I hear it all the time. Someone goes on a cleanse to feel better but they end up feeling worse.
Detox reactions, die-off reactions, or Herxheimer’s reactions are caused by a variety of factors such as toxin exposure, viruses, bugs, yeasts, and parasites. Cleansing or detoxing can be incredible for our health but some people do experience symptoms like headaches, fatigue, gas, bloating, congestion, and flu-like symptoms.
Why We Experience Detox Reactions
When your body has more toxins or infections present, or if it is a first cleanse, you may experience more physical reactions as there is more to clear out.
Secondly, genetics can affect how someone reacts to certain factors involved in a cleanse. The way you detoxify, and how your detoxification pathways work can be related to genetic factors in your metabolic pathways.
Thirdly, some people are simply more sensitive. It may be tougher for some people to cleanse, or they may need to take a different approach. Being sensitive to changes in the body and environment can make it hard to tolerate even the milder side effects of a cleanse but there are ways to mitigate it.
Overall, it’s still very beneficial to do a cleanse as it assists your wellbeing and thankfully there are things you can do to reduce the potential for detox reactions.
The most popular cleanses are a full-body toxin cleanse (liver or gallbladder) or a GI (gastrointestinal tract) cleanse. In this episode, I review each.
What is a Liver Cleanse?
Liver cleanses usually involve herbs like milk thistle and dandelion as well as nutrients like NAC and glutathione. They work by pulling toxins out of the cells and making them water soluble and then should be binding them up and excreting them. Typically the more toxins you have, the more that needs to come up; and if those toxin pathways are blocked, reactions will happen.
Most liver cleanses come with diet instructions but I find that not everyone follows them. It’s super important to listen to the instructions if you want the cleanse to be effective.
Steps for a Successful Liver Cleanse:
- Eat a clean diet (whole foods, avoiding all refined and processed foods for the duration of the cleanse).
- Make sure your bowels are moving (you might want to try magnesium citrate or Oxi powder if they are not).
- Be aware of sulfur-based supplements. You can do an organic acid test to see if you are able to handle sulfur well, as many cleanses use sulfur-based supplements like NAC and Glutathione. (If sulfur is an issue, try using molybdenum and doing epsom salt baths, and using herbs instead of sulfur-based supplements).
- Start slow. Some people like doing a half dose of supplements, then working up to the full dose. Doing a little bit and feeling good is still doing work, rather than doing a lot at once, and feeling unwell and then stopping.
- Find a cleanse that has a binder or add your own binder. Binders are like sponges, they absorb things by pushing the toxins out and catching them to carry out of the body. You can add charcoal, clay, or fulvic acid – I also like using Ultra binder by Quicksilver or Biotoxin binder by Cell Core. Try taking this first thing in the morning or at bedtime, and away from food as much as you can.
Following these steps will ensure you are assisted when doing a full body toxin or liver cleanse, and help make things a lot more tolerable.
Steps for a Successful GI Cleanse
If you are working on your digestion and have Dysbiosis (an overgrowth of bugs in the gut) you’ll be using anti-microbial things in your cleanse. You’ll need to address the GI (gastrointestinal) Tract in this type of cleanse, compared to the full body (liver/gallbladder) cleanse I just spoke about. To address the dysbiosis, you’ll need anti-microbials (anti-bacterial, anti-parasitic and anti-fungal agents). A few examples of those would be (but not limited to):
- Pau d’arco
- Grapefruit seed extract
The goal here is to kill off the bugs in the gut while at the same time rebalancing the microbiome (increasing the good guys).
Steps for a Successful GI Cleanse:
- Get your bowels moving first
Make sure your bowels are moving FIRST. This step is crucial, because you don’t want to be killing off bugs unless the digestive system will be able to bring them out!
- Reduce your sugar
Once your bowels are moving regularly, you’ll need to change your diet. Likely, it may feel drastic to completely reduce sugar if you’ve never tried it before, however you can still eat 1-2 servings of fruit and 2 servings of complex carbs (lentils, sweet potato, brown rice) per day so its not about avoiding all carbs. These bugs feed on sugars and so that needs to be reduced and processed carbs turn to sugar which is why those are also avoided.
- Break up the biofilm
Another must is something to break up the biofilm in the gut. The bugs form this biofilm around themselves in order to protect themselves from being destroyed. This is why I’ll often recommend taking a biofilm disruptor for a week or so before starting the anti-microbial nutrients.
Interfase by Klair or Biofilm Defense are two products I use in my practice. These products are essentially like enzymes but they are not meant for digestion. You’ll take these on an empty stomach so they go do the work breaking up the biofilms and outer cell walls of different bugs, that way the process is a bit more gradual.
- Support the digestion itself
Make sure you’re emulsifying fats properly, have enough digestive enzymes, and that your stomach has enough acid to break down the animal proteins you’re eating. If you have a stool test, this will help you determine what you might need. You may need bitters to help emulsify the fats. If you ever feel bloated, gassy, or like food sits in your stomach, then you may be low on stomach acid. A betaine HCL will help resolve this issue with you.
- Start with half a dose of antimicrobials, don’t rush.
This type of cleanse is a marathon, not a race. You’ll want to make sure you are doing what the body needs and getting things clear over time, especially if you are sensitive. I typically start my clients on half a dose and then have them work up to the full dose over a few days to get the body used to it. I also prefer not using the same herb for the duration of the cleanse and instead use synergistic formulas for 2 weeks each and rotate so the bugs don’t adapt to the regime.
- Add a binder (just like in the liver/whole body cleanse).
You can add clay, fulvic acid, etc. as listed above, just make sure you take them away from food and medications.
When I customize cleanses for my clients, I put these steps in place to minimize their detox reactions and help them have the most successful cleanse possible. If you are doing a cleanse on your own, following these steps will help you do the same. If you purchase a cleanse, make sure it includes some of the supportive elements I spoke about here, and if doesn’t not have everything, you can always get it separately if need be.
Understanding these different types of cleanse and detoxification reactions will help you reduce them. With reduced reaction, you should be able to enjoy the benefits of cleansing without too much discomfort.
Eliminating Health Mysteries
Today we explored the ways that detoxifying the body can wreak havoc, and also how to keep that havoc at bay. Do you feel like you or someone you know could use this important information for their next cleanse? If so, please share this episode.
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