The full name is Jarisch-Herxheimer Reaction (after the founder) and the more commonly used term is a “herx”. There are many theories and ideas about what a herx reaction really is, what its caused by and what it means clinically. Essentially a herx reaction is an immune system reaction to the endotoxins that are released when large amounts of Bb are dying off due to effective treatment. The reason herx reactions vary from person to person is due to a couple of reasons.
Firstly each person has different pathogen loads – the more pathogens the more endotoxins are released when they die. Secondly a herx reaction is affected by how well your body is detoxing, so if the body can’t eliminate the endotoxins quickly enough (either through poor detoxification pathways or pure overload) then a herx reaction will occur. The severity and duration of the herx is once again affected by the above factors.
To distinguish between a herx reaction and a drug / supplement / food ror any other reaction the general rule of thumb is that a herx reaction will usually be delayed (as it takes at least 48-72 hours for a treatment to cause a die off and subsequently an endotoxin release), will worsen your current symptoms, often be worst at the 4 week mark of treatment and may cause you to experience detox symptoms such as headaches, joint and muscle aches and pains, sore throat, general malaise, fever, nausea, hives or flu like symptoms.
A drug reaction or other reaction to something else on the other hand will usually cause a reaction to occur quickly after the drug / food / treatment is administered, bring a new symptom or set of symptoms that you might not have had before and those symptoms will often flare quickly and then go away quite quickly (e.g. like you will see in food poisoning or an allergic reaction to something).
E.G. A drug reaction for an antibiotic treatment will usually occur quite quickly e.g. headache or nausea within 10 minutes, where as a herx reaction may cause the same symptoms (headache and nausea) but the symptoms will be delayed 3-4 days or 3-4 weeks. Every time you have the antibiotic you will get the same reaction unless the dose is changed, the drug is changed or the body gets used to it. Its often hard to know if treatments are working if you add or change too many things at once doe to the delayed nature of the herx reaction.
Our bodies are already loaded with many biotoxins that we are exposed to in our environment in everyday life such as preservatives, additives, mold, yeast, parasites, aspergillus, heavy metals, PCB’s and Phtalates from plastics to name a few. These biotoxins build up in our systems over time and if our body is not detoxing efficiently they can wreak havoc with many of our bodily functions and systems including the immune system. This becomes an even more important consideration for those who have Lyme Disease because the greater the biotoxin load — the less effective the detoxification pathways will be to deal with endotoxin die off — the more stress there will be on the immune system that is already struggling — the greater the herx reaction will be — the slower your recovery will be.
Some practitioner and methods believe that herx reactions are dangerous and unnecessary whilst others believe they are part and parcel of healing from Lyme Disease and are a great indication that the treatments you have chosen are working. The jury is still out but all i can say from personal experience is often after a herx you feel so much better so i believe it is a healing reaction, however if you are having severe reactions you need to reduce, change or stop the treatment that is causing the reactions as they can also set you back and be very dangerous if the body can not detox the endotoxins quickly enough for whatever reason that may be.
USEFUL TIPS TO EASE SEVERE HERX REACTIONS (OR PREVENT THEM IN THE FIRST PLACE!)
- If the reaction is severe you may want to reduce or stop your treatment – chances are whatever you changed or increased in your regime has caused the reaction
- Go back to basics and make sure your body is detoxing properly – start with lemon juice in water and body brushing (cheap, easy and effective)
- Ensure your diet is as close to nature as possible – lots of organic seasonal vegetables and fruits (not too much fruit as its still fructose) and lean organic meats (avoid alcohol, sugar, packaged foods, fast foods and caffeine especially)
- Ensure you are getting your water requirements – 43ml of water per kg per day (ideally filtered and room temperature)
- Use of supplements parsley and burbur are very handy (as used in TCP – The Cowden Protocol)
- Bentonite clay applied to the body first thing in the morning and allowed to harden before washing off in the shower can supercharge the drawing out of toxins via the skin
- Infrared sauna for 30 minutes can help open the pores, increase circulation and give the liver and other detoxification organs a rest by removing toxins and heavy metals from the skin (ensure you drink enough water so you don’t get dehydrated)
- Soak your feet in a foot bath . You can buy special detoxing foot baths or just make your own by filling a bucket or bath with warm water and a a teaspoon each of mustard, garlic and cayenne powders to assist in drawing toxins out through the feet.
- Visualisation of your body detoxing and healing can really help but is hard when you are really sick. Give it a go or use a meditation CD or APP to guide you and you will get better the more you practice