Understanding Herxheimer Reactions: The Cleansing Reactions Caused by Conventional Medications or Natural Remedies

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Formally named the Jarisch-Herxheimer Reaction, the Herxheimer reaction is the result of the release of toxins into the body faster than the body’s systems can remove them from the tissues and bloodstream. The toxins may be released by dying organisms, such as when antibiotics or natural remedies are taken to kill bacteria, viruses or fungi. They may also flood the body as the result of a detoxification process, whether intentional or unintentional.

Detoxification occurs when an individual purposefully consumes herbs or other substances intended to cleanse the blood, liver and kidneys. It can also result when someone transitions to a raw food diet or begins consuming large quantities of herbs and superfoods. Hence the Herxheimer effect is also often known as a cleansing reaction or cleansing crisis.

At times the cleansing reaction is difficult to distinguish from a bad reaction to the medication, food or supplement or from the onset of an illness. Some individuals actually experience a recurrence of symtpoms from illnesses or injuries that happened long ago. Symptoms of cleansing reactions can include:

  • headache
  • lethargy
  • fever, chills, mucus discharge, muscle aches and general flu-like symptoms
  • rashes
  • mouth sores
  • diarrhea, nausea

If you have recently begun using herbal medicine or other supplements, switched to a healthier diet, or taken antibiotics or other prescription medications, the unpleasant symptoms you experience may in fact represent a cleansing reaction. Consult with your physician or natural health practitioner to determine the appropriate course of action. If you are actually having an allergic reaction to a substance, your practitioner will likely want you to cease using it. If, however, you are experiencing a Herxheimer reaction, he or she will likely recommend that you either work through it or reduce your consumption of herbs and raw foods temporarily.

Be aware that the same type of reaction can also happen in animals. For both people and animals, one way to reduce the likelihood of a Herxheimer reaction is to introduce new supplements gradually, and to switch to a healthy or raw diet gradually. It may seem counter-intuitive to slow down your consumption of healthy nutrients, and for people it is a matter of personal preference whether you are seeking to achieve the fastest results possible or to achieve good results with minimal discomfort. For animals it is generally best to transition slowly so that only mild cleansing occurs.

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Sources & Resources

Mangin (2004), Observations of Jarisch-Herxheimer Reaction in Sarcoidosis Patients, J. Indep. Med Res. 2(1)

Veterinary Herbal Medicine, Susan G. Wynn & Barbara Fougère

The Gospel of Health: The A to Z Guide to Vibrant Health: God’s Way, Valerie Saxion

Cancer Recovery Guide: 15 Alternative and Complementary Strategies for Restoring Health, Jonathan Chamberlain

The Complete Herbal Guide: A Natural Approach to Healing the Body, Stacey Chillemi, Michael Chillemi