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4 Feb
2014
Posted in: health
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Fever Is Good For You

Well, up to a point, fever is good for you.

I remember, when I was a young parent, that babies seemed to get feverish several times a year. The wisdom, from our GP, was to use Calpol (liquid paracetamol) to bring the fever down. The subliminal message was that fever was bad and should be exterminated as quickly as possible.

As I grew older, and wiser, I began to wonder about this advice, advice that seemed to be universal.

Part of the problem with babies is that we don’t want them to suffer. We want to do anything and everything we can to be good parents and get them to feel well, healthy, and happy as fast as possible. But we also don’t want to be seen as bad parents. I mean, what Mum would want to stand at the school gates, amidst a horde of Calpol addicts, and speak the heresy of letting her child just suffer and get better on its own? They would be ostracised, seen as a bit weird, and generally avoided.

If not, this strange idea that the body’s immune system can look after the body – without any outside help – just might contaminate their comfortably medicated worldview.

But these are helpless babies we are talking about here. And that is entirely the problem. We see those babies as helpless when in fact what they have is a young, undeveloped immune system that needs some training. It needs training to identify pathogens and develop appropriate antibodies so that as an adult it remains healthy and already has an immune system fully equipped to deal with infections quickly and easily.

So what exactly is going on with this fever thing?

Broadly speaking one of two things.

  1. Either the white blood cells, on encountering an invading organism, create a substance called pyrogen. This is detected by the hypothalamus (where temperature regulation takes place) and it resets the body’s thermostat. The hypothalamus allows the body temperature to rise. This in turn makes the environmental conditions uncomfortable for the invading organism and so it dies out. When we use drugs to reduce this natural healing process we allow the pathogen to remain and reproduce for longer – and so we suffer for longer. We also infect more other people because we are spreading live pathogens for a longer period of time.
  2. There is a complication. Some pathogens produce a pyrogen-like substance to fool the hypothalamus into heating things up. Body organs start to become damaged when the internal temperature hits 105F.

 

So the trick, I believe, is to monitor temperature and only take action when it reaches dangerously high levels. Otherwise let things be and let nature take its course. But for things like colds and flu, fever is just the body’s way of defending itself. Certainly on those occasions over the last 20 years when I’ve had a cold or flu, with accompanying fever, I just let my body deal with it. The help I give my body is to rest and take fluids – not fill it with potentially toxic medication that may introduce substances that further stress it and prolong the discomfort.

New research from McMaster University supports this view. It has found that drugs like ibuprofen and paracetamol increase the rate of flu by 5% AND consequently cause an additional 1,000 deaths each year in North America alone. This is because with the fever reduced, people go to work and spread viruses amongst their colleagues, thinking because they feel better they are getting better. But the truth is that they have just created an environment for the virus to proliferate for much longer than it would otherwise have done.

Finally, don’t forget that any ‘wisdom’ than involves regular purchases of over-the-counter medication is putting money into the coffers of pharmaceutical companies so there is also a vested interest in resisting any attempt at changing the status quo – which, for them, is very comfortable.

From the Calpol website – after some helpful suggestions for making your child physically comfortable:

“If your baby is still uncomfortable, you can treat the symptoms of a fever at home with infant paracetamol or ibuprofen – something we’ve been helping mums and dads do for over 45 years.”

Notice that ‘helping’ and ’45 years’. The subliminal message is that if we’ve been doing it for 45 years it must be good. Also notice that if making the child comfortable produces no change then your only option is Calpol. No suggestion of wait and see. No suggestion of monitoring temperature and using Calpol as a last resort.

They have 8 attractively packaged products with pictures of happy/sleeping babies on the front. Who could resist that? Help in a bottle. Instant infant ease.

Paracetamol (acetaminophen) sales in 2008 amounted to $2.6 billion in the US. This stuff is big business.

There is no suggestion here that you should ignore symptoms, or not treat symptoms if your baby is clearly distressed, but do it from a place of wisdom and understanding that fever is the body’s way of killing off invading organisms. Humans, in the space of about 100,000 years, have managed to create about 7 billion of us. Easy access to pharmaceuticals has only been around for much less than 100 of those.

Consider letting the body use its own wisdom to fight disease.

 

Ref:

http://www.fda.gov/downloads/AdvisoryCommittees/CommitteesMeetingMaterials/Drugs/DrugSafetyandRiskManagementAdvisoryCommittee/UCM175767.pdf#page=5&zoom=auto,442,36

http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/01/140122091318.htm

Inspired by: http://www.wddty.com/fever-fighting-drugs-increase-flu-cases-and-deaths.html

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