Ask The Doctor: Fevers In Children
There is a curious phenomenon that goes on in science: as we study the physical world, inevitably we uncover facts that contradict old assumptions. As scientists are seekers after the truth wherever it may be found, one would expect that they would quickly revise or even discard old, unproven theories when new facts and discoveries emerge. In fact, in many cases just the opposite occurs; “the scientific community” often circles the wagons and protects its pet theories.
Consider, for example, the pyramids of Egypt. The current “scientific” theory holds that modern civilization has reached the pinnacle of engineering achievement. However, recently discovered facts about the Great Pyramid of Giza reveal that somehow, someone lifted precision cut granite “bricks” weighing over 70 tons each over 150 feet in the air and then precisely fitted them into a complex geometrically engineered structure, an achievement which we can’t even begin to match in 2005.
Or how about the fact that modern scientists maintain the theory that the DNA contains separate genes, each of which codes a distinct protein. One DNA sequence, one protein; that is the central dogma of genetics. However, with the completion of the human genome project we learned that humans have about 200,000 or more proteins, and only about 30,000 genes. The central dogma is flawed, in fact the proteins re-arrange the DNA sequences to “code” for what “they” want, a phenomenon that has been shown in many studies. Unfortunately, we still teach the old “truths,” ignoring the contradictory facts.
In discussing how to treat children who are sick, we encounter a number of discoveries contradict which our current view of infectious illness. Our current view of infectious illness in children is that these episodes are caused by unseen viruses and bacteria that invade us, overwhelm our immune systems, and should be prevented, avoided, or gotten rid of as quickly and as aggressively as possible. In other words, our philosophy of illness pretends that these episodes of sickness are more or less unrelated chance episodes and there is no good outcome from being sick.
The Purpose of Fever
The facts, however, tell a different story. For example, all the pediatric textbooks tell us that a child who has nephrotic syndrome, a disease in which the kidneys begin to leak out protein, will most likely be cured if he simultaneously contracts measles. In fact, measles is the only known cure for nephrotic syndrome, which is otherwise treated with the misery of long-term prednisone. Interestingly, giving a measles vaccine doesn’t work, it doesn’t cure nephrotic syndrome.
Those who have read my book The Fourfold Path to Healing know that the whole history of the treatment of cancer is intimately related to the phenomenon of infectious disease. There are numerous recorded cases of cancers going into remission when the patient contracts an infectious disease, strep being the most likely candidate to cure the patient of cancer. Strep has been used in cancer vaccines, most particularly by the surgeon John Coley, MD who reported an almost 40 percent remission rate in patients with cancer who received his cancer vaccine. In modern oncology, the tuberculosis bacillus is still used in bladder cancer as it is injected into the bladders of those with this form of cancer. In fact, some pediatricians and oncologists have postulated the modern epidemic of cancer in children as the predictable outcome of our mania for preventing fever in our children, by giving them aspirin, tylenol and anti-biotics.
Clearly, there is more to the story of infections than just bad luck, something to be got rid of at all costs. Let’s look deeper into this story. When a child becomes sick with a fever, a number of processes are activated in his body, processes that we can see and experience without the use of special insight or fancy instruments. First, there is increased warmth, both locally (at the site of the “infection,” such as the tonsils) and systemically. This systemic response is measured by the elevated temperature on the thermometer. Second, there is pain, again both locally and sometimes body aches that are felt everywhere. Third, there is swelling. Finally, there is redness. The last two are mainly at the site of the infections, but to a certain extent we see the child’s whole face becoming slightly more red and even a bit swollen. Pathology textbooks identify these changes as the four cardinal signs of inflammation.
In Fourfold I discuss the theory that we actually have four “bodies,” each of which participates in every inflammation and each of which is activated when we are sick. The physical or earth body becomes red, the fluid or etheric body takes on more fluid which we call swelling, the emotional body or astral body experiences a heightened sense of feeling, which we call pain, and the warmth body or mental body gets involved and raises our temperature. This activation of the four bodies is particularly acute in children because the whole process of being a child is to grow into and reshape our bodies to “fit” our individual purpose in life.
Another way to put this is that when a child encounters an impediment, say a foreign protein or an organ that is not being formed quite right, he goes into “remodeling mode.” The remodeling is done by tearing down the old, misshapen matter, taking it out to the dumpster, and then rebuilding a more suitable house to inhabit. This is exactly what is done through illness. Take measles: the temperature goes up to 104, the eyes water, the nose runs, the lungs cough up mucus, the kidneys excrete extra broken down proteins, the bowels are loose and the child aches all over. These symptoms herald the construction of a newer, healthier body, one that is more individualized to the dynamics of the child. This is a profoundly healing and spiritual process, and like everything of such gravity, it has its risks and dangers. The risk of a snake shedding its skin, of a caterpillar transforming into a butterfly, of striving to do something that has never been done before, is that you can fail and fall into the abyss. Not trying, however, is even worse. Our job as parents and doctors is to help the child cross the bridge of illness with our loving, caring, intelligent guidance as we experience the natural processes that are at work as our children struggle with their illnesses.
The Parents’ Attitude
In my twenty plus years as a doctor, the most important thing I have observed in determining the outcome of a child’s illness is the attitude of the parents. If the parents have a deep belief that their child is strong and that the illness, if it doesn’t become too severe, will serve the child in his future development, their attitude of resolve and confidence will translate into an environment of peacefulness and effectiveness that truly allows the child to rest and to comfortably go through the process. The child must know that the parents are watching for any indication that the illness is becoming too strong and requires more help; the child must know that he can relax and that everything will be okay.
First and foremost, a child with a fever must stay in bed or in a comfortable, relaxed place. To encourage the elimination through the kidneys, he should take warm liquids as often as possible. The child should be kept warm as the fever needs to do its job and be allowed to “burn out” the illness. The bowels should be kept open if need be with a gentle laxative or herbs that encourage bowel movements.
A sick child can listen to stories read out loud, but otherwise the only other appropriate activity is rest. The less mental stimulation in the form of computer games, movies, etc., the better. Illness is a serious and energy-consuming task; there is no room for anything else in their lives, only rest and recovery. If parents followed just this simple advice, nothing to bring down the fever, just warmth, calm resolve, careful observation, lots of fluids, keeping the bowels open, and rest, we would have far fewer problems with chronic disease than we have now.
There are also other interventions that we can use that work with the processes I just described. The first is an anthroposophical medicine called Erysidoron 1. This medicine which is made from the honeybee (Apis) and the plant Atropa belladonna (deadly nightshade) works with the four bodies that are involved with inflammation. The whole activity of the bees speaks of its relationship to warmth and physical structure. It is said that the temperature in the center of a naturally made beehive is exactly 98.6 degrees, the same as the healthy human temperature. The hive, which encases this warmth, is made of perfect hexagonal crystals. It is as though the bees are saying to us, “We are the picture in nature of the perfect relationship to warmth encased in the perfect physical structure. You, my friend, are struggling to find this relationship, I will help you find the way.”
Belladonna is a plant that lives in the damp, dark swampy undergrowth, and out of this fluid realm it develops a poison that makes us wake up. It was given the name belladonna because women used it to instill an extract of the berries into their eyes to cause their pupils to dilate, which was considered a sign of beauty, hence bella (beautiful) donna (lady). The poison literally wakes us up, opens our eyes, and makes our emotions and feelings more acute. Belladonna treats the emotional body struggling with the damp, fluid realm of the swamp to bring a resolution of all that swelling, mucus, pus and other wateriness that is the hallmark of so many childhood illnesses. This medicine is given in the dose of 5 to 10 drops every 2 hours in the case of a fever and serves as our basic aid to guide the child through the illness.
Remember that the common thread in treating any inflammatory illness is to help the child work off the infection. Just as in a compost pile, or a pond that has had some garbage or pollution dumped into it, an infection is nature’s way of digesting unwanted debris. If you put the wrong stuff in a compost pile, it will get an “infection” as the new, probably more powerful bacteria try to digest this unwanted stuff. Similarly, a polluted pond will produce algae growth to digest the pollution. We call the algae an “infection” but it is really a kind of digestive process. In the child with a fever, the white blood cells do the internal digestion, helped along with the fever. Our task is mainly to keep the elimination channels–sweat glands, kidneys and the bowel–open to allow the body to efficiently remove digested debris. When this goes wrong, the child becomes “congested” and ends up with more serious infections, even pneumonia.
We can help prevent an “infection” getting out of hand by increasing elimination. The first step is to increase the sweating, a major avenue our bodies use in eliminating any debris. In former times, sweating herbs such as peppermint, yarrow and elder flower teas were given to all sick children as these diaphoretic (sweat inducing) herbs help the child to “sweat it out.” We all know that many illnesses are gone the morning after a good sweat. These herbs should be given in hot water as the warmth further encourages the sweating process. We also know that the elder flower has its own anti-viral, immuno-stimulating effect while yarrow helps the liver detoxify poisons and peppermint soothes the GI tract. These herbs and other diaphoretics are found in the formulation called Diaco by Mediherb, which is given at the dose of 1/8 to 1 teaspoon every 2-4 hours to encourage sweating.
The next herbal combination I give to most sick children is Andrographis comp, a mixture of Andrographis, Echinacea angustifolia root, and Holy Basil. (If they can’t swallow tablets, I use plain Echinacea liquid.) Andrographis comp is Andrographis, otherwise known as “king of the bitters,” which helps activate a very important principle of natural medicine, that is to support what the body is already doing. We help the sweating along with warmth and herbs, we encourage elimination with gentle laxatives. Andrographis enhances the normal exit strategy of the body for poisons, which is to conjugate (make soluble) the poison in the liver and then excrete it through the bile. It is sort of like bagging garbage and then taking it out to the curb. Bitter herbs help stimulate the flow of bile, thereby making it easier to eliminate the poisons and the bacteria that our white blood cells have digested. This is why bitters are included in virtually every traditional herbal formula. All healing involves elimination and Andrographis is the king of this process. (It is also very bitter!)
Echinacea is an immune enhancer that helps our white blood cells recognize and move to the site of the infection. It should be used in virtually all infections at any site.
Holy Basil is known as an adaptogenic herb, that is, an herb that helps us adapt to stress, including the stress of an illness. Adaptogenic herbs work by increasing cortisol production, which has a mild anti-inflammatory effect, thereby keeping the inflammation from getting too intense. The dose of Andrographis comp is 1-2 tablets every 2 to 4 hours depending on the intensity of the illness. For those children who can’t swallow tablets it can be dissolved first in hot water and then disguised by honey or apple sauce. If this doesn’t work, use plain Echinacea possibly mixed with licorice root to sweeten it. My experience with treating children with nasty-tasting medicine is that when they need it, they will take it as long as the parents are convinced it is right. When they get better, they refuse to take any more, as if to say, ‘Now I don’t need the help, I’m OK on my own.” That is when I stop the medicine.
The other medicine I routinely give to sick children is Congaplex from Standard Process. This preparation is a mixture of natural, whole food sources of vitamin C, which helps the activity of the white blood cells. I also give thymus extract, as the thymus is the organ that makes T cells, which participate in overcoming infections. This preparation helps keep the illness brief as the thymus gland is responsible also for making the antibodies that are part of the recovery process. The dose here is 1-2 tablets every 2 hours for about 1 week, or until completely better.
The rest of the medicines that I use are specific to the site of the infection. There is Bronchafect for bronchitis/pneumonia, Urico for infections of the urinary tract, Apis/Levistecum for ear infections, and Euphrasia comp for throat and sinus infections. These herbs are available through Mediherb.
Food and Drink
Finally, a few notes on the diet for sick children. The food and drink should all be warm to hot, to encourage the warmth principle.During sickness, the protein content should be reduced because the waste that we are eliminating during illness is coming from the protein in our diets. However, fats encourage the healthy production of needed warmth. Fat transports vitamin A, the main nutrient needed to help our immune system. Healthy fats and soup broth should be the mainstays of our “sick” diet. Hot chicken soup, based on homemade broth–the famous “Jewish penicillin”–with cooked vegetables and a bit of cream or coconut milk is perhaps the ideal sick meal. Generally sick children are not very hungry so the warmth and nourishment of frequent bowls of hot soups is the perfect diet for them. Smoothies made with egg yolks, fresh fruit and whole yoghurt, cream or coconut milk are another good choice, although they should not be served cold. Of course, children should be given 1/2 to 1 teaspoon high-vitamin cod liver oil at all times, but especially when they are sick. It can be mixed with a little water or fresh orange juice, or given with an eye dropper.
We started this exploration of the proper treatment of illness in childhood by examining the difficulty in changing some of the ways in which we think, or in today’s parlance, the paradigms in which we believe. In my view, there is perhaps no paradigm that is in such urgent need for revision as our approach to the illnesses of children. In our almost messianic quest to wipe out childhood disease–through vaccinations, antibiotics and fever-reducing drugs–we have produced a wasteland of children who are literally chronically sick and tired, spending lives feeling uncomfortable in their untransformed skins. It is as if we have prevented caterpillars from becoming butterflies because the time of immobility as a chrysalis can be dangerous. Well it is dangerous, at least a little, but it is more dangerous–in fact deadly–to never allow a child to fulfill his or her destiny and become a butterfly. We urgently need to respect the transformative power of illness, to pluck up our courage and not succumb to those who promise better health through injecting us with poisons, or harsh anti-life medicines that become less and less effective. And more than anything we need to believe in the healing powers of our children’s bodies, so we can give them the gift of confidence in their own strength as they embark on the challenges of adulthood.
This article appeared in Wise Traditions in Food, Farming and the Healing Arts, the quarterly magazine of the Weston A. Price Foundation, Summer 2005.