by Patricia Chaney January 20, 2021 3 min read

Every day we are introduced to toxins through our environment, food, household products, cosmetics and other exposures. Your liver works naturally to remove these toxins from the body. However, your liver can get overwhelmed and have trouble removing toxins, which can make you feel bad and experience some unspecific, but unwelcome, symptoms. A detox is one way to support your hardworking liver and help clear your body of toxins.

Although many people report feeling great at the end of detox or other program designed to eliminate toxins, some may experience what is called Herxheimer reactions. Understanding why you may feel worse before you feel better will help you prepare for your detoxification program and set your expectations so that you see the process through.

What Are Herxheimer Reactions?

Herxheimer reactions are when you feel sick or generally bad as your body removes toxins and/or pathogens, like viruses and bacteria. These reactions were first discovered when treating people for certain infections. As antibiotics kill off the infecting pathogens, the immune system reacts. At this point in the process, people may experience fever, chills, nausea and other symptoms of illness. But the reaction is temporary and usually subsides once the pathogens leave the body.

When you go through a functional medicine detox protocol, you're clearing the body of harmful substances, such as heavy metals or pesticides. In the first phase of the detox, your body's attempts to rid itself of toxins creates noxious molecules, while the second detox step neutralizes those molecules. If the second phase doesn't keep up with the first, you may experience Herxheimer reactions.

What Symptoms Can I Expect?

If you experience Herxheimer Reactions, you may feel sick. You may get headaches, muscle aches or joint pain. But not everyone has these reactions. You may also have fatigue, low mood or poor sleep as part of the detoxification process. Although unpleasant, these are all signs that your body is working — and that you need this detox.

When you do a detox with limitations on food and intermittent fasting, you're making major changes to your normal eating habits. These changes can cause some side effects on their own. For example, cutting out caffeine can cause headaches, and cutting out sugar can cause grumpiness. Regular detoxes help keep toxins from building up in your body and reduce some of these symptoms.

How to Handle Herxheimer Reactions

Managing symptoms can help you complete the detox and reap the benefits. You may be able to add in a cup of black coffee to avoid headaches, for example. But depending on the reactions, you may need to adjust your protocol to get through it. If you're concerned about your well-being, stop the detox and contact your qualified healthcare provider for advice.

Additionally, consider trying the following:

  • Resting.Take it easy during the detox to reserve your body's energy for the detox process.
  • Sauna. Spend time in a dry sauna or infrared sauna. You'll help your body eliminate toxins directly through the skin via sweat.
  • Epsom salt bath. An Epsom salt bath introduces sulfates through your skin that help clear toxins.
  • Dry brushing.Using a dry brush removes dead skin, but it also stimulates your lymphatic system, which is one more way to move toxins through and out of your body.

Detoxing provides a boost to waste and toxin removal that your body needs. If your body is stressed by the process, you may feel it. Not everyone experiences Herxheimer reactions. If you have a reaction, listen to your body, take it easy and make adjustments such as pausing or decreasing the length of your detoxification program as needed. Seek medical advice if you are concerned about your well-being. Most symptoms are mild to moderate and ease up after a few days. Working with a health coach will help you navigate symptoms and get the most from your detox.

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