Toronto: It may be better to let a mild fever run its course instead of automatically reaching for medication, new research suggests.
Researchers from the University of Alberta found that untreated moderate fever helped fish clear their bodies of infection rapidly, controlled inflammation and repaired damaged tissue.
The research showed that natural fever offers “an integrative response that not only activates defences against infection, but also helps control it”, said lead author immunologist Daniel Barreda from the varsity.
The study, published in the journal eLife, found that fever helped to clear the fish of infection in about seven days — half the time it took for those animals not allowed to exert fever.
Fever also helped to shut down inflammation and repair tissues that had been injured.
“We let nature do what nature does, and in this case it was very much a positive thing,” Barreda said.
Moderate fever is self-resolving, meaning that the body can both induce it and shut it down naturally without medication, he explained.
The health advantages of natural fever to humans still have to be confirmed through research, “but because the mechanisms driving and sustaining fever are shared among animals, it is reasonable to expect similar benefits are going to happen in humans,” Barreda added.
That suggests we should resist reaching for over-the-counter fever medications, also known as non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), at the first signs of a mild temperature, he noted.
“NSAIDS take away the discomfort felt with fever, but you’re also likely giving away some of the benefits of this natural response.”
The study helps shed light on the mechanisms that contribute to the benefits of moderate fever, which “has been evolutionarily conserved across the animal kingdom for 550 million years”, Barreda said.
“Every animal examined has this biological response to infection.”
Some species, such as fish, reptiles and insects, will even risk predation and decrease their reproductive success to move to temperatures in their environments that bring on natural fever.
“So the big question is, if animals will go to these great lengths, why do we take medication at the first signs of a fever?”