Benjamin plays in the sandbox as his mom watches from the kitchen window. His mom loves to see him out playing in the yard being active and growing strong. She keeps an eye on him as she makes a chicken dinner. She knows what it takes to keep him healthy to prevent bugs and fevers. What if we told her that fevers weren’t that bad?
She doesn’t want Benjamin to get a fever. She cooks the chicken thoroughly, she washes all the kitchen surfaces and when she calls Benjamin in for supper she sends him off to wash his hands before supper. As her family sits around the table she knows she has done her job to keep them all healthy.
Later as she tucks Benjamin into bed she leans in to kiss his forehead but as her lips touch his forehead she feels it’s warmer than usual. He must have picked up a bug from school. Her first instinct is to grab some tylenol or ibuprofen to drive the fever down
She, and you, may be surprised to learn that’s the exact opposite of what Benjamin needs to be healthy. For your average illness or the common cold, fevers are a good thing!
What is a Fever?
Fever is an effective way to regulate the body and the body is always working to make sure it’s running efficiently. Fever is a way to kill off unwanted bacteria. Understanding how our body kills bacteria comes from understanding what it is made of.
What is bacteria made of? The building blocks of all life come from proteins. Put enough proteins together in different combination and we can form tissue and everything that we need to sustain life. Bacteria and viruses are no different. They are made of proteins too. There are two ways that we can break down or denature proteins. We can break them down with a very acidic environment or heat.
A fever is turned on by your brain or your central nervous system. We know that the brain and central nervous system regulates and controls all the bodies different processes to keep the body functioning optimally.
What is Homeostasis?
The main area of your brain that regulates the body is the hypothalamus. The hypothalamus regulates homeostasis. Homeostasis is the body’s ability to regulate itself and make sure that all systems are running normally. When the body is in normal homeostasis everything is running smoothly and we feel great. When we encounter a bug, such as a virus or bacteria, our body needs get rid of the infection. The way our body kills the infection is by a fever or raising our body temperature. Your body is pretty smart!
When we cook the chicken at a high heat, we are killing the bacteria in the chicken. When our body heats up it is killing those invading bacteria that make us sick. So it’s important to remember, we don’t want to fight the fever. It’s on our side and fighting those bacteria with us!
Let your immune system do it’s job and let the body take care of itself. Your body knows how to take care of itself and fever is a good thing.
There are ways you can help the body’s immune system by supporting returning the body to homeostasis. Taking zinc, vitamin D or echinacea supplements are a great way to help support the body’s return to homeostasis without getting in it’s way. A cool bath or towel on the head will make the body more comfortable.
Fevers Can Be Good
When Benjamin gets a fever he is fighting off the infection and once the infection is gone his body will remember that specific infection and he will become stronger. Benjamin’s immune system will also grow and be stronger so when he encounters another infection he will be that much better at fighting it off.
Kids get sick. It’s what they do and it’s building their immune system that way. I don’t want to make parents feel bad, but a lot of time the medicine is not in a child’s best interest but for the comfort of his parents. Taking ibuprofen or acetaminophen comes with side effects, can prolong the illness and doesn’t help Benjamin build up his immune system.
So keep doing everything right. Make sure those kids get outside to play, heat up the food so bacteria is killed, wash those hands and get good sleep at night. If a bacteria sneaks through all the precautions that you and the body set up to keep your kids safe remember to let the body do its job. So mamas, don’t fight the fever and they will be back to the sandbox faster.
Written by: Dr. Mitch Sutton