Your Child’s Healthy Brain & How Fever May Be Beneficial
by Dr Judy Soborowicz
Parents have a great interest in doing whatever they can to help their children grow a healthy brain, but many do not know how important steps in brain development may accompany fever. Fever is a method used by the immune system to fight off infection, viral or bacterial, and promote repair.
There is growing evidence that not only does fever provide a potent tool for our immune system to fight infection, it also triggers an essential step in the development of a healthy brain. It is important for parents to know when and when not to treat a fever. All fevers are not created equal, and not all require treatment nor is treatment of a fever a harmless act. Normal fevers, between 100° and 104°-F (37.8° – 40° C) are actually beneficial for children. If your child will respond to you, make eye contact, move around, and take liquids, there is no reason to treat the fever. Fever caused by an infection rarely exceeds 104°-F and only when body temperature rises, (such as might occur after being left in a hot car with the windows rolled up), can it cause brain damage.
In order to understand why treating a fever may be harmful, we need to look at what researchers are learning about brain development. Children start out with far more neural connections between parts of the brain than are present in an adult. Ever have a conversation with a toddler? The connections are infinite, questioning endless, as their highly wired brains build important connections. During these early years, the process of pruning and myelination is necessary for the brain to specialize and form what is called healthy synaptic refinement. This refinement allows for the more important pathways to become stronger and weeds out the “distractor” connections.
Microglia cells are responsible for this process of myelination and pruning. They are activated by the immune system and are present during fever. Microglia mobilize and remove pathogens, weakened and/or damaged areas of the brain. They mobilize to eat up the weaker “distractors.” They also strengthen the remaining healthy connections within the brain by depositing of a fatty layer on theses connections, as a means to improve protection and efficiency. This can translate to the greater ability for the child’s developing brain to focus and make essential connections, changing the way they communicate with the people and world around them.
Unnecessarily treating fever can arrest this important process within the child’s brain. Anti-fever medications such as ibuprofen or acetaminophen have been shown to interrupt the activity of the microglia within the brain. This suppression of the amount of myelination in the brain and pruning activity reduces synaptic refinement and the strength of the connections between the parts the child’s brain. Continually interrupting this process can literally change the landscape and efficiency of your child’s brain —influencing their behavior for a lifetime. Synaptic refinement is necessary for the brain to be able to perform in a focused and integrated manner. One of the symptoms of the autistic brain is this lack of synaptic refinement, and recent studies have demonstrated a relationship with use of these treatments and ADHD.
Our nerve and immune system interact in many ways and the interactions play key roles in our child’s developing brain. Making the decision to treat fever unnecessarily lacks consideration for what we truly do not fully understand about the steps necessary for human brain development. First, do no harm. It seems wise for us to follow the expert researchers’ opinions including those at the leading Johns Hopkins University Hospital, and stop treating a child’s fever unnecessarily. Our children may have much more at stake than even science is yet fully equipped to realize.
Judy Soborowicz practices chiropractic and nutrition at Active Health along with her husband John. She enjoys writing, researching and lecturing on topics concerning chiropractic, healthcare and experience gained along the way.