Getting Sick: A Step In The Right Direction
Why You Don’t Want To Suppress Your Next Cold or Flu?
It’s likely that you’ll get a cold or flu this year at some point. How you choose to deal with it may actually be more important for your long-term health than you realize. As a Naturopathic Doctor, I think about these acute illnesses a little differently than you’re used to and I find it’s helpful for my patients to understand my thought process. Hopefully this will help you take a new perspective on this year’s cold or flu.
The body is smart. This is the principle from which I operate. When we get acutely ill, often this is the body’s attempt to get rid of something harmful. The mucous produced in a respiratory infection helps to clear out infectious organisms (if we let it). When we have food poisoning, diarrhea helps to clear out the organism. When we sweat during a fever, we decrease our inflammation.
Getting an occasional acute illness and then clearing it in a short period of time tells us that the immune system is capable of responding and is doing its job. When I have patients who do not get acutely ill at all for several years, I begin to be concerned that they may not be releasing things from their body and may be building up inflammatory toxins, which can lead to more chronic illness. I also wonder if the immune system is working effectively in these patients, which you need it to do in order to prevent long term issues like cancer.
Don’t get me wrong, I don’t want my patients to be excessively ill or to be sick frequently or for long periods of time. I just want to know that the body is getting rid of things every so often, responding appropriately, and recovering efficiently. Ideally, my patients would have no more than 1 cold or flu/year and no less than 1 fever every 3 years.
Finally, it forces you to slow down. Let’s face it; many of you will only pause when you’re sick. Often getting sick is your body’s way of telling you that something needs to shift. Maybe it’s just that you need a break for a few days or it may be that there is a larger pattern in life that needs to be changed.
Why Fevers Are Useful:
A Fever is the body’s way of stimulating the immune system. Many parts of the immune system are temperature activated. Immune activity tends to be greater at higher temperatures. Conversely, many bacteria and viruses do not replicate as quickly at higher temperatures. By creating a fever, the body is able to stimulate its own defenses and slow down the infectious organisms in order to fight the infection more effectively. By allowing the fever to run its course, you actually allow your body to fight the infection faster! Many of the aches and pains we feel during a fever are actually caused by our own immune activity, not the infectious organism itself. When we suppress the fever with Tylenol, Advil, Motrin, or Aspirin, we’re actually interfering with our immune system’s ability to fight. Fevers are uncomfortable it’s true, but they do have a purpose.
As I explained earlier, mucous is part of your body’s way of protecting mucous membranes and getting irritants out of the body. When you take an over the counter decongestant that dries up mucous, yes you can breathe more easily for a few hours, but you are interfering with your body’s attempt to do its job. In a way, it is keeping the infectious agent or the allergen in the body. Many over the counter decongestants are also stimulants. While this makes you feel like you’re more energetic, it ends up causing many people to ignore their symptoms instead of resting. This means your immune energy is diverted to other things and you can end up both more tired and sick for longer than you might have without the decongestant.
There is a time and a place for the use of antibiotics, but that time is much less often than most people realize. In this country, even according to most conventional medical specialists, antibiotics are prescribed far too frequently. Often they are prescribed when there is no specific evidence of a bacterial infection. They do not work against viral infections. The more we use them, the more resistant bacteria become and the less effective they are when they are really necessary to save lives. They also kill the good bacteria that you need in your digestive tract to support normal digestion, production of essential nutrients, immune system function, and nervous system balance, among other things. Killing the bacteria in the digestive tract can have far reaching health impacts for years to come and is associated with many chronic illnesses.
When You Get Sick:
1. Instead of suppressing a fever (as long as it isn’t too high), let it be. If it needs to be lowered a bit so that you can be comfortable enough to sleep, try chamomile ginger tea, which will help you release some of the heat without suppressing the system overall.
2. If you don’t have a fever at all, try the warming sock treatment, which can be found on our website. This is used to increase body temperature and thereby stimulate immune response. Do not use it when someone already has a fever, as it can raise the temperature higher than we would like.
3. Avoid sugar, alcohol, and coffee, which can interfere with immune function.
4. Hydrate well. This is especially important if you have a fever and are sweating.
5. Eat soup! Home-made soups can be immune stimulating and can help to replace electrolytes lost during sweating with a fever. A home electrolyte broth can be made by boiling equal parts carrots, celery, potato, and onion in water. If you eat meat, a bone broth with those veggies in it is even better.
6. Avoid dairy when congested.
7. Rest! Really. Many people try and push through being sick. This not only exposes others to your illness, but also takes energy away from your immune system and makes it harder for it to do its job. Your body doesn’t really care what you were supposed to do that day. You still need rest.
8. Specific herbs and vitamins can help to stimulate immune function, break up and move mucous to get it out, and kill infectious organisms without disrupting your good bacteria. Homeopathy can also be very supportive. Your Naturopathic Doctor can help you figure out which formulas are best suited for your individual health.
When To Call Your Doctor:
1. You’ve been sick for more than 3 days and you’re not getting better.
2. Adults with a fever over 101.5, children with a fever over 102 (this isn’t necessarily a problem, but it’s helpful to get the doctor involved before it becomes a problem).
3. A cough or sore throat that is interfering with breathing and/or sleep.
4. A fever with a rash and/or joint pain.
5. You are lethargic.
6. You are concerned or not improving and just need someone to provide more specific advice and make sure there is nothing else wrong.
Dr. Hilary Trojano, ND