You raise important questions. The inflammation that develops around the edges of a wound actually is a sign of healing; it serves to bring nourishment and immune activity to an area that is injured or under attack. So is fever, although most people regard it only as a symptom of illness. That way of thinking leads most people (and many doctors) to treat fever as a problem to be reduced or eliminated with medication (like aspirin). Unless fever is dangerously high – over 105 degrees Fahrenheit – such action is probably unwise.
We have clear experimental evidence that fever helps the immune system fight infection and that artificially lowering it can give invading germs an edge. If you have a fever up to 102 degrees Fahrenheit as an adult (anyone over the age of 18), your best bet is to rest, drink plenty of fluids and use cold compresses to make yourself more comfortable. If you also have a severe headache, stiff neck or shortness of breath, call your doctor. If your fever is above 102 and you’re uncomfortable, take acetaminophen (Tylenol), ibuprofen or aspirin. Seek medical help if your fever doesn’t respond to medication or lasts more than three days. High fevers can lead to delirium, incapacitating chills, convulsions and tissue wasting. And be aware that long-lasting fevers in the elderly, in heart disease patients and in newborn babies are dangerous.
The redness, warmth, swelling and pain that characterize inflammation are evidence that your immune, circulatory, and hormonal systems are working to more efficiently defend and speed the repair of damaged tissue. Inflammation is a problem only when it continues beyond its normal limits or is misdirected. It is often an unwelcome feature of autoimmunity, for example, and a major component of musculoskeletal disease. Chronic, low-level, imperceptible inflammation may be a root cause of coronary heart disease and other serious chronic diseases.
Medical doctors treat inflammation with anti-inflammatory drugs, which can injure the stomach, and with corticosteroids, which are suppressive and have many adverse effects, especially in long-term use. There are natural alternatives.
Inflammation is regulated in part by prostaglandins, a group of hormones some of which intensify the inflammatory response, and others that reduce it. Aspirin, ibuprofen, and other nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs work on the prostaglandin system. What you eat affects this system. Try to follow my anti-inflammatory diet.
Many polyunsaturated vegetable oils favor the synthesis of stimulatory prostaglandins; exclude them from your diet if you suffer from any kind of chronic inflammatory disease. Also eliminate sources of trans-fatty acids such as margarine or partially hydrogenated vegetable oils. The omega-3 fatty acids in sardines, salmon, and other oily fish and in freshly ground flax and hemp seeds increase inhibitory prostaglandins. Take fish-oil supplements if you can’t eat enough omega-3 rich foods and increase your consumption of fresh fruits and vegetables, which contain protective compounds. And eat turmeric regularly or take turmeric in supplemental form; it is a powerful natural anti-inflammatory agent. It may take six to eight weeks before you see noticeable results of a dietary change. If you need faster symptomatic relief, take aspirin and ibuprofen judiciously. Be sure to have food in your stomach when you do and try not to use them every day or long term.
Andrew Weil, M.D.
Andrew Weil, “Natural Health, Natural Medicine: The Complete Guide to Wellness and Self-Care for Optimum Health.” (Mariner Books, December 2004)