I couldn’t get the song by Peggy Lee out of my head all day in class today. But today’s blog isn’t about the classic song, it’s about the disease condition know as fever, or jwara in Sanskrit.
First of all, what is fever? Well, first we must understand that our metabolism, the sum total of all chemical reactions in the body, is measured via our temperature. We have a BMR (basic metabolic rate) when resting. When that BMR is increased by infection, inflammation, autoimmune disease, cancer, severe stress, viruses, or bacteria, we see a rise in our body temperature.
According to the Caraka Samhita, Ayurveda’s most important text, “…[fever] afflicts the body, the senses and the mind. It is first to be manifested among all disease. It is exceedingly powerful.”
I’m sure we’ve all experienced a fever at some point in our lives, if not in ourselves at least in a family member. It is quite common. You tend to feel a whole myriad of symptoms as your body temperature increases. Typically when you go to a doctor and have a fever, they will give you something to bring down the fever, like tylenol. But this could be a mistake. The fever has a purpose.
Fever has been found to further activate the immune response of the body, making white blood cells more active. It increases the rate of chemical reaction and metabolism in the body. However, in doing so, it may also create an environment for a pathogen to thrive and reproduce further. A fever will typically run for 24-48 hours. If it runs longer, then medication may be needed. However, if we take tylenol too early, the fever can last for 3-5 days! Besides, there are ayurvedic antipyretics (fever reducers) that you can take instead.
The causes of fever are many, according to Ayurveda. But they may surprise you. The primary cause is the weakening of immunity via poor lifestyle and diet choices:
– living out of harmony with nature (daily, seasonal)
– poor digestion and creation of ama
– poor food choices and habits
– intake of poisons or toxins
– Unseasonable weather and temperature changes
– Food that is too hot when the body has been stricken by grief or fear
– Ignoring vedic astrology (though admittedly I don’t know much about it or it’s validity)
Purva Rupa (early symptoms/indicators of fever)
– loss of complexion
– bad taste in the mouth
– burning and watery eyes
– loss of appetite
– alternating desire for warm and cool
– irritability and depression
– Red eyes: heat carried in bloodstream, inflammation of blood vessels
– Flush skin: body dispersing heat by dilating surface vessels
– Perspiration ceases: body is retaining heat to allow fever to rise
– Pain in the body: always a sign of tissue damage, in this case generated by heat
– Increased urination: dispel heat via urine
So now we know what a fever looks like and why. But what do I do if I have a fever?
Fever FAQ (frequently asked questions)
Should fever be treated?
– Generally not except to prevent dehydration and to support the agni, remove ama, and reduce sweating.
Should drugs be taken to reduce the fever?
– They are not considered necessary and may have side effects. May also prolong the condition further, not allowing the body to perform it’s wisdom.
Should baths be taken?
– Only if very high. Remember that water therapies are counter productive for removing ama.
How can I let the fever run it’s course and prevent dehydration?
– Great question. Keep in mind maintaining electrolyte balance. Take any drinks that are higher in electrolytes (potassium broths, juices, powerade, reharge, etc.). Eight oz per hour when fever begins, and more often if already dehydrated.
When it comes to fever, it can manifest in many ways. Vata, pitta, kapha, vata/pitta, kapha/vata, kapha/pitta, tridoshic…but in the end you just want to let the fever run it’s course. The only real danger present is dehydration which can be prevented. If for any reason you are trying to let the fever do it’s thing and can’t keep liquids down or are having trouble absorbing them, it’s time to see a doctor. Don’t be a hero! But for the vast majority of fevers, the body is trying to solve the problem. Support it and just sing along knowing your body is actually trying to help!
You give me fever…