Alright, I don't normally write this often, but something is weighing heavy on my heart and I know you must be feeling it too. Over the last several months, we've seen commonly available medicines become harder to find. As you might guess, we don't use a lot of these products at my house, but I've always had comfort in knowing they would be there if we needed them. Tylenol, Advil, antibiotics... are the main ones I'm thinking of, but there are others. Many of the raw materials or ingredients come from other countries, especially India and China, even though the final products are often made here. It's a very complex issue, and one that we never thought we'd face. I'm thankful to compounding pharmacies that have been trying to innovate alternatives.
In 2020 there were supply shortages that impacted the availability of certain vitamins and herbal formulas as well. We had conversations about stocking up on certain remedies to ensure access was maintained. In the end, I was not concerned, because as a ND I know of several ways to get to the same goal. For example, when Vitamin C was hard to find, I suggested Elderberry and Rose Hips and certain foods because of their high C content. I actually do this daily because I have patients that adore acupuncture treatments, and some that hate needles; patients that resonate with homeopathic remedies, and some that don't find them as helpful; and patients who don't want a single pill... you get the idea. I come from a mindset of flexibility in planning care.
The conversation around fevers lately has made me reflect on our confidence with our bodies' own wisdom. I will admit, I've been naive and I did not realize how many people use acetaminophen or ibuprofen immediately, at the first sign of illness. I have a different perspective. And, while I did not expect this complete lack of medication availability, I did anticipate a difficult autumn and winter, which is why I recommended preparing by building a healthy foundation.
What is a fever?
A fever is a temporary elevation in body temperature as a response from the immune system, and most often lasts a few days. Accompanying symptoms may include: sweating, chills, headache, weakness, muscle aches, irritability, flushed complexion, and loss of appetite. Body temperature is regulated by part of the brain called the hypothalamus. Interestingly, the hypothalamus usually keeps fevers below 103-104 degrees F (39.5-40 degrees C). Fever can be a reaction to infection, allergy, toxic overload, overheating from exercise or heatstroke - but today I'm talking about infections.
Normal body temperature ranges from 36.4 - 37.2 degrees C (97.5 - 98.9 degrees F)
A fever is temperature above 38 degrees C (100.4 degrees F)
There are different considerations for babies and young children. Learn more here. And, keep in mind that depending on how you take the temperature, the measurement may need to be adjusted. For example, doing an armpit (axillary) reading you need to add a degree, so a temperature of 99 degrees F is considered a fever.
Read about fever myths from Seattle Children's Hospital here.
How does a fever serve us?
Our bodies intelligently create a response to infections. The elevation in temperature triggers proteins (like nuclear factor kappa B) to upregulate production of immune cells so they can take action (1). It also forces us to rest, and reduces our appetite so that we don't need to digest while being under stress. This way, we can stay focused on one job. Many pathogens are slowed from replicating in warmer temperatures too, so an advantage to our immune systems is a disadvantage for bacteria and viruses (2). Interestingly, the fever response is thought to be a 4 million year old process (3), we've been doing this a long time!
We can also mimic the benefits of a fever therapeutically by elevating body temperature with a sauna. This activates heat shock and other proteins to stimulate autophagy (destruction of old and damaged cells). I recommend this treatment often for a number of reasons.
Why wouldn't you want to treat a fever?
Certainly medications can help alleviate some discomfort, and I'm not an advocate for bearing through major pain so I will leave this discussion to fevers only. There has been conflicting research on whether fever reduction improves overall illness outcomes (3). But, some new studies coming out lately on acetaminophen raise some concerns, especially with frequent use.
We know that these medications can be hard on the liver, kidneys, and gastrointestinal system, depending on the type of drug. Acetaminophen depletes glutathione, a main antioxidant of the liver and the lungs. The research that's been coming to our attention the last few years is the impact that acetaminophen use has on development of autism spectrum disorders and ADHD (4).
Given these potential concerns and in light of the lack of availability, I wanted to share with you some alternative ways to manage a fever, so that those medications might be reserved for special times. Of course, please familiarize yourself with signs of distress and when to seek medical attention (below).
How to support a fever
Think less about "fighting" and more about facilitating the healing process. Many people find they come back stronger than ever!
- Lukewarm baths
- add epsom salts or essential oils to soothe aching joints
- Cool wash cloths
- Hydration: water, diluted juice, coconut water, broth, herbal tea, fruit juice popsicles
- Homeopathic remedies: belladonna, bryonia, ferrum phos, chamomilla, aconitum
- chosen to match the symptom picture
- I also frequently recommend combination remedies like Dr Reckeweg's R1, and Boiron's Oscillococcinum
-> you will likely need guidance on dosing and selecting the right remedy
- Use layers of blankets to put on and take off as needed, and wear light cotton clothing
- Envision your cells responding, healing, and clearing things out
- Other treatments to support healing the infection: probiotics, antimicrobial herbs, humidifiers, steam inhalation, and vitamins like C & D, as indicated
Seek immediate medical attention if any of these signs or symptoms accompany a fever. Also, parents you have a special connection with your child (you know them best), so if you know if your gut that something isn't right, you should get support.
- fever that goes away and returns, or doesn't resolve after 3 days
- Severe headache
- Unusual sensitivity to bright light
- Stiff neck and pain when you bend your head forward
- Mental confusion, strange behaviour or altered speech
- Persistent vomiting
- Difficulty breathing or chest pain
- using other muscles to breathe like the belly and neck
- leaning forward to breathe
- wheezing or musical sound
- Abdominal pain
- Pain when urinating
- Convulsions or seizures
- Signs of dehydration like low or no urine output, or dark urine
- Other health conditions that affect immunity
- Recent drug or medical intervention
- Blue lips
- Sudden rash
- Trouble walking
We know that our health care system is not able to provide the timely care we used to expect, and some people have developed a fear of doctors and hospitals and wait too long before seeking help. This is concerning. To mitigate this major problem, we can integrate strategies into our daily lives that support our defences like:
- vitamin D, vitamin C, hand washing, probiotic supplements or fermented foods, sleep, movement, rinse the nasal passages with a saline spray or Neti pot, minimize sugar, gargle with salt water, take apple cider vinegar, keep antimicrobial herbs and common homeopathics at home ... to name a few.
Let me know if you would like to develop your own personalized action plan. It is so much easier to have things in the cupboard, beyond Tylenol, so you are prepared.
Yours in health,
This article is intended for information purposes only and does not replace medical advice.