October 13

What is a Herxheimer reaction? Part 1 of 3


This is IT! This camel’s back is breaking. I am done.

I quit! I can’t work any harder on my health. I can’t try anymore new things. I can’t take being any MORE UNCOMFORTABLE.

I was sort of ok dealing with my stuff, but whatever this train is, it just took a hard left at “Worseville.” How is this HELPFUL?

The maybe-this-will-work, desperate-hope feeling turns into a rage of feeling utter betrayal 12 to 24 hours after I begin my new protocol. My head pounds. I can’t seem to put a thought together. Just the idea of food makes me want to vomit. My body aches and begs me to r-e-s-t. Hold on, I need to run to the bathroom.  AGAIN.

What the heck is wrong with me now? Am I reacting to these supplements? Did I just throw my parent’s money down this toilet?

I demand Mom call my holistic doctor back and ring some answers out of him.

She quietly knocks on my door and begins to explain.

“The doctor says you’re experiencing something called a Herxheimer reaction..."

"...It’s a healing reaction. He says to keep going with the plan and give it a few days. You should feel better soon.”

A mood sets in.

I thought I would just feel better! Now he says I’m going to feel worse before I feel better… Who knows how many more hoops I have to jump through before I get anywhere? Does he even know what he’s doing? Am I a joke in some big con?

And what the H. E. double hockey sticks does it mean to go through a herx or herxing anyway? Someone needs to explain this crap.

And I NEED to feel better…

Have you ever gone through a treatment/therapy that was supposed to help you feel better, only to feel worse?

Whatever symptoms you were struggling with before your treatment now include increased headaches, nausea, fatigue, brain fog, increased muscle and joint pains and yes, on occasion, diarrhea (oh joy). It feels like someone with a twisted sense of humor is playing puppeteer with our hope strings, hope for relief and hope for a chance at living.

Is it possible there’s more to the story?

Disclaimer: This post is written out of my personal life experiences. I do not treat, diagnose, cure, or prevent any disease on this blog or with my healthstyle and product recommendations. I share with you things I learn from my experiences and what works or doesn’t work for me. Some things I share may resonant with you. Some may not. And that’s okay! We never know what may ripple on the water of our lives. I am glad you are here!

Big word time!

Today's Big Question: What is a Herxheimer reaction?

Herxheimer is actually the name of the man who observed/discovered this flu-like reaction in patients going through certain treatments.

Simply put, a Herxheimer reaction is the name put to the symptoms we feel when toxins are mobilized to leave the body. Cellular die-off releases endotoxins from destroyed cells (ex: from Lyme disease treatment or cancer treatment) causing an inflammatory response in the body.

That inflammatory response is what mimics flu-like symptoms giving a person the sensation they are getting worse before they get better.

It is especially prevalent in diseases caused by spirochete bacteria (the kind of bacteria that causes Lyme disease). I was diagnosed with Lyme disease when I was twenty-three. Based on my medical history and the available data my doctor speculates I had been living with undiagnosed Lyme for nine years… since I was fourteen years old.

At that time, I had approximately a decade of medical problems spiraling into more medical problems with increased symptoms and discomfort.

At twenty-three, my family and I began the journey to discover HOW to restore health and bring healing into my life. 

From the age of twenty-three right up to the present, I have gone in and out of herxing. It began with various forms of Lyme therapy and then treatments for other health challenges.

Familiarity with the concept of worse before better and healing crisis is important for my sanity.

Context helps me endure and make effective choices.

It’s tough to go through a herx reaction, but life feels better when you’re on the other side of it! To be honest, for me, it’s never been a one and done situation. I go in and out of herxing based on what I’m actively working on in my health and how my body responds to what I’m doing. It’s like the children’s book Going on a Bear Hunt, “we’ve got to go through it!”

The intensity varies as well as the frequency, and I’ve been digging myself out of quite the “hell-th hole” 😉 for many moons. My body does not process and eliminate toxins/waste efficiently.

One thing relating to detoxification as you explore healing modalities is this:

if your body is not capable of eliminating your cellular waste and toxins, it will re-absorb them into your system. 

This places an extreme burden on your body and increases your inflammation over time.

The Herxheimer reaction goes by other names. Some call it a healing crisis, herxing, a herx, a detox reaction, a healing reaction, a healing crisis, a homeopathic aggravation, a cleansing reaction, the detox flu or “you may feel worse before you feel better.” I’m sure there are more labels for this than I have run across in my journey, but these are the ones I’ve heard.

Over time the term has expanded to apply to the flu-like symptoms a person may experience anytime a person:

  • is attempting to kill a widespread infection, like Lyme disease 
  • do a self-cleanse to support the body’s natural processes 
  • or has manual work done (like massage or osteopathic manual manipulation) which stirs the pot.

The body becomes flooded with dead cells or mobilized toxins and an added burden is placed on the body’s filtration systems. This article gives you a deeper understanding of this reaction if you are curious. 

My most intense experience with herxing was connected to my Lyme disease treatment. (I do continue to experience herxing in my health journey today on a lesser scale.) About one year into my attempts fighting Lyme, I went through an alternative natural therapy. I highly recommend them. I believe they played an integral part in my overcoming the disease. I fought Lyme for many years and my most recent blood test came back clean!  

Following this alternative natural therapy for Lyme treatment, I experienced an extended time of herxing for six to eight weeks. I had been quite ill with Lyme disease for over ten years at that point and my system was weak and my body’s filtration systems became overwhelmed with processing the cellular die-off.  After six to eight weeks of herxing, which they told me to expect, I felt great! I even ran in a 5K that same summer!

Wherever you are in your health journey, I encourage you to evaluate your situation like a spiral.

Yes, there will be ups and downs. Yes, herxing/healing reactions are going to give you natural ups and downs in your process. Simply ask yourself in the course of your ups and downs,

“Am I slowly trending upward toward my desired results?”

The downs are to be expected, but a trending pattern of downs, taking you deeper into your “hell-th hole” isn’t the desired result.

Action Item:

I encourage you to keep weekly and quarterly notes on your top ten symptoms and top three desired results you want for your health. This will give you the ability to track if your spiral is headed up towards greater quality of life when you ask yourself that question.

My old journals are so humbling. Pages and pages of misery and grief. On current days when I struggle, I skim the old entries and realize just how far I’ve come.

The struggle is real, but so my dear friend, are the resources to reclaim your health over time.

Stay consistent.

Stay curious.

My next post will answer the question:  What things cause a herx for me?

PS. If you are curious about some of the lifestyle pieces I have applied in cultivating my healthstyle throughout my journey check out my ebook, "What the 'F' is In*lammation?"

To your health!


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