We are quickly approaching cold and flu season. One of the questions I am most frequently asked is, “Starve a cold and feed a fever, or feed a cold and starve a fever?” The answer is…, “Starve both!” Ironic as it may seem, a cold is NOT an illness, it’s a cleansing, detoxification process. A cold or flu is simply an acute presentation of an internal disease state, or a short-term state of toxins building up in the body.
Why do so many colds and flus occur in the fall and winter, in comparison to the warmer times of the year? There are several factors that contribute to this process. Simply getting a chill from the change in weather can cause a cold. Chills cause the blood vessels to constrict, making toxins less likely to be released through the skin. As the skin is the largest detox organ in our bodies, when it shuts off, toxins (from bacteria and viruses, as well as the environment) naturally build up. If the other detox organs, such as the liver and digestive system, can’t pick up the slack, they continue to circulate and be reabsorbed. If your vitality, or ability to heal, is low, say from overwork, poor diet, lack of sleep, stress or anxiety, nutrient deficiencies, lack of hygiene, lack of fresh air or sunlight, or lack of exercise, toxins are more likely to build up.
So is a fever a good or bad thing? A fever is a sign that the body’s vital force, its ability to heal itself, is working very hard to kill whatever bug or toxin is in the system. Bacteria and viruses love to live at 98.6 degrees, but they can’t survive at 100-103 degrees. So the body increases its temperature to kill the invader. The entire process of creating a fever to kill a bug may be a very unenjoyable situation, but perfect in its application. The trouble is, we are taught that fevers are a sign of increasing illness and an indication that we are losing the battle against the bug. NOT SO! Think about it…why would our bodies make us feel achy, lose our appetite, and want to do nothing more than lay around and sleep? So they can expend every ounce of energy getting rid of the illness. Your body is trying to stop you in your tracks so that it can solely focus on one thing, getting well.
Studies show that fevers are a good thing, and actually INCREASE survival. And suppressing fevers with Tylenol or Ibuprofen increases the time we are sick, and our chances of becoming severely ill, or even dying. There are some common fears surrounding fevers, like,” My child’s brain will boil,” or a fever seems dangerous, like the body doesn’t know what it’s doing. In truth, brains do not “boil” unless a fever gets above 106°F. There are safe ranges of fevers, and temperatures at which we should naturally begin to worry. A good, safe fever that will kill an infection is usually 102-103°F. However, I will caution you that a fever is no indication of how bad an illness is when it comes to little ones and the elderly. Toddlers will get an ear infection, have a fever of 105°F, and be up and running around. Adults usually make fevers around 100-103°F. Seniors may not make a fever, even if they are seriously ill. But in general, for good long-term health, it’s a good thing to get sick, cleanse, and spike a fever once a year. At the very least, it lets us know that we are healthy enough to get sick, and that our immune systems are healthy enough to fight infection.
How do we set ourselves up to be sick? Diet is a big one. During the summer we eat cold, sugary foods like ice cream, but in general we snack, eat hot dogs, and drink soda. Sugar is a #1 contributor to decreasing your immune system. Even 1 tablespoon of sugar can decrease your immune system for 8 hours! In the summer it’s hot, so it’s much easier for the body to stay at 98.6 degrees. But when fall comes, the body has to work harder to stay at that temperature. Anything that stands in its way of doing so must be eliminated, like toxins from bugs. So we usually get sick around the time that fall begins, it’s the body’s housecleaning party. This simple, quick cleansing process helps the body to be better prepared to face the winter.
So we recognize this cleansing process as short-term illness, the common cold or flu. Toxins that build up start to interfere with the body’s normal function, which weakens the immune system. The body is clogged up! A bacteria or virus takes advantage of this situation, and comfortably settles into our system, creating an immune reaction, stimulating our bodies to get rid of it. This “cleansing” to us looks like a cough, runny nose, vomiting, or even diarrhea. We feel achy, fatigued, and lose our appetite. How could that possibly be beneficial? Your body doesn’t want you to spend energy on anything else other than fighting the bug. Your muscles become sore, you feel tired, and you don’t want to eat, because being active and eating food takes energy away from fighting an infection. And your body is doing everything it can to tell you to rest and fast, so that it can focus on ridding itself of this bug.
Even with our good intentions to be healthy, what are we doing wrong? Typically the things we’ve been taught to treat ourselves during illness actually go against the body’s ability to heal itself. Any over-the-counter medicines that suppress symptoms you have are suppressing your body’s ability to heal itself. Yes, you will feel better in the short-term, but your illness will last much longer than if you had just allowed your body the chance to fight the bug and heal itself, in the best way it knows how. Decongestants, antitussives, antidiarrheals, drugs that reduce fevers, all prevent the body from getting rid of toxins from bacteria and viruses. So you feel better sooner, and the bugs get to hang around longer, driving the illness deeper inside the body. Instead of your cold or flu lasting one week, it could last 3-6 weeks. And instead of having a simple head cold, you may wind up bronchitis or pneumonia. Suppression of the natural healing process leads to decreased immune factors, and a lack of excretion of infectious toxins, causing them to build up and damage more organ systems.
What will help your immune system fight harder? How can you get better faster? The best things to do when you’re not feeling well are common sense things we already know. And they are actually the most beneficial, and effective. If you’re not hungry, don’t eat! Fluids, like water and teas, are important to keep us hydrated. If you begin to have an appetite, eat clean, and light: vegetable broths and soups, lightly cooked or steamed vegetables, white meats like turkey and chicken, brown rice, and avoid sugar, soda, alcohol, and caffeine. If you are achy, tired, or sleepy, REST! Your immune system is actually increased by 10 times if you simply lay down, even if you don’t sleep! So ignore our society’s standard that we must always go, go, go, no matter what is happening in our lives, and allow yourself 2-3 days to pause, heal, and recoup. You will be healthy much faster if you do. Additionally, hydrotherapy, homeopathy, nutrient supplementation and IVs can be very beneficial, so please consult your naturopath to assist you in any way possible. Honor the process, and the wisdom your body was given to do the incredible things it does. As complex as we are, it’s amazing that we don’t break down at every second! So thank your body for ONLY having a cold or flu, in order to keep you as healthy as you can be, so you can continue to be your best.