Severe chronic multi-system diseases are difficult to treat. The idea that as a patient you would try a lot of different treatments one by one, discarding those that make you feel more ill and continuing with those which decrease symptoms or disability, seems like a ‘no brainer.’
Unfortunately, due to something known as a ‘healing reaction’ the problem is not at all that simple.
Many different nutrients and therapies can cause problematic symptoms and side effects which are an indication that the treatment is not a good fit for you and should be discontinued.
However, some supplements and therapies may also provoke symptoms which are not merely annoying side-effects but instead healing reactions that are a very good indication that the nutrient or therapy is working and doing what it is supposed to.
It may seem counter-intuitive but this means that feeling somewhat worse after starting a new treatment is not always a bad sign. Sometimes, it is a very good sign and even an essential sign that deep healing is occurring.
Healing reactions can be caused by treatments which fix nutrient deficiencies, promote detoxification, the clearing of infections or which allow various enzyme reactions to take place which were not possible before or by anything that helps the body to heal and to function better.
The symptoms of healing reactions can include muscle cramps and spasms, aches and pains, rashes, strange odours and tastes, heart palpitations and blood pressure changes, tiredness, gastrointestinal or bowel changes, foggy thinking, headache and nausea, or a worsening of the illness generally. The symptoms of a healing reaction can be very varied.
Minimising healing reactions
To slow down a healing reaction, cut right back on the treatment causing the problem or stop it entirely until you’re feeling better. Gentle long-term detoxification is much safer.
Dedicated detoxification regimes, for example involving sauna use, can be made much safer if all vitamin and mineral deficiencies (including trace mineral deficiencies) are assessed and dealt with BEFORE treatment begins. So this is a vital first step! It is also important to treat a ‘leaky gut’ before starting a detoxification regime.
To make treatment safer still, tests such as the ‘Detoxification Profile’ can be run to check whether you have any problems with your detoxification pathways that could be fixed before treatment begins.
The work of detoxifying uses up and depletes nutrients. For example, for every molecule of a chemical detoxified you lose one molecule of glutathione and one molecule of ATP. So it is also important to make sure you take some phase I and phase II detoxification supports as well as general mitochondrial supports when you are detoxifying.
Phase I detoxification involves mobilisation of toxin and phase II involves the elimination of the mobilised toxins. If phase I is powering along and phase II is weak, you will feel very ill as your body will be flooded with mobilised toxins that your body cannot excrete.
Phase II detoxification supports include the B vitamins, vitamin C, selenium, zinc, magnesium, glycine, cruciferous vegetables, onions, garlic, curcumin, EGCG, Isothiocyanates, taurine, Quercetin, calcium d-glucarate, amino acids and ellagic acid. The most essential phase II support is glutathione (GSH) which is most effective taken in a liposomal form. Extra protein may also be needed in the diet when detoxifying heavy metals.
Having at least 2 bowel movements daily is essential during any detoxification program. Extra support can also be given to the liver during detoxification by taking Silymarin and by having daily or regular enemas. Daily enemas are said to stop a detoxification reaction cold and many patients find them absolutely essential for dealing with healing reactions and pain.
It is very important to rest even more than usual when you are doing something that will likely cause healing reactions. The body needs all the energy and resources it can get in order to heal well. It is also important not to start doing a lot more if your healing program is working and you are feeling more well, this extra energy should be saved as much as possible for more healing.
What is a ‘Herxheimer’ reaction?
The Herxheimer reaction is an excretion of toxins from dying organisms (eg. Candida), sometimes called a ‘die off’ reaction. This reaction occurs when toxins and wastes are being released faster than the body can eliminate them.
In the case of an anti-Candida regimen, it is the waste products produced from the Candida Albican fungus dying off. Herx or die-off symptoms can include nausea, flu-like symptoms, sweating and headaches and generally just feeling very ‘off’ or ‘poisoned’ and unwell. Both body and brain can be affected. People with M.E. are particularly vulnerable to this as their livers may not be working efficiently and also because their bodies are already so dysfunctional (e.g. mitochondrial, central nervous system, brain and cardiac dysfunction). Warm baths, a detoxification bath, extra rest, extra vitamin C supplements and drinking more water may help.
Healing reaction or a new symptom?
It can be very difficult to tell at time if a new symptom or worsening of the illness is a healing reaction or is ‘just’ a new symptom or a worsening of the illness generally.
The easiest way to tell if it is a new treatment causing a problem is to stop the treatment and see what happens. When this is done and the treatment is at fault, the symptoms will often resolve within a matter of days. The exception to this is fat-soluble supplements such as lipoic acid, fish oil and vitamins A, D and E. Fat soluble supplements take much longer to leave the system and so it is always a good idea to go even more slowly than usual when upping your dose of these substances.
If you are much more ill than you would usually be with no reason for it evident then strongly suspect a healing reaction (or perhaps the onset of a cold or flu).
Dr Lawrence Wilson suggests asking yourself the following 5 questions in order to work out if you are experiencing a healing reaction or a worsening of your illness. These excellent questions were written in regard to sauna therapy only, but may also apply to some extent to other treatments as well.
1. Have you been following the sauna, diet and rest program fully? If so, a healing reaction is more likely, as the body will have everything it needs in order to detoxify.
2. Were you feeling better right before you felt worse? Healing reactions require energy. Energy often increases on a healing program until it is sufficient to initiate a reaction. Often a reaction occurs just when you are feeling stronger.
3. Did the symptom ever occur in the past? If so, a healing reaction is more likely as old symptoms often recur during sauna therapy.
4. Is the symptom odd or unusual? Sauna therapy can cause odd symptoms or odd combinations of symptoms quite different to what you would usually expect of your primary disease. Toxins are layered in the body at a cellular level. Some are more deeply buried than others. Rather than selecting one mineral to detoxify, saunas respect the body’s wisdom and natural order in removing toxins. This is a much safer if slower approach and means that what is being detoxified may vary from one day to the next.
5. How long has the symptom persisted? Healing reactions will usually only last a few days or at most, a week or two. A reaction lasting more than 2 weeks is less likely to be a healing reaction. The exception to this is when retracing a very chronic or deep-seated condition, which could take weeks or even months.
Healing reaction or inappropriate treatment?
Working out if a treatment is making you feel more ill because it is causing a healing reaction or because you are allergic or intolerant of it in some way can sometimes be difficult.
Whether or not it makes sense to persevere depends on a number of factors including how essential the nutrient is to life and to health and how likely it is that you could be allergic to it or react badly to it. None of the herbs that can be taken medicinally are essential to life and so they should not be given as much attention as all the basic vitamins and minerals, for example. Knowing as much as possible about each treatment is very helpful here.
As one example, feeling worse while taking vitamin C is almost certainly going to be due to a healing reaction. We need vitamin C to live, it’s absolutely essential. Vitamin C experts have commented that while some patients need to raise the dose very, very slowly, true vitamin C allergy or intolerance does not exist. (Very rarely a problem with corn-sourced vitamin C may occur in individuals very sensitive to corn which may require substitution with a non-corn-sourced vitamin C product.)
Feeling very ill after starting a small dose of vitamin C may even be an indication that there is a HUGE need for this substance. So feeling worse at the beginning of taking vitamin C is going to be very common, and these symptoms are absolutely worth persevering with, although the dose should always be raised very slowly so that symptoms stay mild. It may also be worth experimenting with different brands in case one of the fillers used in making the vitamin C tablets is the real cause of the problem.
If at all possible dedicated detoxification regimes should always be done with the help of an experienced medical professional. Detoxifying faster than your body can cope with can make you feel very ill and can also be dangerous, even fatal. It is a serious business.
Some bad reactions may be able to be stopped with extra vitamin C. If serious symptoms persist, medical attention should be sought.
Dedicated detoxification programs should not be attempted by the very severely ill and should be delayed until some extra strength returns. The best way to tackle treatments which lead to healing reactions is slowly and surely. If you are very ill and vulnerable to relapse (as are M.E. patients very often), this goes double!
Detoxify or Die by Dr Sherry Rogers
The Healing Crisis by Bruce Fife
Sauna Therapy for Detoxification and Healing by Dr Laurence Wilson
Deep Healing Versus Symptom Removal and The Emergency Health Paradigm Versus Nutritional Balancing by Dr Lawrence Wilson.
Ascorbate: The Science of Vitamin C by Dr. Hickey and Dr. Roberts
Principles That Identify Orthomolecular Medicine by R. Kunin, MD
Orthomolecular Medicine - Revisited by Ray C. Wunderlich, Jr., M.D.
Fire Your Doctor! How to Be Independently Healthy by Andrew W. Saul
How to live longer and feel better by Linus Pauling
Doctor yourself : natural healing that works by Andrew W. Saul
Curing the Incurable: Vitamin C, Infectious Diseases, and Toxins by Dr Thomas E. Levy
GSH: Master Defender Against Disease, Toxins and Ageing by Dr T. Levy
Dr. Atkins' Vita-Nutrient Solution: Nature's Answer to Drugs by Robert C. Atkins
Foods and Supplements to Balance Phase 1 and Phase 2 Liver Detoxification and Pathological Detoxifiers and Environmental Illness and Detoxification Profile Results - The Pathological Detoxifier and Chronic Illness from the EI Illness Resource Blog
Good Health in the 21st Century by Carole Hungerford
Juicing, Fasting and Detoxing for Life by Cherie Calbom
Optimal Nutrition for Optimal Health by Thomas E. Levy
Our Toxic World: A Wake Up Call by Doris J. Rapp
The Ascorbate Effect in Infectious and Autoimmune Diseases by Robert F. Cathcart, M.D.
The Detoxification Enzyme Systems by Frank M. Painter, D.C.
The Healing Factor: Vitamin C Against Disease by Irwin Stone
VITAMIN C, TITRATING TO BOWEL TOLERANCE, ANASCORBEMIA, AND ACUTE INDUCED SCURVY Robert F. Cathcart, III, M.D.
VITAMIN C: The Real Story by Steve Hickey, PhD and Andrew Saul
Note that the aim of this site is to provide a starting point for health and healing research for ill people; especially very overwhelmed and disabled ill people. This site provides recommendations, summaries and reviews of books but is not meant to be a replacement for actually reading some of these wonderful health books if the reader is at all well enough to do so. (Plus getting individualised advice from a doctor that is also an orthomolecular medicine expert if possible). There is no substitute for reading as many of these books as you can. The HHH site can only really hint at their full brilliance. The amount of insight, scientific references, logic, intelligence, compassion and experience in the recommended books will most likely amaze you. HHH aims to encourage people to do their own reading and learning, and to always make up their own minds. All content copyright Jodi Bassett 2006 - 2014.