Life Health Centers offers multiple unique modalities that better equip your body to combat disease. One of those modalities is hyperthermia, the process of artificially inducing fever like temperatures in the body. The benefits of pumping the body up to fever-like temperatures have been well documented in research. Temperatures above body-temperature trigger a variety of favorable physiological responses including activating our immune system. This article summarizes some of that research to better understand this modality.
The phenomenon of having a fever has been around for more than 600 million years and is found in both warm-blooded animals (like humans) that can self-regulate body temperature and cold-blooded animals (like snakes and lizards) that depend on the environment for regulating temperature. The fact that this phenomenon has been around and is utilized by many different kinds of animals is testimonial to the benefits that it provides for better survival. Research shows that just a small increase of body-temperature of about 1-40 C can help us fight disease-causing agents like bacteria in spite of the high metabolic cost.
Studies underline the importance of fevers: anti-pyretic drugs (drugs that reduce fever) can cause as much as a 5% increase in deaths caused by influenza virus and negatively effects patient outcomes in the ER. Of course, uncontrolled fever can be extremely harmful to the body and in such cases, reducing body temperature by hypothermia is seen as beneficial. But overall, letting the body have a febrile response is extremely beneficial and some of the molecular and physiological responses are described below.
How a fever helps the body fight infection is still not completely understood. As we study the fever-response, interesting mechanisms are beginning to be unraveled including a significant activation of the body’s immune system. One obvious mechanism seems to be the direct effect of fever on the disease-causing microbes. Temperatures of 40-410 C can greatly reduce the capacity of viruses and bacteria to divide and at the same time, make them vulnerable to the immune system.
This is especially true for thermo-labile bacteria: bacteria that cannot absolutely survive at higher temperatures. Spirochete bacteria: the class of bacteria to which Borrelia, the disease-causing agent in Lyme, belongs has been shown to be highly thermo-labile. Just slight increases in temperature can completely stop the growth of this microbe and can be lethal. This is also true for the Treponema spirochete bacteria, the microbe that causes syphilis.
Before the advent of antibiotics, neurosyphilis patients were induced to have a fever by being infected with malarial parasites. The fever would then trigger the immune system to heal the disease. The malaria was later effectively cured using treatments available at that time. This healing modality was so effective that Dr. Julius Wagner-Jauregg won the Nobel Prize for Medicine in 1927. We can easily see how a similar response maybe expected from the Lyme spirochetes as well.
In addition to being lethal to the disease-causing microbes, an artificial fever can stimulate the two arms of our immune system: adaptive immunity and innate immunity. When the cells of our innate immune system recognize the presence of a foreign body, they secrete chemical messengers to relay this information to other parts of the body. The main chemical messenger that carries out this function is a molecule called IL-6. IL-6 stimulates an enzyme called COX2 (cyclo-oxygenase-2) in the brain to produce PGE-2 (prostaglandin-2). PGE-2 then triggers fever in our body.
Thermal-range temperatures then stimulate and activate almost every step of the immune response and help the body fight infection. Fever-range temperatures can activate neutrophils, increase their bacteriolytic activity – their capacity to kill bacteria and recruit them to different areas of the body including any sites of inflammation or tumors. Another important immune-cell type that is affected by fevers is natural killer cells. Natural killer cells are our first line of defense against tumors and viruses. Fevers can increase the cytotoxic (ability to kill) activity of natural killer cells and help in their recruitment to tumors. In fact, three decades of extensive clinical research has shown that hyperthermia is an effective modality in the treatment of tumors.
The most well-studied immune cell that is affected by fevers are the macrophages. Macrophages secrete a variety of chemical messengers in response to fevers that result in bacterial clearance from the body tissues. The dendritic cells also respond to fever-like temperatures that increase their phagocytic activity (ability to consume and clear infected cells) as well as their ability to sense pathogens. They are able to better stimulate the T-cells of the adaptive immune system. Finally fevers also activate cells of our adaptive immune system such as T and B-cells that further help in the clearance of pathogens.
Hyperthermia thus works at different levels on our immune system to better equip the body to take down any infection effectively. It is natural, and not known to have any side effects. It has been used to great success in Europe and Asia, and we are proud to be the only clinic in the United States making use of this exciting and revolutionary therapy.
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