The prolific Persian physician, Avicenna, considered fevers to be a disease of autumn. The American physician, Isaac Jennings, postulated that fevers were inherent to the laws of life of which must be resolved only by the healing power of the body, and not with the aid of medications. Hippocrates, considered the father of medicine, proposed that all diseases have natural causes and in his Book of Prognostics, he describes observation of fever.
For millennia, physicians have discussed the four humors of the body. They are as follows: yellow bile associated with heat and dryness, black bile associated with cold and dryness, phlegm is cold and moisture, and blood as heat and moisture. These four humors also correlate to the four seasons of the year. Physicians have inferred that an imbalance between the humors causes disease and have sought to balance them. Fever, given its hot and drying nature, was considered an ailment of yellow bile. The treatment of yellow bile would be its opposite, black bile, of which its nature is cold and moist. Thus, someone suffering with fever during that time would be balanced with a cold water bath.
In the holistic perspective, a fever is the body’s way of balancing our internal vital force energy with external factors that have compromised our body.
Different types of fevers are tolerated across different bodily constitutions. If someone is able to mount a fever quickly along with elimination of fever after a few days or less, this is considered a strong vital force. However, if someone has low temperature fevers with inability to mount the response needed, this is considered a low vital force. Low vital force is typically seen in those who are chronically sick or among elderly populations. Essentially, the system has been chronically depleted preventing the full and robust healing capacity of a fever. There are more specific subjective and objective signs and symptoms of a fever. An elevated body temperature should be measured via a rectal or oral thermometer which provides a more precise reading of core temperature. Other symptoms of a fever can include chills, sweating, headache, weakness, and loss of appetite.
The word fever is derived from its Latin origin fovere which means to heat or warm. Normal body temperature is typically set at 98.6 F (37 C). According to the American College of Critical Care Medicine and the Infectious Disease Society of America, fever is defined as a core temperature of 38.3 C or higher, regardless of cause. Fever is a natural body mechanism intended to enhance immune function and inhibit the growth of problematic organisms such as bacteria and viruses, however; fevers can also be caused by medications, inflammatory conditions, and cancer. Fevers increase the activity of our white blood cells and also stimulate activation of T cells.
In its nature, the very essence of a fever is self-preservation of the human organism through thermoregulation. During a fever, our heart rate and breathing rate will increase with the goal of spreading oxygen rich blood to a specific infection site.
There are however, absolute dangers that can occur as a result of a fever.
Fevers can damage the body both directly through local cell processes and also indirectly through the gut. There is also the possibility of tissue damage, brain damage, and death from high temperature fevers. Lower temperature fevers in infants and children can be particularly concerning and parents should seek medical advice from their pediatrician. Temperatures greater than 103 F in adults can be of concern and medical attention should be sought in these cases.
Our body is always striving to maintain homeostasis. Fever is one way that we come back into balance after a particular insult. There are many other ways we maintain balance, and that is the beauty of the human organism.
Asia Muhammad is a Naturopathic Doctor in St. Louis, MO. She values the power of lifestyle modifications to achieve optimal health. She has a special interest in gastroenterology, mind-body medicine, and stress management, as increasing research demonstrates the role of stress in disease. Dr. Asia received her Doctorate in Naturopathic Medicine from Southwest College of Naturopathic Medicine in 2014 and completed a three-year independent residency at Arizona Digestive Health. She received her BS in Chemistry and Biology from Middle Tennessee State University in 2010. In her spare time, she enjoys connecting with her community to provide nutrition and exercise education.