Helpful Hints for Battling a Herxheimer Reaction - or - my adventures with Teasel

After reading the book Healing Lyme Disease Naturally, I was inspired to add teasel root tincture to my Lyme treatment protocol.  Teasel is a plant with powerful anti-Lyme properties, and is successful in killing the Borrelia bacteria. I spoke to my naturopath about it at my appointment a couple weeks ago, and we decided to go with it.  I started taking the teasel root tincture, slowly building up the dosage, and just waited to see what would happen.  My naturopath had warned me that people Herx badly on this stuff, and I'd read it on the book and online.    

About 36 hours later, it hit me: a got whalloped with a nasty Herx. 

I love it when my medicine comes with a handwritten label. There is so much power in this little bottle.

A Herx, more formally known as a Herxheimer reaction, is when there is a massive die-off of bacteria and your body is suddenly overrun by toxins. Your system freaks out, because you are filling up with toxins faster than your body can purge them. Your liver gets overworked, your symptoms flare up, and you basically feel like you have a super flu times 80 million. In short, it sucks, and you never know how long it is going to last. Eventually, things even out, and then you come out the other side feeling better. But the journey stinks, and it is easy to think about quitting.  This is why so many Lyme patients never make it through treatment - it is sometimes rather intolerable. 

The most prominent feature of this Herx was a wildly gnawing, burning, pulsing pain that radiated from the base of my skull up over the crown of my head and down behind my eyes. It was so intense that it is almost comical. My neck was unbearably stiff, painful, and made it hard for me to turn my head. My chemical sensitivity shot through the roof, causing me extreme discomfort at the slightest hint of a fragrance or chemical. Every joint in my body hurt, and the bottoms of my feet still burn, tingle, and ache with more intensity than usual. My ears are ringing on and off, I feel lightheaded, and I am being graced with alternating waves of hot flashes and chills. My bladder is on the fritz and my sense of urgency is out of control.  I couldn't even escape the Herx in my sleep - I was having awful nightmares!  I was low energy, my eyes were bloodshot, my brain was foggy, and I wanted to curl up in a ball on the floor.  

The teasel was so interesting - I actually felt it in my body immediately after taking it.  In fact, a couple times it was so intense that I felt a painful, hot, radiating feeling from my stomach, and I had to balance myself on the wall in order to not fall over.  As my body adjusted, these reactions went away, and now whenever I take a dose I just visualize it doing its job, but don't have any immediate negative effects. 

As my dad said, "That teasel sounds like wicked shit." I concur, wholeheartedly.  Worried, I talked to my naturopath about everything I was experiencing. It is all totally normal. Oh, my dearest Lyme disease, one thing is certain: you never make life dull.

Thankfully, about two weeks after starting, the headache has lessened to a mild constant pain that is bearable, not so different than what I am used to dealing with on a regular basis. I'm feeling worlds better now, and have my energy back again and actually feel pretty darn spunky.  Sure, there are some weird things lingering (burning feet, anyone?), and I expect symptoms to cycle, but the worst of the Herx seems to be over, thankfully.

What I did to cope. 

In order to get through the Herx more quickly, I employed every method of self-care and detox that I could. I ate well, I drank lots of water and kombucha, and I sat in my FAR infrared sauna box. I cleaned the dust out of my bedroom, and smelled peppermint oil non-stop.  I recited my affirmations, meditated, did visualizations, and gave self-massage. I tried to distract myself with socializing and creative activities as best I could, despite the pain.  I also sought out support from others. I got a massage from my mom, I went to the chiropractor, got a surprise Reiki treatment from a friend, and had a scheduled visit with my therapist. By Friday I felt remarkably better. I think the physical, emotional, and spiritual support helped turn a bad situation better much more quickly - and most importantly, it made me feel empowered and not enslaved by discomfort and illness.

When you are having a Herx, self-care is key. There are a number of things you can do at home to make your Herx less hellish, without expensive trips to the doctor, chiropractor, massage therapist, or other bodyworker or energyworker (although those things are helpful too).  I wanted to share what I have found helpful, but remember - I'm not a doctor, and this shouldn't be considered as a substitution for advice provided by your care provider, especially if you are recovering from chronic illness. This list is a combination of methods I use, hints from my naturopath, as well as other conventional wisdom gathered from Lyme chat rooms, message boards, and Facebook posts.  

Helpful Hints for Battling a Herx

The Herxheimer reaction occurs when large quantities of toxins are released into the body as bacteria die during antibiotic treatment. Individuals treating a candida albicans overgrowth generally experience a die-off reaction as well. Often times, the death of these bacteria and the subsequent release of toxins occurs faster than the body can remove the toxins. The symptoms of the illness generally worsen temporarily, and the patient may experience an assortment of changing syptoms, such as fever, chills, headache, muscle pain, rashes, dizziness, numbness, fatigue, nausea, lack of appetite, and shaking. Generally, the worse the inflammation and infection, the worse the reaction.

Ideally, a treatment plan should be gentle so as to minimize the intensity of a reaction, but many individuals dealing with chronic infection will have a Herx. To deal with the symptoms of a die-off reaction, self-care is key. Here are some suggestions for making it through. Remember to watch for any severe symptoms such as heart irregularity, difficulty breathing, dangerously high fever, loss of consciousness, or other severe reactions - these may indicate a larger problem and you should check with a health care provider.

Food and Drink

  • water: your body requires extra hydration in times of toxicity. 
  • kombucha: 3-5 cups per day
  • lemon water: lemon is a natural dexotifier
  • dandelion root tea: helps the gallbladder produce bile and encourages liver detox
  • peppermint tea: helps digestion and nausea
  • chlorella and spirulina: naturally detoxifying, binds to heavy metals. add to smoothies, take in capsule form, or mix in with kombucha or water and drink.
  • cilantro: naturally detoxifying, binds to heavy metals
  • no caffeine: caffeine wigs out the spirochetes, so stay away
  • no sugar: sugar is inflammatory, which will irritate any symptoms you already have. The Borrelia bacteria also feed on sugar, so consuming it strengthens them.
  • easy to digest, alkaline foods: center your diet on vegetables, fruits, millet, fish, prepared simply.  An alkaline environment is unfriendly to the Borrelia bacteria, and easy to digest foods will leave more of your body's chi to assist with detoxification
  • naturally antimicrobial foods: garlic, thyme, kohlrabi, turnips, rutabaga, dark leafy greens, turmeric

Supplements

  • Milk thistle: helps support the liver and purge toxins, no contraindications I've ever read about
  • ALA (Alpha Lipoic Acid): 600 milligrams per day during Herx
  • Alka-Seltzer Gold: place in 6-8 oz of water, consume a few times a day. It is suggested by my naturopath's colleague, it helps to alkalinize the body. I've never done this, but try it if you'd like.
  • Aleve: to help deal with pain, if you must take a painkiller, this is the one my naturopath recommends. It works well and does not irritate my touchy tummy.

Detoxification and Physical Support

  • Epsom salt baths: helps detox the body, relieve joint pain, and is a good natural source of magnesium.
  • Saunas: FAR infrared are best, but any will do. Spirochetes dislike hot temperatures, and sweating is an excellent natural detox
  • Peppermint oil: peppermint oil is a natural headache reducer and anti-nausea agent. Smell it, dilute it in a carrier oil/lotion and rub it on temples or use for self massage, put drops of it on a cool washcloth and use on forehead or back of neck
  • Warm water bottle or heat pack: use on the back of the neck for headaches, place on irritated joints, place on abdomen for stomach/digestive upset
  • Castor oil treatments: helps with liver detox 
  • Do self massage and work pressure points
  • Skin brushing: use a natural fiber brush with somewhat stiff bristles - they will soften over time. Start at  your feet and brush toward your heart over dry skin with long even strokes or brisk circular motions. Brush from your finger tips to your heart. Be gentle over breasts and more firmly on souls of feet or palms.  Avoid areas with broken skin or cuts or wounds. Then shower!
  • Hot/cold showers: alternate with hot and cold water, ending with cold. This helps improve circulation and stimulates the immune system. 

Other Helpful Practices

  • Breathwork: breath deeply, from your abdomen.  Imagine positive, healing energy filling every cell of your body with each inhale, and imagine toxic, negative, and hurtful energy, emotion, and pain being pushed out with every exhale.  
  • Meditation: I find meditation to be a healing, strengthening, grounding practice when I feel poorly. It helps connect me to the moment, and reduces the amount of mental clutter I have gunking up my energy flow.
  • Visualization: depending on what feels right, I visualize any number of different things. For example, I may visualize myself bathed in a protective white light, a golden ball of light at the base of my spine warming my core, the spirochetes being driven out through my pours, negativity being released with each exhale, a healing pink light shooting out the top of my head, etc etc etc.
  • Colors: if you feel particularly weak in a certain area of your body, try surrounding yourself with the color associated with that chakra area. Here is a nice chart. Check it.
  • Repetition of strengthening affirmations: my favorite series of late is "I am a good person and deserve to be healthy, I deserve the best that life has to offer, I am blessed and whole, I trust the choices I make, I seek what is seeking me."

DISCLAIMER: I am writing from my own research and experiences, and the information contained on this web site is general in nature and is not meant to substitute for the advice provided by your own physician or other medical professional. 

*The information provided on this site is intended for your general knowledge only and is not a substitute for professional medical advice or treatment for specific medical conditions. You should not use this information to diagnose or treat a health problem or disease without consulting with a qualified healthcare provider. Please consult your healthcare provider with any questions or concerns you may have regarding your condition.

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