Fevers are not the cause of sickness however they are a part of the solution!
Sure they can be annoying and quite the drag, but the purpose they serve is higher than appeasing your need for comfort.
We have been conditioned since birth, through the mechanisms and marketing of modern medicine to reduce a fever at its first sign. In most of the medical textbooks I have read, authors frequently state the importance of fevers, but then follow it up with something along lines of, “since the discovery of antibiotics, the discomfort that comes with having a fever seems unnecessary.”
This is how immunology works. Our bodies become subsequently stronger after each infection. When we allow our body to clear an infection naturally with no artificial external input we build immunity.
This process becomes compromised every time we introduce medications to override it. Many studies refer to this as the immunological side effect of antibiotics. It can either speed up or slow down the production of immunoglobulins/antibodies. These are white blood cells that have the ability to recognize a foreign invader such as a virus or a bacterium. The antibodies have the ability to recall previous information, such as, what the invader looks like and how the invader was properly disposed of the first time, making subsequent infections much less severe.
This is why we typically get ill from certain infections only once.
If acetaminophen is used to reduce the fever, then the illness will be prolonged, along with the amount of time that shedding will occur (the contagious stage of an infection). This means the infected individual has the potential to deliver the antigens (invaders) to even more people.
Okay, so enough immunology for one day. Now onto the meat and potatoes of what the fever actually accomplishes.
What fevers achieve for us:
- Enhances immune function and phagocystosis (when a white blood cell eats an invader).
- Slows down the rate of reproduction of certain bacteria and viruses.
- Interferes with the uptake of iron by bacteria so that they are unable to reproduce.
- Increases the ability of CD8 (cytotoxic T-cells) to destroy cells that have been infected by a virus. The CD8 cells also help to eliminate tumor cells.
- Speeds up blood flow and delivery of white blood cells to fight off the infection.
- Causes our breathing rate to increase, which increases the amount of oxygen in our blood to speed up the repair of damaged cells.
Fevers are regulated by the hypothalamus, a gland that resides in the brain. Other portions of the anatomy are also important in the regulation of fevers such as the limbic system, reticular formation (in the brain stem), the spinal cord and spinal ganglia.
Chiropractors who have been practicing any length of time can tell you that when a patient who has a fever gets an adjustment in order to correct spinal subluxation, they will often see either an increase or a decrease in their fever, depending on the bodily demands at that moment in time. This makes prefect sense once you realize that the main players in regulating said fever reside in the central nervous system.
So the next time you get a fever, remember it is not a defect in your system but a reset of your internal thermostat in order for your body to properly deal with an infection, a toxin or some other type of disease process.
For parents seeking some good advice about childhood fevers I suggest this brief article. Brain damage from fever is thought to be at 107.6°F in children, though this rarely occurs unless there is an underlying issue with the hypothalamus or nervous system.
Remember, you know yourself and your kids better than any doctor. If you suspect danger, emergency care should be sought. An inconsolable child with a high fever is much different than a consolable child with a high fever. Your intuition should never be ignored.
Dr. Andrew R. Burns