So, you started your detoxification protocol, and now you feel worse than you did before!

It’s not an uncommon phenomenon. (In fact, it might actually mean your protocol is working!)

When your treatment kills and releases toxins faster than your body can release them, it’s called The Jarisch-Herxheimer Reaction, also known as “Herxing,” or a “Herx.”

But what is Herxing, exactly? As you activate your body’s detoxification processes (either through antibiotics, herbs, or something else), bacteria, mold spores, and/or other toxins will be killed, broken off from cell walls, and released to flow into (and eventually out of) your body. A “Herx” reaction involves the negative symptoms you may experience as those toxins flow through your body.

What Are Herxing Symptoms?

When your body’s immune system reacts to these toxins (also called endotoxins), it can cause a host of symptoms a.k.a., Herxing. What does Herxing feel like? It will likely differ from person to person, but symptoms might include:

  • Headache
  • Chills
  • Fever
  • Nausea
  • Skin rashes or hives
  • Tachycardia (speeding heart rate)
  • Fatigue
  • Brain Fog
  • Hyperventilation
  • Anxiety
  • Muscle pain

These symptoms can vary widely in terms of severity and frequency. Some people may have just one Herx that lasts several days or weeks, whereas others may experience a few Herxes where symptoms come and go over the course of a few months.

When to Look Out for a Herx

There are several different types of illnesses whose treatments can potentially cause Herxing.

For example, the Jarisch-Herxheimer Reaction was first coined by two dermatologists, Adolf Jarisch and Karl Herxheimer, when they were treating patients with syphilis. Today, Herxing is most often used when talking about Lyme disease treatment.

In addition to syphilis and Lyme, though, Herxing can happen when a person goes through treatment for other illnesses as well, such as CIRS (Chronic Inflammatory Response Syndrome, which is when someone gets sick from mold) and other types of illnesses caused by parasites and bacteria. 

Since it’s not uncommon for many to be carrying low levels of toxins and parasites in their bodies, Herxing can also occur when doing a general cleanse or detoxification protocol as well. One doesn’t necessarily have to have a specific diagnosis in order to experience Herxing.

How to Prevent and Manage Herxing

It’s important to note that Herxing doesn’t mean treatment is not working; in fact, it probably means the opposite. If you experience new or worsening symptoms as a result of treatment, it likely means that toxins are dying off and being flushed through (and hopefully out of) your system. (However, you should definitely check in with your doctor about worsening symptoms to make sure it’s nothing serious!)

But even if you know a Herx means you’re expelling toxins, that doesn’t mean that it’s comfortable. If you try to do too much too soon, Herxing can be quite a negative experience until you get to the other side of it. So, here are some steps you can take to prevent and manage the negative symptoms associated with Herxing.

  1. Get things flowing first. Herxing happens when toxins are being killed off and released into your system, and Herxing is worse when they’re not being flushed quickly enough. That means you need to make sure everything is flowing freely before and during your protocol. Make sure you are a) drinking a lot of water to flush out toxins through your kidneys, b) having regular bowel movements to release toxins through your intestines, and c) sweating regularly with exercise or a sauna to get rid of toxins through your skin (your largest organ!). You may want to consider taking some time to optimize your digestion and make sure your body is sweating easily before you begin your detox protocol.
  1. Go slow. One of the best ways to prevent and/or manage Herxing is to approach treatment or detoxification slowly, especially if you’re suffering from severe illness and/or are detoxing for the first time. Do not try and do too much too soon. 
  1. Replace with electrolytes. If you are Herxing severely and excreting a lot of fluids from your body, you may want to supplement with electrolytes and/or add minerals to your water (like these, for example).
  1. Take it easy. Depending on how severe your illness is and how many toxins are built up in your body, Herxing has the potential to disrupt your life for a day or even a few weeks. Try to take it easy on yourself. Communicate with your friends, family, and coworkers in whatever way feels best for you, letting them know that your treatment may make you feel worse before you feel better. If possible, plan ahead so that you can take a few days off work and/or schedule extra childcare if needed. Get lots of rest and do what you can to eliminate stress from your life so that your immune system has all the resources it needs to flush those toxins out!

As always, be sure you’re working with a doctor who knows your individual conditions before beginning any type of protocol.

Have you ever experienced a Herx reaction?


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Image Credits: Polina Zimmerman and Andrea Piacquadio