Herxheimer Reaction: What Is It, How Do I Clear It?
In the past 5 years, my team and I have guided almost 13,000 people through a 26-day process of systematically cleansing their colon, liver, kidneys, gallbladder, lymphatic system, and blood. The benefits are profound, and are noticeable for virtually everyone completing the detox program. Sometimes people also experience one or more “Herxheimer reactions” as their body is ridding itself of years of built-up toxins. This article is to help you understand common “Herx” reactions and how to clear them quickly.
Herxheimer Reaction | Everything You Need to Know
In this article:
- Health Benefits of Detoxification
- Herx Reaction Definition
- The Toxic Body Burden
- Why Herxheimer Reactions Occur
- The 6 Most Common Herxheimer Reactions
- 10 Tips To Achieve Relief From a Herxheimer Reaction
- The Coffee Enema
- Conclusions for Detoxers
Health Benefits of Detoxification
While the focus of this article is temporary Herxheimer reaction symptoms experienced by detoxers, it is important to note that many profound health benefits make the detoxification process well worth the effort. Weight loss achieved by our participants is an average of 12.5 pounds in 26 days. Inflammatory conditions often disappear, digestion improves, and many symptoms experienced (some for many years) improve. Virtually all detoxers report a clearer mind, positive, stable mood, and many more benefits.
Herx Reaction Definition
The reason we offer a detailed, live support to people through the cleansing process (which may be daunting for new detoxers) is that, in an increasingly toxic world, many people experience what science calls the “Herxheimer reaction.”
It’s also called the “cleansing crisis,” that is, the phenomenon of temporary Herx reaction symptoms that may result as your entire body, mind, and spirit tend to its Toxic Body Burden.
As yeast overgrowths, cancerous cell clusters, parasites, and bacteria starve in the detox process and die off, the weakest parts of your elimination pathways may become blocked, clogged, and overwhelmed, leading to pain, fatigue, and other uncomfortable Herx symptoms.
The Toxic Body Burden
The Toxic Body Burden can be explained in this equation:
A (toxic exposure and input) – B (successful ongoing elimination by your organs) = C (Toxic Body Burden)
Your Toxic Body Burden may be higher or lower than someone else’s, due to exposure and how well your elimination pathways are functioning.
Why Herxheimer Reactions Happen
Two hundred years ago, the body’s sophisticated, built-in systems of elimination were enough to clear the metabolic byproducts of normal digestion and exposure to the various substances we have encountered in a lifetime. Then, the chemical industry became ubiquitous in the modern world, giving us plastics, amalgam dental fillings, pesticide and herbicide, and preservatives galore, just as a few examples.
Expecting our liver, kidneys, digestive tract, respiratory system, lymphatic system, and skin to do their work flawlessly for 99 years, despite thousands of times more exposure than they were designed to handle, is the equivalent of driving your car through the 1930’s Dust Bowl for years, without changing your air filter or oil filter.
What can you expect as you begin to eliminate years’ worth of toxicity primarily stored in your fat deposits? (Be thankful for your fat! It attracts toxins and keeps them out of critical organs where they could kill you. As you eliminate toxicity, your fat stores will burn more quickly as they are not needed anymore.)
But, what can you expect as aberrant growths die and break down, attempting to move through your organs of elimination?
And, even when you undergo a detox, what happens as they flood out through the detoxification pathways? How can you open and optimize your elimination channels?
Undigested proteins, plaque in your gastrointestinal tract and blood vessels, bacteria in your blood, and neurotoxins that normally have a hard time escaping the brain and nervous system finally begin to vacate the body. What is the worst a “detoxer” can expect?
The benefits of detoxing are profound. In addition to decreasing your risk of cancers, autoimmune disease, and heart disease, the vast majority of our detoxers report at least a dozen noticeable, immediate health benefits.
Many of our detoxers also report the following classic Herxheimer reactions or the signals that the body is dumping chemical toxicity. Most of the symptoms occur in the first 7 days, and caffeine headaches often begin on day 1.
I explore each common Herxheimer reaction in the order of the frequency with which they are reported to us.
The 6 Most Common Herxheimer Reactions
Most commonly, headaches are associated with caffeine withdrawal and eliminating residuals of the toxins in coffee and other products such as caffeine pills and drinks. However, this reaction is also indicative of neurotoxic chemicals, flooding through the neurological system. People who eat fast food, processed food, commercial seasonings, commercial salad dressings, ramen noodles, sugar-free gum, artificially sweetened sodas and drinks, and many other products are consuming two very common neurotoxins that food manufacturers love, but the human body hates:
- Monosodium glutamate – the excitotoxin responsible for the famous marketing slogan “Bet you can’t eat just one!”, known to make salty snack lovers overeat.
- Aspartame – a chemical sweetener that is sometimes sold under the brand name Nutrasweet.
Even if you complete a 26-day detox, or do it twice a year as we recommend, everyone should learn the common sources of these neurotoxins, since food manufacturers now hide it in other ingredients. Get the FREE wallet card I’ve prepared for you, so you can keep it in your wallet and avoid all foods with these ingredients in your ongoing food shopping and prep.
2. Gut Reactivity (Diarrhea, Constipation, Bloating, Cramps, Nausea, or Allergic Reactions)
People who undergo a deep cleanse of their organs of elimination usually do so because they are suffering from many symptoms. I wish that everyone can begin bi-annually detoxing before they are ill, but my experience has been that people begin to study how their body went wrong only after things begin to feel very wrong.
Unfortunately, we have an epidemic of modern gut disease, which comes from inflammation, and some of our modern medications and foods are actually tearing tiny holes in the lining of the gut, causing “leaky gut syndrome.”
While medical doctors are mostly unaware of this phenomenon, and/or unable to treat it with the pharmaecopia (drugs help cause the problem and do not cure the problem), more and more functional practitioners are diagnosing it and trying to help their patients heal their gastrointestinal tract.
What most people don’t know is that the gut isn’t just for digesting food. It’s your “second brain,” and in your 30 to 35 feet of alimentary canal, small intestines and large intestine (colon), trillions of “probiotic” organisms are the cruces of your immune system. They keep the “bad guys,” viral and bacterial organisms, molds, yeasts, mycotoxins, and other threats to your health, in check.
A healthy gut has more probiotic organisms than the entire cell population of your body. When you use antibiotics, which destroy the bad bacteria, you also destroy most of that population of “good bacteria” as well. This can give rise to a host of long-term, miserable conditions that make autoimmune misfires likely and take your immune system into very low functioning.
After an antibiotic treatment, many, if not most people, will suffer from SIBO (small intestinal bacterial overgrowth), Crohn’s disease, irritable bowel syndrome, and many other new diagnoses, as a result of losing your protection against the bad bacteria and inflammation. And, while a modern, stronger antibiotic therapy kills more bad bacteria, it is also much harsher against your gut’s microbiome. And other drug medications also take a toll on the microbiome, including over the counter NSAID pain relievers such as acetaminophen, Aleve, and aspirin.
So, people with pre-existing gut inflammation tend to notice, in a detox protocol, that they are reactive to some foods. Some will have histamine reactions (which a doctor will prescribe Benadryl for the short-term reaction and steroids to suppress the body’s response for a longer period).
Some detoxers report reactivity to healthy foods like lentils, whole grains (including non-gluten, non-hybridized, and organic grains), fruits, nuts, and seeds. The most likely gut reactions, however, to our own detox protocol, are actually related to the high quantities of natural plant fiber you are eating.
Most Americans eat only 11 grams per day of fiber, and on the detox, you are eating three times that much. While this is actually a much healthier quantity of fiber, the body often adjusts—with more, or less, output—for a short time.
See the suggestions below for increasing output and clearing these cleansing reactions if you go more than 1 day without eliminating or experiencing other gut symptoms.
3. Temporary Flare-up of Inflammatory Conditions
Most detoxers with known inflammation report very strong improvements in their achy joints, puffy fingers, and other conditions. But as chemical toxins flood out through the pathways, a short-term flare-up is not uncommon.
These flare-ups may be related to temporary food sensitivities due to gut issues (see number 2), but more often, it is just the quick but heavy release of chemicals that leave the cell and go through tissues, joints, neurological pathways, and the blood on their way out.
4. Fatigue or Muscle Weakness
The vast majority of our detoxers report very significant gains in energy as a result of following the protocol. However, during the 26 days, the body devotes far less energy to metabolizing food, as participants eat only clean, organic, whole plant foods. And, therefore, the metabolic system can turn its attention to “autophagy,” or breaking down aberrant cells and bacteria, mold, and fungi.
Also, cell salts are shifting as we eliminate table salt and increase potassium, increasing the potassium ratio in the cells and allowing inflamed cells to release fluids and excess sodium. This, and toxins flooding through musculature can cause periods of muscle weakness or overall fatigue.
Most often, during the cleanse, you may feel fatigue if you work out or do something strenuous, and we caution participants who are distance runners, extreme athletes, or otherwise very active to listen to their bodies and be willing to slow down to honor this very important process.
Generally, short periods of fatigue pass after the initial cleansing or healing crisis. Most of our detoxers report having to find something to do with the extra energy they may not have experienced for years.
One detoxer over the age of 60 posted a photo of the snowman she went outside and built, and others report undertaking painting the house or tackling another work project that had been back-burned due to perhaps years of chronic, low-level fatigue that is resolved as the body eliminates years’ worth of Toxic Body Burden, during 26 days of cleansing.
5. Breakouts, Rashes and Other Skin Issues
Rashes are not necessarily a “skin issue,” as many people assume. They are usually the external manifestation of a gut or liver issue.
Some rashes are related to highly toxic microorganisms trapped in root-canalled teeth, and others are symptomatic of heavy metals on their way out of the body.
These are the most common reasons for a rash or other itchy or painful skin condition erupting during a detox program, but there are many chemicals that, as they make their way through the detox pathways, show up as a “signal,” like a warning light on the dashboard of your car, on the skin.
(Taking Benadryl may ease itching or pain, but as a treatment for the root cause, it’s tantamount to putting a piece of duct tape over the warning light in your car’s dash, as you drive it.)
When people have skin reactivity, indicating a clogged liver, I highly recommend a practice that is used by hundreds of practitioners worldwide, which will sound very strange to a novice detoxer. That is the coffee enema. I explain this practice below and recommend it as a “Level 2” practice in our detox because it is very effective at quickly eliminating the offending toxicity from the body. I have seen many hundreds of detoxers suffering from a Herxheimer reaction get quick and complete relief from coffee enema, and for that reason, we encourage our detoxers to open their minds to the practice. This is easier to do when you understand what it is accomplishing (see below).
6. Lightheadedness or Vertigo
As we increase potassium and decrease sodium in the cells, healing is taking place in billions of inflamed cells. Trapped, dirty fluids are being released. However, when this process is happening too quickly, dizziness can occur, or you may feel lightheaded when you stand up from a sitting or prone position.
See tip number 5 below, adding a bit of salt back into the diet. For most people, you are not becoming sodium deprived. Most forms of sodium on ingredient labels are the element sodium, not the NaCl, or refined table salt, which most people eat far too much of. This is what we are flushing from the body, and natural sodium is found abundantly in the plant foods provided during the program.
However, to slow detoxing down, you can add a teaspoon of salt water to your food or water once or twice a day, which will usually alleviate symptoms. (Use an unrefined salt like Original Crystal Himalayan, Celtic sea salt, or Real Salt.)
Other possible less common Herxheimer reactions are cold feet and hands, fuzzy teeth or tongue, mood swings (especially anger or sadness), mucus in the nose or the back of the throat, blurry vision, eliminating whitish chunks via the mouth or in the stool, sleeplessness or over-sleeping, and heightened sense of taste or smell.
10 Tips To Get Relief From a Herxheimer Reaction
Here are some simple tips if you’re experiencing a cleansing crisis:
1. Drink More Water, Herbal Tea, and Fluids in General
They are your best friend in flushing the entire system of the gastrointestinal tract, liver, kidneys, and blood.
2. Perform a Transverse Colon Massage, Twice Daily, Including When You Wake Up in the Morning
This will help break up “catarrhal mucoid plaque” that your high-fiber diet is assisting with, as well. It will stimulate normal peristaltic activity, which is important when you dramatically change your diet.
Start on the lower right, in the soft part of your abdomen, above the pubic bone. With your fingers or a tennis ball, massage deeply in a circular motion, slowly moving up the abdomen toward your head. Below your navel, move laterally across the transverse colon, all the way across your belly, to the left side, and then continue massaging down, on the left side, until just above the left-side pelvic bone. Doing this twice a day will help break up blockages and stimulate contraction in the organ.
3. Rest More
Expect to get more than 8 hours of sleep in a day. Take short naps, meditate, and if you believe you have high levels of toxic exposure, as evidenced by symptoms prior to your detox, plan for more sleep because your body does an important work while you rest that isn’t possible while you are active.
I often coach athletes who are used to constantly pushing, that in this season, it’s important to respect the body’s requests for a slowdown.
4. Slow Down The Detox
Slow down the detox by eating fewer greens, eating more cooked foods, or adding a scoop of vegan, organic protein to water or to your green smoothie.
5. Get A Whole-Foods Electrolyte Balancer If Lightheadedness or Dizziness Persists
If lightheadedness or dizziness persists beyond two days, try getting a whole-foods electrolyte balancer in a glass of coconut juice, or make it the base of your smoothie. (You can find this at any health food store, or Costco.)
If symptoms persist, you may wish to add a teaspoon of salt solution to your diet. Stir 1 tsp of Himalayan salt, Real Salt, or Celtic Sea Salt to 1 cup of water in a jar. Shake well, and take 1 tsp of salt water once or twice a day until symptoms ease.
6. Be Patient and Know That Pain is Inflammation Leaving the Body
Most symptoms will not last longer than a few days. For coffee drinkers, caffeine-withdrawal headaches will usually clear in the first week.
7. Consult A Physician If Herxheimer Symptoms Still Persist More Than A Few Days
If symptoms are severe, persist more than a few days, or your intuition tells you something more significant is wrong, seek the help of a trusted functional medicine practitioner who understands Herx reactions.
A typical M.D. will give you drug medications to cover the symptoms, so you do not feel them. Still, make sure you additionally attend to the root causes if you have significant health problems.
8. Use Ultimate Minerals
Ultimate Minerals is the best product I’ve ever seen to deliver every single mineral and trace mineral, which are “used up” in high quantities as the body metabolizes aberrant and malignant cells. Replacing your minerals with the same source plants that “drink up” these critically important compounds from the Earth is very powerful.
This is our best-selling and most-reordered supplement due to noticeable gains in metabolism, hair growth, better sleep, and stabilized mood. I take it morning and night, always—my number 1 most important supplement, year-round, in a world of depleted soils.
But, for a detoxer, it’s very helpful in keeping the body balanced with over 90 minerals and trace minerals in their most bioavailable form.
(Most mineral supplements are made from cheap chalk, or rocks, which, while high in minerals, are not very bioavailable. Every single process in the body draws on minerals, so getting them all in a balanced way from a bioavailable source is very important.)
9. Try Using ACS and ACZ Products
ACS and ACZ are products from Results RNA that are highly effective, which we recommend as you go through any detoxification protocol.
ACS is a nanoparticle silver, with 1,000 times the surface-area coverage, killing only pathogenic bacteria (not good bacteria) on contact. It has even shown to be effective against the MRSA bacteria, which is antibiotic-resistant. ACZ is a nanoparticle, highly micro-ionized zeolite, which is a boxy-structured compound with an affinity for heavy metals. Zeolite binds to them and allows you to safely eliminate them from the body, as you detoxify. You just spray each supplement 6 times, under the tongue, several times throughout the day (not with food).
ACS is also wonderful to have on hand for when you feel a cold or flu coming on.
10. Try a Coffee Enema
Because the Herxheimer reaction is the body’s evacuation pathways becoming blocked or overwhelmed by a die-off reaction of yeasts, tumors, and other pathogenic growths, having a powerful tool to release these die-offs, and open the pathways, will be very helpful to you as you detoxify.
This practice seems very strange to anyone new to detoxing (more on how to do a coffee enema later). However, it is used safely and effectively in functional medicine clinics around the world and was pioneered by Max Gerson, M.D., in the early 1940’s in Germany.
Gerson helped thousands of migraine sufferers after curing his own lifelong, crippling headaches, eating a clean, plant-based diet, and utilizing this method.
Later, he fled Nazi Germany and helped thousands of cancer patients in his long career. Not only does the coffee enema clear toxicity and pain, quickly, for anyone wanting to cleanse the body, but it also helps quickly eliminate tumor tissue breaking down in a cancer patient.
Every practitioner I interviewed who uses this method swears by the profoundly clearing and pain-relieving effects.
We highly recommend beginning daily coffee enemas in the first week of your 26-day program, and especially the day before and the day after, and the gallbladder flush later in the program.
Ideally, you will do one once a day. Twice a day is fine, but some people will find the caffeine makes them jittery, so if that applies to you, you may wish to not do it after 3 pm to avoid interfering with your sleep.
How To Do a Coffee Enema
When our detoxers are skeptical and begin their detox not planning to do coffee enemas, they hear the reactions of their new friends in our private Facebook page, and they almost always choose to “up their game,” invest in a $25 kit and get started achieving amazing results with this practice.
The protocol is to flush the lower colon with a quart of water first, to clear debris, and to make the transverse colon capable of holding a quart of organic, home-brewed black coffee at room temperature.
(Make a quart, but the first time you try this, you may not get that much into your lower colon, and that’s okay.)
Use an inexpensive home enema kit, which comes with a bucket or bag, tubing, and a tip, and you’ll want to have a new tip, for your kit, the next time you complete the detox program. (Most kits come with a few, and you can buy them separately.)
When you dump out any remaining water from the enema bag or bucket, fill it with room-temperature coffee, and then insert the tip into the rectum and lie on the floor, on a towel. Allow the coffee to flow in using the release valve on the tubing. You’ll hold the coffee in about 10-15 minutes if you can.
Many first-timers cannot hold it for more than a few minutes. That’s okay! The caffeine in the coffee does not go through your entire GI tract and become absorbed through the stomach, as it does when you drink coffee. Rather, the caffeine is taken up via the hemorrhoidal vein, which quickly causes the liver and kidneys’ ducts to dilate. The liver and extra bile will then dump into the lower colon, allowing you to expel the coffee and a great deal of toxicity quickly.
Most people feel amazing after the coffee enema, and this is not just the “buzz” from the caffeine. The body also produces far more glutathione—several experts say up to 800 percent more—which leads to a feeling of positivity and even euphoria, and this antioxidant is used in every cell for repair functions.
Enjoy it! Many cleansing processes are optimized when the body hyper-produces glutathione, the body’s master antioxidant, which is a pain reliever.
In cancer clinics, some cancer patients who are rapidly breaking down tumor tissue are advised to do the coffee enema up to every two hours! Head and body ache often disappear. The coffee enema is not a daily practice for outside the detox protocol, however. You want your body to return to normal peristalsis without assistance. You may wish to take a small-batched, high-dose probiotic with plant-based prebiotics, for a few months after detoxing, to rebuild any lost microflora in the lower colon from this process.
The liver filters your entire blood supply in about 4 minutes. So, even if you were able to “hold” the coffee implant for only 4 minutes, you still did a tremendous amount of good. Release it, and do your transverse colon massage to expel the entire amount into the toilet.
Conclusions about Herxheimer Reactions
In summary, most people do not experience significant reactions that keep them from going to work, caring for their children, and carrying on a normal life as they complete a dedicated detoxification protocol.
People who do are likely highly toxic and/or have significant underlying health issues, making them more likely to have the most significant reactions.
The good news is these reactions are indicative of the body undergoing a very important and necessary process. If you experience a headache or temporary fatigue or any of the other common Herxheimer reaction symptoms, rejoice! They are temporary, and they are a sign that deadly chemical toxins are on their way out.
After detoxers complete the 26-day program, they are encouraged to continue forward eating a much cleaner diet. Pork and beef products, as well as most seafood, should be eliminated from the diet, permanently, if you wish to avoid food-borne pathogens, microbes including harmful bacteria, parasites, and the accumulation of excesses of protein fragments in the blood that often lead to an autoimmune misfire. It is clear that there are health benefits to eating wild-caught fish, but in the modern age, most animal products, including poultry, are highly problematic. If you return to eating eggs and poultry products after detoxing, it is wise to choose only organic, non-GMO, and free-range eggs, chicken, and turkey.
(If it is USDA Organic, the product is also non-GMO, in the sense that the chickens cannot be fed genetically modified corn or other products banned by organic certification.)
I hope this serves you in understanding how to clear die-off and chemical toxins as you undergo any significant detoxification protocol. It’s absolutely worth it!
What are your thoughts on Herxheimer reaction and the human detoxification health benefits? Drop them in the comments section!
—Robyn Openshaw, MSW, is the creator of the GreenSmoothieGirl 26-Day Detox, and you can get her FREE Video Masterclass about how your symptoms may be a sign of toxicity and learn more about how detoxing can resolve physical, emotional, and even spiritual issues.
She is a former psychotherapist, university professor, and author of 15 titles, including 2017’s Vibe and 2007’s The Green Smoothies Diet. She has lectured internationally in 450 cities about the power of bi-annual detoxification and eating a clean, whole-foods diet.
Disclosure: This post may contain affiliate links that help support the GSG mission without costing you extra. I recommend only companies and products that I use myself.
Editor’s Note – This post was originally published on Mar 28, 2018, and has been updated for quality and relevancy.