adults, we tend to fret as soon as we or our loved ones develop fever. We're programed to quickly try to figure out how to reduce it thinking we're protecting ourselves and family members from its adverse effects. But the question is, should we suppress the fever or let it go?
What is fever and why do you develop fever in the first place?
Fever is a temporary increase in the body temperature, often due to an infection.
Are there any benefits from developing fever?
Recording the benefits of fever dates back to the ancient Greeks, who regarded disease as an imbalance of ''humors,'' and believed fever cured the sick by cooking the bad humors and helping the body get rid of them. On the other hand, modern science found that fever is a positive sign that the immune system is working well and responding to bacteria, viruses and all other pathogens that are trying to invade the body. Some of the benefits include,
- Increased temperature directly kills microbes as most bacteria and viruses grow at a temperature that is lower than that of your body.
- Fever creates a barrier between your iron reserves and the bacteria, which feed on it.
- Fever stimulates the production of white blood cells so antibodies are produced to fight off the invading pathogens.
- More interferon, a natural antiviral and anticancer substance, is produced when you develop fever.
In fact, not being able to develop fever can lead to severe health complications and even death. In 1981, a study was carried out by Kluger et al. where he infected cold-blooded iguanas with bacteria. He gave them the opportunity to seek heat via sunlamps and all but one sought the warmth to raise their temperature. The one who did not was the only one who died.
Next, he injected the iguanas with bacteria and gave them antipyretics (fever suppressants). The iguanas that were able to mount a fever despite the antipyretic were the only ones that survived (1).
Simply put, only the iguanas that were able to develop fever survived, which indicates that when you suppress fever you actually suppress your immune system's ability to fight infection and cure disease.
Side effects of fever-reducing medications
Studies have shown that fever-reducing medications may actually work against your immune system. These are some of the findings!
- Acetaminophen or paracetamol (Tylenol) depletes glutathione, which is one of the most important antioxidants that are produced by your body. Dubbed the master antioxidant, glutathione is very critical for liver detoxification, helps scavenge free radicals, protects your mitochondria (the energy powerhouse within the cells) from damage and helps protect you from type 2 diabetes (2).
- Pain relievers, including aspirin and ibuprofen, gravely inhibited the white blood cells' ability to produce antibodies (3). This in turn may prolong the healing process as antibodies are the proteins that neutralize bacteria and viruses.
- Adults infected with Influenza A, one of the most serious and highly contagious influenza strains, who were given acetaminophen, also known as paracetamol, witnessed a prolonged illness duration (4).
When should you consider suppressing fever?
A recent individual patient data meta-analysis reported that more active fever management did not increase survival compared with less active fever management in an all-comers population of critically ill adults. The table below suggests an approach to management of elevated body temperature (5).
The red box at the bottom right corner shows that a fever of 38 degree celsius without organ dysfunction (in a healthy person) is not very strong and doesn't indicate intervention. Moreover, the yellow box at the upper right corner shows that even a temperature of 41 degree celsius without organ dysfunction does't give a very strong indication for treatment.
When does treatment become a necessity? The dark green box at the top left corner shows a very strong indication for treatment in patients with heat stroke, or other causes of hyperthermia whenever their temperature reaches 41 degree celsius.
How to naturally manage fever?
- Hydration. The best would be water with a squirt of lemon or coconut water as they provide the necessary amount of electrolytes. Fruit juices are not recommended in high quantities because of their sugar content.
- A good probiotic to help support the immune system.
- Chicken soup or bone broth. Studies suggest that mothers' gut intuition to give their children chicken soup when sick is correct. Chicken soup was found to possess anti-inflammatory properties, which may help curb infection (6).
- Vitamin c. In the 1970s, researcher Dr. John Ely found that immune cells needed 20 times more vitamin c than normal cells to function properly.
- A lukewarm bath with some Epsom salt and essential oils added, not a cold one.
- Rest. Rest is the time when your body heals and repairs itself.
- Finally, if you have a child who feels uncomfortable because of the fever try to encourage him and tell him that his immune system is killing the bad in order for him to become stronger in the future.
An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure
It is always best to boost your immune system than to have to deal with the repercussions of disease. It is very important to eat a diet full organic vegetables, fruits, healthy fats and proteins, while minimizing your intake of refined sugar and carbs. Science has proven that sugar compromises the immune system and depletes the bodily reserves of vitamin c.
Other nutrients that you should consider adding to your health regimen include:
- Probiotics. The good bacteria in your gut accounts for around 70% of your immune system. Isn't this a good reason to consider adding probiotics to your diet?
- Cod liver oil. Highly recognized for its anti-inflammatory properties, research shows that children born to women who supplemented cod liver oil during pregnancy suffered from less colds during their first six months after birth.
- Colostrum. Research suggests that colostrum is 3x more effective than a flu shot.
Things to remember from this post
- Fever directly kills microbes.
- Studies reveal that fever-reducing drugs may prolong illness duration.
- Fever-reducing medications have a long list of side effects.
- Vitamin C, probiotics, fish oil and colostrum can help boost your immune system