Fever is a mainstay line of defense for the immune system. But you could say we’ve become afraid of fever, as we are told to make it go away when our kids have one – as though the fever itself is a bad thing.
The truth is, fever is one of the body’s many brilliant means to disable a pathogen. It’s not something to be afraid of. And mounting a vigorous fever is a beneficial component for a child’s adaptive immunity to develop. For example, a 104 F degree fever (~40 degree C) will cause a 200-fold reduction in replication rate of some viruses. Powerful stuff!
So why are we told to use drugs like acetaminophen (Tylenol aka paracemetol) to make it go away, especially in kids? I’m surprised to hear parents in my pediatric nutrition practice report that this is still encouraged, especially with vaccination – where evidence has emerged across many investigations that acetominophen reduces immune response to vaccines – making vaccination among the worst times to use it.
Let’s go there for a moment. There has been quite a fiasco over the use of Tylenol in children, and not without reason. For starters, giving acetominophen with fever is problematic. While the body is endeavoring to raise its temperature as a means of attack against a pathogen, Tylenol will un-do the process by lowering temperature and can thus prolong infection and inflammation.
Second, Tylenol quickly depletes glutathione, a natural peptide made by the body as key detoxifier and free radical scavenger. This means it lowers glutathione right when we may need it most, potentially enhancing the toxicity of whatever the body is grappling with.
Tylenol use – especially in toddlerhood when multiple vaccine visits are compulsory, or during pregnancy – has shown an association with the development of autism later on.
Giving Tylenol, plus eating RoundUp (aka glyphosate – the abundant and ubiquitous agricultural herbicide in our food supply, including infant formulas), plus using antibiotics, can create a perfect storm with the power to alter gene expression such that the end result is predictive for autism. No single “gene for autism” has ever been identified, despite years of hopeful searching and untold sums of money spent in the hunt. We know that autism isn’t solely genetic in origin. Rather, there are groups of genes that will be expressed differently, if environmentally challenged with toxins, antigens, or infections at vulnerable moments (like in utero or infancy or toddlerhood). If the gene expression is altered under the “right” conditions (that is, frequent toxic and immune challenges), autism or other neurodevelopmental can result.
Back to fever. What can you do about it, and when to step in?
- Stay in touch with your doctor for close monitoring when your child has a fever.
- A normal fever is between 100-104 degrees. If it climbs higher, be in closer touch with your doctor on next steps.
- Newborns should never have fevers – if your baby is less than 3 or 4 months old and has a fever over 100 degrees, let your doctor know right away.
- Some natural tools to manage fever and discomfort are…
- Curcumin, available in liquids and chewable gummies, can reduce inflammation and soften pain. Nordic Naturals Curcumin Gummies or Apex Turmero Liquid are easy for toddlers and school aged children to use.
- Magnesium is another useful pain reliever especially for muscle aches and pains. It’s available in topical lotions like Cooks Organics Creme, as Epsom Salts in a tepid bath soak, or can be used orally in liquid suspensions like Blue Bonnet Liquid Cal-Mag.
- Calcium lactate is a fast absorbed form calcium that can actually reduce fever in a beneficial way. During fever, as muscle tissue warms, calcium is leached from bones in a free unbound form called ionized calcium. This activates white blood cells which in turn mount their attack on invading bacteria or viruses. By giving calcium lactate, you make a quick support for white blood cells at the ready rather than having to leach it out of bone through fever. I have many anecdotes from clients for the success of this practice, which may also reduce the likelihood of febrile seizures. 100-200 mg calcium lactate every hour or two til fever drops is usually effective. Standard Process sells this form of calcium as a powder or in small tablets. (Milk and dairy products do not supply calcium in the right form for this task, and other forms of calcium will not work as well if at all.)
- Homeopathic remedies can be effective for fever also. Belladonna in 30c pellets is a classic solution for a hot, rapid onset fever with bright red dry hot cheeks and flushing. These pellets are available over the counter, but it’s ideal to work with a knowledgable homeopathic practitioner when using these powerful tools. For more detail on using these in your home, see Everybody’s Guide To Homeopathic Medicine This book was a mainstay in our home when my son was little and saved us many trips to the doctor.
What about before fever? The most important thing you can do for your child is maintain a healthy, solid growth pattern.
If you’re not sure whether your child’s growth pattern is where it should be, check this blog on underweight in children. Even small shifts away from your child’s expected progress for growth are costly when it comes to infection and illness. Growth is the single most powerful predictor of how often a child gets sick and how sick they may get – that is, severity and frequency of illness both go up when children are lapsing off their patterns for growth.
Kids don’t feel hungry during fever, which is a good thing – the body needs resources for the task of infection fighting, and doesn’t want to steer blood flow and energy toward digesting a meal. But fevers are exceptionally costly in terms of the fuel they consume – literally, heating fuel! It can’t be replenished easily during illness, which is why it is so important to keep children well fed and growing strong between infections and illness. Once illness comes calling, the reserves need to be there already.
Top nutrients for the immune system to do its work during illness, that should be well replenished before illness, are vitamin D, vitamin A, zinc, iron, and total protein. Total protein doesn’t mean your kids need a hundred grams of protein a day in food (that’s too much). It means they have good tissue stores, healthy muscle tissue, and some body fat as reserves.
Iron doesn’t work well to supplement during infection, as it may increase inflammation or help microbes, which also love iron as much as we do. So make sure your child’s iron status is strong day to day (click here to learn more about when kids need iron).
Zinc however can be used during illness and doses of 30-100 mg are what I may suggest depending on a child’s weight. Vitamins A and D are stored in fatty tissue and certain types of lipid (fat) molecules in the blood. Make sure your child has ample sources of these vitamins in their day to day routines, before illness. Cod liver oil, wild caught (not farmed) salmon, organic calves liver are all good sources. Regular fish oil (minus the “liver” part) does not provide vitamins D or A, which are key for lung tissue and many facets of strong immune response to viral infections especially.
There are may herbal tools that your local naturopathic doctor is trained to use to help manage infections and illnesses. Check here to explore finding a naturopathic doctor (ND) near you.
Long short, your kids can have fevers safely and effectively, and there are a several options to support them through it. Instead of reaching for NSAIDs like acetominophen or ibuprofen, you might like trying natural and nutrition tools that work with the body to fight infection and recover handily.