Normally, the hypothalamus in the brain controls the body’s temperature, keeping it within a standard deviation around 98.6. Fluctuations lower or higher may depend on metabolism (it’s lowest when sleeping and upon first waking, before getting out of bed), and for a menstruating woman, her cycle (it’s highest during her luteal phase). The set point for some might be lower if there are metabolic issues such as hypothyroidism, even subclinical.
In the case of a fever, the hypothalamus temporarily raises the set point of the body to a higher temperature. As we all know, this goes along with other symptoms, as well: lethargy especially, and other symptoms of an acute illness such as nausea or vomiting in the case of gastroenteritis, upper respiratory symptoms in the case of a URI, or urinary tract burning in the case of a UTI.
But is a fever helpful or harmful? Should you suppress it with medication, such as acetaminophen, or let it do its thing?
Fevers help the body defend against infectious organisms. They help to marshal the body’s troops, as it were, against them, rendering it less tolerant of toxins that might be produced by invaders. They also help the white blood cells do their job better.
This is probably why studies show that in any animal, allowing an acute fever to run its course generally shortens the duration of the illness.
For this reason, as a general rule, it’s a good idea to resist suppressing a fever—unless it gets dangerously high, or unless there’s significant discomfort associated with it. Fevers must be over 108 F in order to cause brain damage and this typically happens only under very unusual conditions.
Fever of Unknown Origin
Chronic fevers are generally lower than acute infectious fevers, and they’re also called Fever of Unknown Origin (FUO). In my clinical experience, these are usually accompanied by other chronic symptoms that help guide the case. Usually there is also a chronic infection involved — viral, bacterial, or parasitic. As such, there are also usually quite a few accompanying hormonal issues, such as adrenal fatigue—including dysfunction of the HPA Axis, which includes the hypothalamus (where temperature is regulated) and the pituitary gland.
Treating chronic fevers requires finding and treating the cause. They usually don’t go away spontaneously.
Treating a Fever
So if you have an acute fever, if you don’t take medication, what do you do instead?
- Fast. First of all, when fasting, your body has to rely on its own fat stores for energy: i.e., it goes into ketosis. And as proponents of the ketogenic diet will tell you, ketones are very anti-inflammatory. This might be one mechanism by which fasting helps the body kick out invaders. Fasting also helps the immune system regenerate itself–so it makes the “troops” stronger.
- Hydrate. Fevers can cause sweating, which can lead to dehydration. This is of course exacerbated if the fever is secondary to gastroenteritis, in which case you’re losing water as vomiting and/or diarrhea as well. So drink plenty of fluids!
- Immune support. To help the immune system protect you, add in some immune support supplements. Do this until two days after you’re better to help prevent relapse!