Fevers: Let them do their job!

A fever is an elevated body temperature. 98.6 degrees Fahrenheit is considered normal, but actual body temperature tends to fluctuate one or two degrees Fahrenheit depending on time of year, level of activity, emotional stress, time of day, and other factors.

Most fevers are the body’s reaction to an infection, either viral or bacterial. Body temperature is regulated by our hypothalamus, which is located in our brain. When a viral or bacterial infection is detected, our body heats up. High temperatures inhibit the release of iron and zinc from our liver and spleen, which are needed to “feed” the bacteria. Viruses and bacteria do not survive for long in a body with a high temperature. The elevated temperature also increases white blood cell production. White blood cells are infection-fighting agents and when we produce more of them, we have a better chance of fighting the bacteria. In this way, a fever actually helps us kill off the bacteria by preventing its growth inside the body.

Another benefit of a fever is tissue repair. Since fevers increase the body’s overall metabolic rate, tissue repair occurs more quickly. This can be beneficial for someone with injuries or wounds that may be infected.

Despite all of these benefits of fevers, most people try to suppress them as soon as they occur. I don’t have children, but I imagine there is little worse than seeing your child suffer from an illness. Of course the first thing you think of is how to make it go away! However, if fevers are allowed to run their course, the bacteria and viruses will be killed off uninterrupted, and healing can take place more quickly. Sometimes it may even be a good idea to induce a fever by using a sauna or a hot bath, so that the fighting process can begin more quickly. If fevers are consistently suppressed with aspirin, Tylenol, ibuprofen, or other meds, some bacteria may remain and the child could have a hard time really fighting off the sickness.

There is a point where medical intervention is necessary. One source I have says that for fevers up to 102 degrees Fahrenheit, medicines are not needed. This is obviously a judgment call on the parents’ part, and sick children and people should be monitored closely.

Some nutritional approaches to fighting fever and bacteria include vitamin A, vitamin C, and zinc. Vitamin A deficiency reduces the body’s ability to fight off infection, so taking supplemental vitamin A for one week during a sickness can help. Vitamin C has anti-inflammatory properties and can help gently lower a fever after it has done its job. Zinc improves immune function by acting as a supportive nutrient for white blood cell production. Echinacea and goldenseal are two herbs that are also immune-boosters. They contain infection-fighting properties that can be useful during a sickness.

The most important thing to remember during a fever is to stay hydrated. Since your metabolic rate increases so much, you lose a lot of fluids during a fever. Drinking lots of water is necessary for replenishing these fluids and allowing the fever to run its course.

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