Category Archives: Health

Fever: The Role in Immune Function, Benefits & Risks of Treatment, Natural Remedies

FeverSo I’ve been sick. Really sick. It came on as a slight cough last Tuesday – I thought it was residual from a cardio-intensive workout that morning. But by the evening it was still there. I immediately started hitting it with everything I had. Now normally my arsenal is pretty large, considering my hubby is a naturopath and we have a dispensary in our basement, lol. But considering the fact that I’m pregnant, most of the herbs we have on site are off-limits. So I stuck with a large dose of Vitamin C, some essential oils, and a plan to sleep in as late as possible the next morning.

And then the morning arrived. I felt ok. The cough had settled in for sure, but not too bad. By mid-morning my whole body hurt. Again I chocked it up to yesterdays workout, but the level of discomfort was not appropriate for that workout. That’s when I started realizing I was seriously sick. This wasn’t just a little cough. When I started feeling listless and realized I had laid in bed for an hour doing nothing (no TV, reading, podcasts – nada), I took my temperature: 

101.6F

Yowza that’s high (ish). And I’m pregnant. And the risk of injury to the baby with a chronically elevated temperature is real. I was able to bring it down a full degree within an hour, by implementing some classic natural anti-febrile techniques, which I’ll share with you below! But first, a bit on fevers…

 

NOTE: I am not a medical doctor. I am not making any medical recommendations and this is not medical advice. I am simply trying to provide some clear information on a common health occurrence. Please speak with your health care practitioner before making any changes to your health care routine.

 

What is a fever?

A fever is a natural rise in your body temperature, in response to an infection – either bacterial or viral. It is not a disease in itself, but a symptom of an underlying issue. So like all health issues, it’s important to address the underlying cause, instead of just suppressing the symptoms.

Why do we develop a fever?

It is believed that the elevation in temperature is actually a critical step in helping our bodies fight off infection. It seems to (a) activate our immune system by sending white blood cells and macrophages to the infection site, and (b) inhibit enzymes and other functions required for viral and bacterial replication. For example, it has been hypothesized that most bacteria can’t survive in temperatures above 101F and viruses, above 102F. 

In fact many cold-blooded animals, when inoculated with pathogens, will instinctively find ways to increase their body temperatures to feverish levels, by seeking out warmer environments. Fascinating eh?  (<– btw, clearly I’m Canadian, if you didn’t already know…)

Isn’t a fever dangerous?

Well yes, it can be. Uncontrolled, very high body temperatures can result in severe dehydration and possibly induce febrile seizure. Which is why you want to monitor it. But mostly, they’re just damn uncomfortable.

Now, when it comes to fever during pregnancy, there’s a little more to consider. Your baby is developing and that requires a specific temperature for everything to work properly. This is why your doctor told you not to use a hot tub or take hot baths. Prolonged, elevated body temperatures may impair important developmental processes, specifically in the brain.

Anti-Febrile Meds?

The conventional approach is to take an anti-febrile medication as soon as your temperature gets a little above normal. Ibuprofen (Advil), acetaminophen (Tylenol) and naproxen (Aleve) are the 3 recommended meds. Do they work? Oh hell yeah. Are there side effects? Definitely. So it becomes a relative risk-reward assessment situation.

NSAIDS (like Advil and Aleve) cause leaky gut. Period, end of story. If you have a history of health issues or an autoimmune condition, this is something to consider. Importantly during pregnancy, Ibuprofen is considered  level 4 risk, during the 3rd trimester. As in, there is significant evidence of it causing harm to the baby, specifically their heart.

Acetaminophen is the leading cause of acute liver failure in the USA. The metabolic byproduct of detoxifying acetaminophen is NAPQI, which is responsible for necrosis of the liver. While NAPQI does not cross the placental barrier, acetaminophen readily does. Which needs to be considered since a developing baby’s liver starts being responsible for its own detoxification at around 18 weeks.

Additionally, suppressing a fever has been shown to prolong the duration of the illness, which makes sense since you’re also suppressing your immune system from doing its job!

Natural Approaches to Reducing a Fever

So what did I do?

MONITOR: Most importantly I was monitoring my temperature every hour, making sure it didn’t get to a temperature that we (my husband, my health care provider and I) had decided would be our “time for serious action” temp. I also monitored every few hours at night.

WARMING SOCKS: This age-old home remedy is a favourite amongst crunchy mamas. You take a pair of thin cotton socks and soak them in cold tap water. Put them on your feet, and add a second pair of socks, preferably wool to keep the water in. When the socks warm up, rinse them in cold water again and repeat. The idea behind this hydrotherapy technique is by keeping the feet cold and wet, you create a sort of “heat exchange”. Your body increases circulation to your feet, dissipating heat in order to warm up the feet/socks.

ICE PACK: Place a cool ice pack at the base of the neck, where there is a high concentration of temperature receptors. This can help dictate the internal temperature of the body.

ESSENTIAL OILS: I’m new to the field of essential oils, but I’m quite enjoying learning how to use these additional tools. I hit up the Wellness Mama (she’s my go-to for natural remedies) and she recommended pure peppermint essential oil (I use Young Living brand) on the back of the neck and on the bottom of the feet (see above for why those locations). 

I did all 3 things and brought my temperature to 100.1 within an hour. 

BACK UP…MEDS: Considering the risk of a high fever and developmental issues regarding the baby, I had an Ibuprofen on stand by, just in case my temp got above the predetermined comfortable zone for us (I’m purposely not sharing, because that’s something for you to determine with your health care provider). I chose Ibuprofen because although I have a history of major gut issues and serious autoimmune risk, I am 18 weeks pregnant. Which is far enough out from my third trimester to decrease the risk of ibuprofen and heart defects, but definitely far enough in that I didn’t want my baby’s liver to take the hit of the acetaminophen. Luckily I didn’t have to use either, because the above tricks worked tremendously. 

Additional Support

There were a few other things I did to help my body recover from this (likely) flu as fast as possible. 

  1. Convalesce. I did nothing. Nada. Even though by day 3 I was so bored of TV, I rested, napped, and generally took it easy. Pushing through is a sure way to stay sick and get sicker. I’d rather take a few days off and get better, then push through and 2 weeks from now find out I have pneumonia and have to go on antibiotics.
  2. Bone broth. Like crazy. It helps keep the gut strong and regulates your immune system. I had soup multiple times a day. I also cooked white rice in broth, to get some calories in me. Find out how I store my bone broth to make it easy to use, even when you’re sick and have no energy for food prep! I added onions and garlic to my broth for an additional immune boost. I also added some gentle veggies like spinach.
  3. Vitamin C. There aren’t very many supplements that are considered safe during pregnancy. Again, I worked with my team and determined a few herbs that are generally recognized as safe during pregnancy, but mostly focused on the simple stuff. High doses of vitamin C at regular intervals can shorten the duration of an illness. Good rule of thumb with vitamin C – take to bowel tolerance. As in, when you start noticing loose stool, pull back on your dose!
  4. Ginger, lemon and raw honey tea. I took a few slices of ginger root, a ¼ lemon and about 2 cups of hot water. I let simmer for about 20 minutes on the stove top. Strain and add a spoonful of raw honey. Alternately, you can juice a whole whack of ginger and lemons, and store the potent elixir in the fridge, adding a few tbsp to a mug of hot water and a spoonful of raw honey. This is what we normally do, but I was by myself during this illness and didn’t want to deal with the mess of the juicer (normally my hubby would take care of that), and by the time he returned home, he was sick too. 
  5. Fluids. Water, tea (see above), bone broth, mineral water and kombucha (specifically homemade lemon/ginger booch) were on constant rotation. Fever causes dehydration so keep your fluid intake high! 

 

Conclusion

Fevers can be a scary situation, especially in young kids or during pregnancy. But understanding their benefit can help decrease the stress around them. Monitoring and implementing some solid, natural remedies – combined with immune support to help your body fight the cause of the infection – can help you recover quickly and decrease the potential need for risky pharmaceutical intervention. Keeping in mind, that drugs save lives so there is definitely a time and a place for their use!

 

Birth Control

Two years before even starting to try to conceive, I went off the birth control. I went off it for other reasons as well, and while this post isn’t about birth control and health, it is important to recognize that birth control is not a 100% safe and harmless pharmaceutical. This is not the time or place to discuss whether or not oral contraception is right for you, I just want to bring to light 2 major reasons why it is important to come off the birth control pill more than a month before trying to conceive. 

  1. The birth control pill depletes nutrients. Building a baby requires nutrients. Lots of them. Like a seriously crazy amount. And if you’re just barely sufficient (or more likely depleted), do you think baby is going to take the hit? No way. Mom does. Baby will suck everything it needs from you and mom will be left with major nutrient deficiencies. In fact, many of the symptoms attributed to “pregnancy” may actually be pre-existing nutrient deficiencies rearing their ugly heads when your needs further increase. This may also play a role in why so many women experience the onset of health conditions (often autoimmune) after pregnancy, and why the 2nd pregnancy is often harder than the first since you go in further depleted than the first.
  2. The birth control pill artificially controls your hormones and floods your body with excess estrogen. While this is very effective for contraception, it can seriously mess with our natural hormonal processes. The body is very good at not wasting energy or resources when it doesn’t have to. So if it’s not required to manage your hormonal cycle, it’s not going to. That’s why it can take months to normalize after coming off. Which was exactly my experience – it was 3 months before I got my period, and 8 months before I ovulated, and a full year before things were working like clockwork. Imagine if I had gone off the pill and hoped to get pregnant the next month? That would have been devastating. And I would probably have ended up down the road of fertility treatments, simply because my body hadn’t normalized yet.

My recommendation is always to give yourself as much time between coming off the pill and trying to conceive as possible. Ideally 1 full year, and if you don’t have that time, aim for 6 months. But during those 6 months it is recommended that you work with someone to rebalance your hormones and flood the body with the nutrients that were depleted from continuous use of oral contraceptives.

Here are some great resources about oral contraception and for helping coming off the pill:

The Pill, Sex Drugs and Mood Swings Part 1 (Part 2 and Part 3)

5 Reasons to Come Off The Birth Control Pill 2+ Years Before You Plan To Start a Family

Birth Control Pills: How They Work, Benefits, And Risks

Birth Control Unlocked: Your Body, Your Options, Your Guide

How to Recover from Long Term Use of Birth Control Pills

 

Alternative Contraception Methods:

1. Taking Charge of Your Fertility by Toni Weschler – hands down the most informative book on learning how your body works and the Fertility Awareness Method. The subtitle is “The Definitive Guide to Natural Birth Control, Pregnancy Achievement, and Reproductive Health” which couldn’t be more accurate. I know a lot about the body, and my husband (a naturopath) knows even more and we learned SO much from this book. I couldn’t stop reading it! I used it to effectively prevent conception prior to when desired (in combination with the barrier method, see below) and it was very helpful once we did want to conceive! 

2. Barrier Method – the old fashioned barrier method (a.k.a. condoms) are still one of the most effective methods of contraception, if used correctly. However, one of my biggest issues with condoms is the materials they are made of and the sketchy ingredients in the lubricant and/or spermicide. The brands I recommend are Glyde and Sir Richard’s (bonus with this brand is they donate a box of condoms for every box you buy!).

3. Withdrawal Method (A Sex-Educator’s Take) – if it would absolutely be the worst to get pregnant, or you’re particularly anxious about it, combining the Fertility Awareness Method with a barrier AND withdrawal on your highly fertile days can be helpful in reducing stress and actually enjoying yourself! 

Liver – A True Superfood!

Liver, a True Superfood | AmandaNaturally.comWhen we think of superfoods, things like kale, acai, chia and other plants come to mind. However if we actually put a definition to the word superfood, it becomes quite obvious that these are not true superfoods. Here are my requirements for a superfood:

  1. It needs to be jam-packed with nutrients (i.e. incredibly nutrient dense). So every single bite delivers a high concentration of nutrients.
  2. Nutrients need to be life-giving. They should include (but not be limited to) things like vitamins A & D, folate, zinc, omega-3’s (the usable forms, not the plant-based forms) and a full spectrum of B’s.
  3. They should impact most if not all systems in the body – endocrine, nervous, digestive, immune and detoxification.

While the acai berry contains vitamin C and antioxidants, it definitely doesn’t contain a full spectrum of life-giving nutrients. My favourite true superfoods are vegetables (of course), egg yolks, grassfed butter, seafood (especially bivalves like mussels, oysters and clams), fermented foods (like sauerkraut) and….

LIVER!

But wait? I’ve always heard that liver is a filter organ and it stores all our toxins so we should avoid it!

 

How the Liver Actually Works

The liver has a variety of responsibilities (including storing vitamins and minerals – more on that later), but the most notable one is detoxification. What does that mean? Well true detox (not the juice-cleansing, fasting, only eating salads BS) is the process of transforming and clearing toxic substances from the blood. 

What are toxic substances?

A toxin is simply a substance that can cause damage or injury to cells, or cause disease. That’s a pretty broad definition, which unfortunately means the term toxin gets thrown around a lot, often inappropriately. Some examples of true toxins are:

  • byproducts from cellular metabolism (like carbon dioxide from cell respiration, ammonia from protein metabolism)
  • byproducts of gut microbes which we absorb (another reason why you want to have a super healthy gut and make sure you’re not constipated!)
  • oxidative stress (free radicals)
  • substances that cause antibody production like food and environmental exposure (especially if those antibodies accidentally attack areas of the body, which is common with gluten)
  • environmental toxins like car exhaust, cigarette smoke
  • alcohol
  • pesticides
  • chemicals in personal care products and cleaning products
  • pharmaceuticals (note: drugs are defined by having a toxic upper level, otherwise they are considered a supplement)
  • plastics
  • heavy metals (mercury, lead, aluminum etc.)

What the Liver Does

The Paleo Mom has a great article on exactly what the liver does – in quite a bit of detail – so if you’re interested go check it out here. But in an effort to streamline this already involved article, here’s a brief description:

Phase 1 – the liver starts to transform the dangerous chemical into less dangerous ones (although sometimes this phase ends up creating more toxic substances – for example alcohol gets converted into formaldehyde, a known carcinogen).

Phase 2 – the partially transformed chemical gets attached to other molecules which make them water soluble. They are now able to be excreted by the kidneys in the urine, or by the gall-bladder/stool through bile (another reason why you don’t want to be constipated – slow transit time will allow toxins that have already been excreted).

from: http://primaldocs.com/members-blog/detox-101-how-to-enhance-your-bodys-detoxification/#!prettyPhoto
from: http://primaldocs.com/members-blog/detox-101-how-to-enhance-your-bodys-detoxification/#!prettyPhoto

 

If phase 1 is working great, but phase 2 is sluggish (usually due to lack of nutrients required for the specific processes) then there can be a build up of phase 1 byproducts. This build up gets shuttled out of the liver and into fatty tissue where it is inert and won’t damage the body (in theory – but if the fatty tissue it hangs out in is the brain, it can cause big problems).

Moral of the story:

The liver is not a sponge. It does not store toxins. It stores vitamins and minerals to aid in detoxification.

Pay special attention to that last line. The liver stores vitamins and minerals. Why? We forget that food is more than just fuel. It is the building blocks for all new tissue, and the machinery for all of our systems to function. Detoxification processes are run by enzymes that are created from vitamins, minerals and proteins. So in order for it to do its job, the liver must be chock full of nutrients. 

 

Liver is a Potent Superfood!

Nutrients stored in the liver (because they’re required for phase 1 and 2 detoxification) include:

  • Vitamins B2, B3, B5, B6, B12
  • Folate
  • Glutathione
  • Flavonoids
  • Methionine
  • Cysteine
  • Magnesium
  • Vitamin C (more than an apple!)
  • Glycine
  • Taurine
  • Glutamine
  • Choline

Other nutrients it stores:

  • Vitamin A (the real form, not b-carotene found in orange plants)
  • Vitamin D (important especially in fall/winter months up north)
  • Vitamin K (specifically K2, an absolutely critical nutrient for bone formation that is only found in organ meats and grass-fed raw dairy – everyone is so worried about calcium, when they should be worried about K2!)
  • Iron
  • Copper
From: http://chriskresser.com/natures-most-potent-superfood/
From: http://chriskresser.com/natures-most-potent-superfood/

Additional Benefits:

  • full of enzymes to break down any residual toxins that may hang around (minimal)
  • very low in fat, so very unlikely to store toxins 
  • the amino acid balance is different than muscle meat, in a good way. Case in point – glycine. This important amino acid is very low in muscle meat and high in offal. So if you’re not consuming the entire animal (or worse, you’re not consuming any animal protein), you are definitely going to be deficient in glycine. Glycine is critical for gut health, connective tissue health and immune system regulation.

In many traditional cultures only the organ meats were consumed. In others they were reserved for royalty or recently married couples (as fertility aids).

 

Okay so it’s not full of toxins, but what about the cholesterol?

Cholesterol in our diet has very little impact on our systemic cholesterol levels. Elevated cholesterol in our body is a symptom of inflammation, stress and degeneration. It in itself is not the disease. Over half of people who are hospitalized with a cardiac event (heart attack) do not have high cholesterol. In fact, as you age, low cholesterol is much more dangerous than high cholesterol.

 Elevated cholesterol needs to be looked at as a warning sign, not the problem itself. It would be like every time we see a house on fire, we also see loud, noisy, fire trucks. So we start assuming that the fire trucks are causing the problem. If we just stop the fire trucks, the noise stops! But does the fire actually go away? No. That’s what’s going on when we treat cholesterol as the problem. Remember – cholesterol is a vital, life-giving substance, without which we will die. Elevated cholesterol is a symptom.

Life-giving you say? Why yes! Cholesterol is the building blocks of vitamin D, testosterone, estrogen and progesterone (among other steroid hormones). It also makes up about 25% of our brain (hence the massive cognitive decline that many people taking statins like Crestor and Lipitor experience). In fact, there are many arguments for why you should eat more cholesterol – namely because foods high in cholesterol are also high in choline, an absolutely essential nutrient (albeit recently essential – it was added to the list in 1998). Most North Americans are significantly under-consuming choline due to fear of cholesterol. This is especially a problem for pregnant and breast-feeding women since choline is critical for fetal growth and milk production.

 

Does it have to be organic?

In an ideal world you are able to source all of your meat from grassfed and pastured sources, however I know that is not always possible (both physically and financially). I always recommend to clients to start by purchasing the fatty cuts of meat organic (since those cuts store the most junk). So things like bacon, marbled steaks, and sausages really should be a priority. 

But if we consider everything we said above – that the liver doesn’t store toxins and it’s so low fat so even if the animal has been exposed to a ton of junk during its lifetime in a confined animal feeding operation (CAFO), there isn’t really anywhere for the liver to hold on to those toxins. Buying organic bacon is way more important than buying organic liver.

Standard liver is still way better for you than no liver at all!

 

So, who needs liver? Everyone!

But there specific cases where I use it therapeutically:

  • recovery from illness (either acute or chronic)
  • autoimmune disease recovery (the immune system is a massive drain on our nutrient reserves, so to re-regulate it, organ meats are a must)
  • post-surgery
  • pregnancy (for development of baby, but more importantly to keep mom sufficient in nutrients – baby will take everything it needs, leaving mom deficient)
  • low iron / anemia (it’s particularly helpful on day 1 and 2 of your menstrual cycle)

 

What’s the best way to eat liver?

Now I know liver isn’t everyone’s favourite food… (those of you who love it and have been avoiding it because it’s toxic – you lucky ducks). I wasn’t raised on it and I can certainly tell you I did not enjoy it the first time I ate it. However, I knew how important it was as part of a healing, nutrient-dense diet. I also knew that it would be important for me to consume when we decide to have kids. So I sucked it up and started eating it. I definitely did not enjoy it at first, but trying it a few different ways, and exposing myself to it on the regular, eventually changed my taste buds. As Diane SanFilippo says “time to put on your big girl pants and just eat some liver!”

One quick tip – if you don’t like it, start with chicken livers – they are much more mild in flavour. I still struggle with beef liver (our pup gets the beautiful grassfed beef liver from the cow we purchased, sighhh), but I actually find chicken livers quite delicious now! Oh and I also recommend starting with pate – it completely eliminates the chewy, texture issue people have with fried livers.

Here are some great ways to prepare liver:

Note: many recipes say to soak livers in milk or buttermilk for a few hours or overnight to reduce. If you’re sensitive to dairy, the alternative suggestion is often soaking it in lemon juice. I’ve never done this, but I likely will the next time I try beef liver.

Pate

Easy Chicken Liver Pate from Practical Paleo (this is my absolutely favourite way to eat liver. I use balsamic vinegar instead of wine, and duck fat or even olive oil in lieu of butter, and I eat it on apple slices. Amazing.)

Raymond Blanc’s Chicken Liver Parfait (my uncle made this for us last week, and used duck fat in stead of butter. Holy heck it was amazing! 2 quick things though (1) There is a typo in the recipe – it should say cook until 65 degrees C (150F), no more! Once you hit 70C all the proteins are overcooked, and the pate will be grey, grainy and thick. See video here and (2) the indicated baking time is too long. Start checking at around 30 minutes.)

Chicken Liver Mousse from Paleo Parents

Bacon Beef-Liver Pate with Rosemary and Thyme from AutoImmune-Paleo (AIP)

Chicken Liver Pate with Mushrooms and Bacon from Eat, Heal, Thrive (AIP)

Liver in its Whole Form

Liver and Caramelized Onions from The Domestic Man

Beef Liver with Bacon & Mushrooms from Starbright’s Kitchen

Liver & Bacon Sautee with Potatoes & Parsley on The BBC

Crispy Spiced Chicken Livers from Melissa Joulwan

Hidden Liver

50/50/50 Burgers from The Paleo Mom (note: I actually use ground beef heart in this recipe, and add onions, garlic and toasted cumin. I make a large batch and freeze the patties on parchment paper for quick dinners later on.)

Frozen Raw Liver Pills from Primally Inspired

Liver Supplement from Vital Proteins

Raw Liver Smoothie Shot from Real Food Liz

 

So tell me, have I convinced you to eat liver? Newbies – are you going to give it a try? Or do you already like it and are relieved you can finally eat it again?

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