By Kate lead writer, and Lindsey, contributing writer
Previously, I wrote about having optimal gut health (read this to understand how you start life out with poor gut health). It’s extremely common for people to have poor gut microbiome from infancy. The good news is it’s possible to improve gut health. Sometimes, when someone starts this journey, it can cause an uninvited detox reaction. This is also known as a “healing crisis” or a “herx reaction”. What does this mean, why does it happen, and what can you expect?
A lot of mainstream people don’t believe this occurs, nor that a “detox” of any kind needs to occur. Their opinion is that the body is set up to detox by itself through normal processes – that the liver clears toxins from the body every day, and elimination occurs as needed. They don’t believe that anything additional is needed to clear the body, and that the symptoms that people experience when they attempt any sort of “detox protocol” is a sign that something is wrong/unhealthy.
Although it is true that the body is capable of detoxing on its own, this process becomes less efficient over time if the body is exposed to a large number of toxic elements. The body is unable to actually clear everything. Low-nutrition diets also don’t allow the body to work optimally, because the body is lacking the vitamins and minerals it needs to function properly. Time, lack of nutrition, and high toxic load (from food and environment) lead to a need to detox and heal the body.
If you have any chronic symptoms or diseases (like constipation, fatigue, heart burn, stomachaches, etc.), these are signs that the body is no longer functioning optimally, and something has built up. Many people who experience these symptoms see several doctors, who all tell them they are fine. They don’t have any diagnosable “disorder,” because they are not “sick” according to mainstream medicine. Or maybe they have lab results that come back within “range” even though they feel awful. Some doctors might not even see the need to test unless your symptoms are debilitating. They don’t have a specific virus or bacteria that a pill or surgery can fix to cure them. Yet, they are living in misery with potentially debilitating symptoms.
Whether your symptoms are minor or severe, if you have symptoms, there is a reason for them, and an underlying cause. Beginning a detox diet of some type is going to be a good starting place.
What are Detox Diets or Protocols?
A number of different types of diets, supplements, or protocols can help begin detox. These can include:
- Reducing/eliminating grains
- Reducing/eliminating sugars (including natural sugars)
- Reducing/eliminating toxic personal care products (which is most of them, including organic brands)
- Starting the GAPS diet
- Consuming fermented foods (like yogurt, water kefir, kombucha)
- Skin brushing
- Oil pulling
- Anti-candida diets
- Fasting (juice or water)
- Specific commercial detox supplement/protocols
There are other things that can cause detox to occur, but these are probably the most common reasons. Some people choose to specifically do a juice fast or commercial cleanse each year to improve their health – if done properly, they do ultimately feel a lot better -BUT- if done improperly, or if the commercial cleanse is full of junk, it could end up making you feel worse. Some “cleanses” use synthetic vitamins and minerals that aren’t usable by the body. You can end up storing these vitamins (example: folic acid (1) or cyanocobalamin)
A good detox (one that doesn’t cause detox reactions) is like giving your car a tune-up: it just clears out the junk and helps you to function better.
What is Detox?
It can be hard to determine that what you are experiencing really is detox. These symptoms can even be associated with a number of diseases or “problems”, so never assume that what is happening is absolutely detox. It is important to identify if what is happening is something that is wrong. You can determine that what you are feeling is “wrong” if the symptoms do not improve after a few weeks, worsen, or if you just “don’t feel normal.” Trust your instincts.
What symptoms might you experience?
- Constipation or diarrhea
- Brain fog/forgetfulness
- Muscle aches
- Skin rashes
- Sweating (unusual)
- Pain during elimination
- Sore throat/swollen glands
- Slowed hair growth
If you have just begun a detox protocol and are experiencing some of these symptoms, it is likely just detox related. If you are unsure, consult a naturopathic doctor or functional medicine and ask his/her opinion. It is always better to be safe. If you are actually sick before beginning detox (and are undergoing detox to attempt to cure an illness), please seek the advice of a professional and undergo detox under his/her care.
Why Do Detox Reactions Happen?
Ideally, detox symptoms should be minor or non-existent. A bit of mild fatigue and slight nausea are pretty normal; severe nausea is not.
Detox reactions happen because toxins are being released into your system at a rate that the body can’t efficiently clear them. They are stored up in your fat cells or yeast cells or other parts of your body. Once you begin the detox and start losing weight or killing off excess yeast, you are releasing these stored toxins into your system. (In some cases, you may not be able to get rid of excess yeast or lose weight if your body is storing a lot of toxins there – it is protecting you. This happened to Ben, Kate’s husband. He was not able to get rid of the yeast after a full year of yeast detox protocol because it was binding the arsenic. Once he detoxed that, the yeast began to go.)
That’s one reason that you won’t feel well temporarily. Another reason is because the liver, which is responsible for detox (whether normally or during detox protocol) is overwhelmed by the amount of “stuff” it has to deal with, and can’t keep up. This means the extra junk is staying in your system and making you feel ill. You may notice diarrhea, vomiting, or excessive sweating, because your body is attempting to get rid of the junk any way that it can. This is a sign that you need to slow down the detox to a pace that you can handle. There is no point in pushing past and causing your body to be sick because you are not really detoxing any faster.
Here are a few ways to help recover from a detox:
- sipping water or an electrolyte drink
- kombucha (which can aid the liver, though also cause further detox, so be careful)
- dandelion tea
Taking a bath in Epsom salts can help as well. The Epsom salts helps to pull toxins out through the skin and replaces magnesium you may have lost. This is one major way to deal with detox that is out of control. Eating a bit and consuming some natural sugar (fresh-squeezed fruit juice is good) can help to keep your blood sugar up and make you feel better temporarily. Then, cut back on your detox protocol, support the body systems like adrenals, liver, kidneys before detoxing, or consult your doctor to ask what to do next.
For a more indepth look at detox, check out this Gut Health Support Guide.