What is a Herx?
A herx is a systemic inflammatory response to the toxins released by spirochetes when they die.
Successful treatment results in the cell membrane breaking down and the contents being released into the body. This causes widespread inflammation, which is responsible for our herx symptoms. On top of that, our detox pathways are compromised in Lyme, so we can often struggle to excrete these toxins, prolonging this inflammatory response!
What Does It Feel Like?
Herxing usually begins within the hour after treatment. It generally has a quick onset, and involves your usual Lyme symptoms flaring up and is accompanied by symptoms of inflammation. Common symptoms during a herx include:
Brain fog, dissociative episodes
Pins & Needles
Skin sensitivity to touch
Poor emotional regulation – sudden depression, anxiety or feelings of rage
Increased joint pain
Shortness of breath, air hunger
Nausea, vomiting, abdominal cramps
Pain in upper right quadrant – liver
Pain in upper left quadrant – speen
Loss of appetite
Insomnia, excessive tiredness
How to Reduce a herx
Reducing a herx involves reducing systemic inflammation to reduce the herx symptoms and helping the body to detox the toxins. Unfortunately, there is no pill or potion that will stop a herx. There is always an element of letting it run its course. However, there are a number of things we can do to help our body prepare for herxing, and things we can do to manage a herx once it arrives.
1. Take Charcoal
Charcoal binds to toxins in the GI tract and not only helps with nausea, but with the general feeling of not being ‘well’. When you herx, you often feel a whole-body, all encompassing sensation of not being right. When asked to describe the sensation, it can be hard to pinpoint what it actually feels like, and this is because of the widespread inflammation.
2. Take Curcumin
Curcumin is a wonderful supplement which acts as a broad anti-inflammatory. It doesn’t further tax the liver like pharmaceutical anti-inflammatory and it comes with zero side effects.
3. Take Alpha Lipoic Acid
ALA is useful in aiding energy production, and it also protects cells from both free radical and inflammatory damage. ALA is also one of the building blocks of glutathione, which your body uses in detox processes.
4. Inhibit Those Cytokines!
In a healthy body, cytokines promote inflammation and are an important part of a well-functioning immune system. When Lyme is present, these can become wildly unbalanced. What’s more, you often end up with a ‘cytokine cascade’ which is where one cytokine triggers the production of another, which triggers the production of another, and so on and so forth. What results is an inflammatory snowball effect and unchecked inflammation.
I highly recommend a blend of three tinctures: Chinese Skullcap, Red Sage & Kudzo. This provides you with an inhibitor, a modulator, and a synergist. This means you can inhibit cytokine production, regulate cytokine production and help your other herbs and supplements be absorbed better.
5. Drink Boneset
It’s easy to overlook this humble tea, but it would be foolish to do so! Not only will Boneset help to bring a fever down, but it will act as an anti-emetic (to reduce nausea) and as an anti-inflammatory. I tend to sip on Boneset tea all day when herxing and I notice a huge increase in symptoms when I don’t.
6. Use an Infrared Sauna
If you have access to one, an infrared sauna offers a wealth of benefits for those suffering with Lyme. It not only actively aids detox on a cellular level, but it also helps to reduce the pain associated with herxing.
7. Soak in Epsom Salts
Adding two cups of Epsom salts to a bath acts as a potent detoxifier. The magnesium salts draw toxins out through the skin whilst also replenishing magnesium in the body. Magnesium is an effective relaxant, and so helps with muscular pain and twitches. Its anti-inflammatory properties help with joint pain and its toxin-drawing action helps to reduce the toxin load in your body, and therefore inflammation.
Note: Don’t add anything else to the bathwater as it will be readily absorbed through your skin with the magnesium.
Although this is technically the easiest thing on this list, time and again it seems to be the hardest thing. I especially see this in people who are early on in their treatment journey.
Allowing yourself to rest involves accepting your current limitations. It’s frustrating not being able to do what you’re used to, and often that results in pushing ourselves harder and causing more pain. Try to remember that this is a process you must go through to get well – and you can either fight it or let it happen.
Very few of us are able to rest at leisure. We all have responsibilties that cannot be left. Perhaps it’s picking the kids up from school, finishing that last piece of work or ensuring that there’s food in the house. The key to resting is to prioritise. Carry out the essential tasks and learn to give yourself permission to leave the rest for another day. More often than not, it’s our own inner critic telling us we can’t rest because of x, y or z.
During some herxes, especially in the early days of treatment, you may not even be able to get out of bed. As time goes by and you’ve reduced your bacterial load, herxes will get shorter and more manageable. When you feel able to, five minutes rebounding can work wonders for a herx. It gets the lymph moving and helps your body to flush out the toxins naturally.
There are many, many diets out there that claim to be useful for those with Lyme. We don’t believe that one size fits all, but any diet you choose to follow should aim to reduce inflammation. This usually means avoiding sugar, dairy, gluten and processed foods.
The problem is, it’s not uncommon to crave all the wrong things when you’re herxing. I don’t think that this needs to be attributed to any strange medical condition. More often that not, it can simply be down to two things. Firstly, comfort. Sugary foods increase serotonin in the brain, which is the feel good chemical. It combats depression and anxiety. And secondly, perhaps our bodies just need energy.
Whilst it’s always going to be better to avoid sugary, carb laden foods when herxing, it’s definitely not something to beat yourself up about if you end up eating some cake!
All of these methods will aid with reducing the inflammation and toxins that are an unavoidable part of a herx. However, you can super power them by adopting a good treatment approach which aims to reduce inflammation is the best thing you can do to reduce the severity of your herxes. When you combine both prevention and cure you set yourself up for success.
Do you have any herx remedies I’ve not listed? I’d love to hear from you – let me know in the comments below!