Congratulations! You’ve started your new clean eating program of whole, real foods. Your body is slowly adapting to your new way of life when, suddenly, you wake up sick one morning. You have a headache, perhaps flu-like symptoms. Or maybe, like me, you suddenly develop an itchy rash over most of your body. You wonder why you feel this way. After all, you made this change in your eating habits so you could feel better. What is happening? Most likely, you are having a Herxheimer reaction. What is a Herxheimer reaction and how do you deal with it?
A Herxheimer reaction, technically known as a Jarisch-Herxheimer Reaction, or Herx for short, is a short-term detoxification reaction in the body. It can last anywhere from a few days to a few weeks, maybe a few months, depending on how severe your toxic load is. But don’t worry, it’s not permanent; it’s your body’s way of sloughing off toxins. Simply put, it means you will feel worse before you feel better.
What is Happening to Me?
Simply stated, a Herxheimer reaction occurs when the body is detoxifying, and the released toxins either exacerbate the original symptoms or create their own symptoms. The important thing to note is that worsening symptoms do not indicate failure of the treatment in question; in fact, usually just the opposite is true. (1)
Adolf Jarisch and Karl Herxheimer, both dermatologists, working separately, noted that as their patients underwent treatment for skin lesions, the lesions first became worse before improving. They both also found that those who had the most extreme reactions ending up healing faster, with better results.
When you are experiencing a Jarisch-Herxheimer Reaction, it’s important to remember that your treatment (whether it be a supplement or a clean eating plan) is NOT the cause of the reaction. Rather, the reaction is part of the detoxification process. When we stop eating artificial, processed, chemical-laden food and start eating whole, real food, the body starts to release toxins it has stored up from the bad, fake food. These toxins find various ways to escape the body, whether through the elimination process (urination and bowel movements) or the skin (fever, rashes, blisters, pimples, etc.). The toxins stored in the muscles are released, causing the muscles to ache.
How Do I Deal with This?
I know it’s hard to convince yourself that something that makes you feel so bad is good for you, but these toxins must leave the body in some way. Remember how many years you ate toxic food. The release of those toxins will certainly not last as long as it took to store them.
Your mindset is very important when you are experiencing a Herx reaction. You need to be especially kind to yourself during this period. Don’t berate yourself or put unrealistic expectations on yourself. Slow down and let your body heal. Tell your body how much you love and appreciate it. Enlist the support of your loved ones.
Here are some specific things you can do to lessen the symptoms.
- Water. Drink plenty of filtered water. This is crucial to help your body flush out the toxins. Set a timer on your phone for every half hour if you need help remembering to drink your water.
- Detox baths. I recommend a hot detox bath every night before bed. Combine 1 cup Epsom salt and 1 cup baking soda with various essential oils, such as lavender, peppermint, frankincense, helichrysum, rosemary, or any of your favorites. Soak for at least 20 minutes with soothing music in the background.
- Lots of rest. Sleep as much as your body needs. Serious healing takes place while we sleep.
- Sauna. If you have access to a far infrared sauna, begin with no more than 15 minutes at a time. Dry brush your body beforehand and shower immediately afterward.
- Nutrients. Your body needs extra nutrients like Vitamins C, E, A, and NAC during the detox process. Milk thistle is particularly helpful during detoxification.
- Bowels. If you find yourself constipated, your body may reabsorb the toxins that are being released. Some suggestions to get your bowels moving: (2)
Use 500-1000 mg magnesium citrate daily or until you have normal, soft bowel movements at least once daily. You may also add 5-10 grams ascorbic acid daily to bowel tolerance.
Start every morning with a tall glass of warm water.
Drink a few tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil several times daily on an empty stomach.
Stir 2 Tablespoons of ground flax or chia seed into water and let sit for 10 minutes. Stir again and drink on an empty stomach.
Warning: If you experience any serious symptoms such as cardiac irregularity, breathing difficulties including chest, lung, or throat constriction, or significant swelling, please seek immediate medical attention.
Whatever happens, please don’t start eating bad, fake food again. While this may temporarily ease your Herx symptoms, it will just set you up for failure. There is a reason (or multiple reasons) why you started your clean eating program. Don’t sabotage yourself just for temporary relief.
Learn more in my new book, Be in Health: Bible-Based Health Restoration: Living in Harmony with God’s Ways Regarding Health. Available now.