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Help Your Hot Body: How to Support a Fever with Nutrition

It's getting hot, hot, hot! Could that be a good thing? When a fever shows up, it's easy to freak out and grab the Tylenol IMMEDIATELY.  However, since acetaminophen is rough on the liver (especially for babies and kids), let's take a step back and talk about how fevers can actually be GOOD. A fever isn't only a sign of illness, it's also a sign of nutritional deficiencies. Understanding how important nutrients like calcium, vitamin D, and vitamin C play into the physiological process of a fever can help you and your family take a more natural route next time the thermometer gets toasty. Here's how to support a fever with nutrition, and get over illness faster:

The Benefits of a Hot Body

Like, literally HOT. Contrary to popular belief, fevers are generally safe and helpful. It's a well-regulated way your body can control it's immune response. High body heat slows the growth of bacteria and viruses, and stimulates your immune system cells. Therefore, stopping a fever with medication immediately can actually make you sicker, longer! Blowing your mind? Check out this recent article in the Journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics for more clarity on the benefits of letting fevers run their course. Now, how does nutrition play into this? Calcium, vitamin D, and vitamin C are going to be your big hot-body-helpers!

Calcium and The Calcium Wave

Not like a "hey, girl hey!" kind of wave, but more like doing "the wave" at a football game. The calcium wave is an important process in your immune system. In fact, low calcium is extremely common in the chronically sick population. How? One weird word: Phagocyte. A phagocyte is a cell our immune system uses to chomp up bacteria, viruses, and dysfunctional cells. It's basically the destroyer and garbage collector in one, and you'd be a goner without this guy. These cells take calcium from your body and send it in a wave around the perimeter of the cell by splitting in two. The waves make a calcium circle around microbes that needs to be chewed up and disposed of. The circle acts like a little compartment so the phagocyte can unleash some enzymes and destroy the target (bacteria, virus, etc.). Obviously, the cell has to get this calcium somewhere, so if it's not readily available in your bloodstream, it's going to steal from your bones (please, no!). During a fever it's best to give your body plenty of what it needs so it doesn't have to work as hard or steal from your bones. If you have a fever, your body is working hard enough already! So should you start chugging milk? Nah. Dairy does have some calcium, but milk sugars can also prolong illness by feeding bacteria. In this case, a calcium supplement or lots of rich green foods are your best bet. Taking vitamin D with a quality source of calcium will increase its absorption, helping your body use it more effectively.

You know to rest when you're sick, but why? During a feverish illness, working muscles use calcium. Decreasing muscle work by being a couch potato all day (hi, Netflix) allows immune cells to use the calcium in your body rather than using it for muscle movement. You can also make calcium more available by decreasing refined carbohydrates. Bread, sugar, and pasta LOVE to bind minerals like calcium so your body can't use them. 

More good news? High doses of calcium have even been found to combat E. Coli, a bacteria famously known to cause food poisoning and other not-so-fun tummy troubles. 

(a picture of the calcium wave in action... looks riveting, right? It's totally keeping you alive, and you didn't even know it!)

Vitamin C

A fever can also be a sign of low vitamin C. When microbes invade, it may mean our phagocytes are struggling to keep up. In return, our body raises the temperature as a way to tell the phagocytes "HEY! WAKE UP AND GET TO WORK." Vitamin C is a heat-free way to stimulate the phagocytes, so the temperature can lower again. Vitamin C is so crucial that kids and adults low in vitamin C and calcium will experience more severe fevers than a similar person who is nutritionally sound. Use this list of top 10 vitamin C foods to feed your body during your illness. Together, calcium, vitamin D, and vitamin C work as partners to protect us from infection, both viral and bacterial. 

When to Seek Help

When should you take the next active step? If you've tried the natural route and the following is happening:

  • Fever longer than 3 days
  • A fever over 100.4 in a 3-month-old or younger
  • A fever over 104 degrees F (some doctors will say as high as 106, but 104 is the comfort threshold for most people!)
  • The person affected stops drinking, urinating, or seems completely "out of it" mentally (you know when your child/spouse is getting loopy or uncharacteristically lazy!)
  • Your doctor says otherwise! Checking in with your doctor, getting information, and weighing pros and cons of various treatments is still an important process you need to go through. 

Understanding how your body functions is key for long term health! Pat yourself on the back for acquiring one more piece of information that will keep your immune system strong.

Hannah Anderson
Hannah Anderson