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Journal of America Team:

 Editor in chief: 
Abdus Sattar Ghazali

 Managing Editor:
Mertze Dahlin   

Senior Editor:
Arthur Scott

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Before drugs, fever was the cure


by Mertze Dahlin

In days gone by, we experienced several Herb Remedies as prescribed by our visiting doctor as he made his house calls to cure any ailment -- which leads us to think that this was always the method to cure illness before modern drugs came on the scene. Actually, the benefit of fever, and keeping warmly tucked in bed was recognized as another way to go. The problem was that you had to get sick to get a fever.

A Greek physician, Paemendides, 2500 years ago said “Give me a chance to create a fever and I will cure any disease”. The nature of a fever is that it fights infection of any kind. Malaria was a pretty good disease because it gave you an impressive fever. It also kept you from getting other severe diseases such as cancer and by itself, although difficult, it was curable.

The normal course of a fever is that an infection in your body stimulates the ‘hypothalamus’ in your brain to turn up your body thermostat -- you start to get warm -- a fever develops. This, then, increases the amount of Interferon in the blood which is a natural antiviral protein and an anticancer substance. Another speedup going on is that the white blood cells (leukocytes) are increasing in number. A study by the Mayo Clinic in 1959 found that the number of white blood cells in the body had as much as a 58% increase by inducing an artificial fever to stimulate the immune system (Further technical information on this medical aspect of fever can be researched too much and should be more appropriately summarized by a knowledgeable doctor).

Immigrants from Finland were here in America during our early years and they didn’t speculate why they stayed healthier than the rest of the population. All they knew was that they took a "sauna" bath at least once a week and more often if they had time. This was a bathing facility built especially for that purpose, usually just outside of the main living quarters of their home. Some of their neighbors knew that these Finns had a somewhat strange bathing habit in which they entered that small cabin where the temperature was close to that of boiling water. They would sit there naked and whisk themselves with cedar sprays or other aromatical leaves tied in a bundle in order to encourage the blood to come closer to the skin surface. Another antic was to dash a ladle or two of cold water on the pile of hot stones covering the heating stove so as to enjoy the invisible (superheated) steam which then fills the small room. This ritual was as much a part of their lives as was going to church on Sunday.

Although they perhaps didn’t realize it, this was the method of providing an artificial fever, and getting the benefit of that fever without the discomfort of being sick with whatever gives you a fever. Nowadays, there are “modern” types of saunas which can be found in upscale hotels and sometimes in your local gym or healthclub. They often call it a “Dry Sauna” which seems to me to be an ideal place to bake your Thanksgiving turkey. The term “dry” is really meant to differentiate from a “steam room” which is heated by live steam and may also be part of the facilities, but it would be not nearly as warm as a sauna.

Using the 'untraditional' electric sauna in a healthclub, the same sauna etiquette needs to be followed in order for you to benefit. It’s best to begin by taking a shower before entering the sauna room. Then, from the water bucket, toss a ladlefull of water on to the hot stones on top of the heater. This provides the "loyle" (steam) to circulate about the room. This moisture is necessary to keep your skin from drying out and to better transfer the heat to your body, better than dry air can do. You may think that you can tough it out like a traditional Finn, but I recommend just to stay only as long as you can handle it, perhaps three to five minutes and then get out to go for a cold shower. Stay in the shower for no more than half a minute, just long enough to satisfy the temperature sensors on your skin and you recognize that the water is cold (traditionally, showers were not available so it meant you should splash cold water from the sauna bucket upon yourself briefly to enable you to endure more sauna heat).

Hasten back into the sauna and enjoy it for another three to five minutes or more and get back to the shower. This procedure can be repeated perhaps three to four times, until that cold shower doesn’t feel cold anymore, it just feels good and you now can stay longer in the sauna. What happened to your body this time? I would venture to say that finally you have a fever -- an artificial fever which will fight any infection you may be inclined to encounter. For up to an hour, your sweat pores have been opening and ridding your system of more pollutants than your kidneys can do in 24 hours. You have started the process of producing more white blood cells to enable the immune system to work better and your muscles are being cleansed of excess lactic acid and carbon dioxide so they therefore feel relaxed and comfortable. Your skin has shed itself of dead skin cells  and you are very clean.

The local Ohlone Indians in the San Francisco bay area had their sweat lodges here in our valley and they functioned much the same way as the older Finnish “Savusauna”, a smoke sauna in which there was no chimney and you had to wait until the fire under the stones was burned out and the smoke removed from the room through a hole near the ceiling before you could use it. The Turkish baths in the Arab Muslim countries were places to heal and treat illnesses as they likewise depended on hot steam. They also cleansed the body of pollutants by opening your sweat pores and the steam provided an artificial fever to excite the immune system.

Now we have aspirin and Viagra.

Mertze Dahlin is a Member of the Board of Directors of the American Institute of International Studies.