If you’ve never experienced a herx reaction, you are very fortunate. It totally stinks, to put it mildly.
I’m in the midst of one right now, thanks to cilantro, and while I see the light at the end of the tunnel, and learned a very valuable life lesson on detoxing, this is not something I’d wish on anyone.
It started about a week and a half ago, when I decided to make a delicious pineapple mango cilantro salsa for dinner, knowing that I would be the only one to eat it, as Mr. Hippie isn’t a big fan of pineapple or cilantro. Still, I thought, no problem! More for me. As I absolutely love cilantro, I decided what the heck, I’m going to put the entire bunch in. Now, cilantro is a wonderful plant for adding flavor to food. It is also a powerful herb, one of the best at mobilizing heavy metals in the body. So much so, that many herbalists recommend women avoid it completely during pregnancy, especially if they have any amalgam fillings (the silver ones) in their teeth. I’m not pregnant or planning to be, and I had my fillings replaced back in 2012, after which I spent a good year and a half doing a nice slow detox.
So I went ahead and made the delicious dish (modified recipe below), and had a small portion with my yummy taco salad dinner. No problemo. The next day I decided to make a meal out of the rest of it, so down it went, all in one sitting. An entire bunch, around 100g, of fresh cilantro. Delicious! But had I known the consequences, I would have seriously paced myself with that dish. Not soon after, I got a splitting headache. The kind that puts you down for the rest of the day, in bed, lights off. I also felt feverish and almost tingly, like hypersensitive all over. I just could not get warm.
Why, body, why?
The headache went away by the next day with some help from magnesium and a touch of caffeine. But I noticed in the morning, my blood sugar seemed really low; I was shaky and slightly dizzy. Eating helped, but the slightly dizzy spells continued on and off all day. Even just sitting still without provocation, I’d get vertigo for a few seconds. At this point I didn’t really understand what was going on with my body, and got more and more concerned that something was seriously wrong with me. I hadn’t put the connection together yet.
4 days out and I was really starting to freak out in my mind. The symptoms; tingly hands and feet, heart palpitations, shakes, vertigo, and now feelings of panic and anxiety were really starting to concern me. Never Google your symptoms, it always ends in bad news.Just don’t do it. Diabetes? Adrenal cancer? Liver cancer? Brain tumor? That night I barely slept. I had such a horrible case of anxiety that I thought I was going to have to be admitted to the psych center of my local hospital. I’ve had sleepless nights before, up worrying about some big even coming up, just like anyone else, but this was on an entirely different level. You know that thing that sometimes happens, just as you are almost asleep and something jolts you awake, you take a giant breath, your heart pounds, and you have that overwhelming wave of adrenaline before realizing it was nothing and going back to sleep? Try doing that every 20 minutes for almost the entire night. It’s like my body just would not let me rest, despite feeling exhausted, and not really having anything to be anxious about, other than my own body betraying me. It was awful. I have such a deep compassion now for anyone suffering from anxiety and panic attacks.
Darn you, Jarisch and Herxheimer.
I finally managed to get a few hours of sleep in the early morning. It was only by the grace of God and some strong herbs that I managed to make it through that night. Now those of you that know me well, know I’m a fighter and don’t stay down long. I don’t play the self-pity game, but I accept my challenge, and form a game plan to get though. And the next day did just that. I started thinking about what could really be causing this and it finally dawned on me. Jarisch-Herxheimer. Two dudes that originally studied a set of symptoms that came as a result of treating syphilis with penicillin in the late 1800’s. The die-off of the bacteria caused a large amount of toxins to be released, so much so that the body was unable to remove them quickly enough and the result was a series of incredibly painful symptoms.
“Herxing” is now use to describe any massive detoxing that causes similar symptoms. Mostly these days it’s candida die off or heavy metal detoxing, like what I am going through. Typical signs of a healing crisis, or herx reaction, are flu-like symptoms, skin eruptions and rashes, brain fog, memory loss, muscle and joint aches and pains, fever, heart palpitations, cold-like symptoms, hair loss, anxiety and other mood disorders, and severe fatigue and can last quite a while if the healing process isn’t slowed to a more manageable rate.
Fortunately, I’m fairly well versed in detoxing and herxing, and once the light bulb went off, knew immediately that was the cause of my symptoms, as well as how to treat it.
Holy Mercury, Batman!
The massive intake of cilantro caused a huge mobilization of mercury that had previously been stashed safely away in my fat tissue. When the body is exposed to heavy metals, through diet intake, vaccinations, or environmental exposure, it has a very precise system for protecting itself. Ideally, a proper diet would aid tremendously in chelating (binding) and removal, but let’s face it, proper diet, is a difficult thing these days, and I’ll be honest, I’d been eating absolutely horribly lately. When the body can’t remove heavy metals quick enough, it tries to neutralize it in other ways, like storing it in fat cells. (Having trouble losing weight despite diet and exercise? Your body might be trying to protect itself from whatever toxins may be stored in your fat cells.)
Danger, Will Robinson!
Having no way to remove all that mobilized mercury, my body went into emergency mode. Brain protection first, then other organs, then the remaining tissue preferentially. Oh I forgot to mention the…digestive troubles that go along with the attempt to remove the toxins. Fun times.
While I wish I would have realized what I’d done sooner, as I have no doubt I’ve reabsorbed some of the mercury, I’m glad I caught it and know how to handle it.
In addition to a strict clean eating change, lots of filtered water, and fruits and veggies for fiber, I’m on a number of herbs and supplements designed to bind and remove heavy metals, without mobilizing anymore. I can do that, at a much slower pace, down the road. I don’t take all of these all at once, and some I only take once a day, depending on what else I’m taking and when. I’m really hitting this thing hard, to minimize the damage, and recover quickly.
Herbs and supplements to bind heavy metals:
Algaes, like spirulina, blue-green, and chlorella (also high in nutrients), taken 30 minutes before eating.
Selenium, with food.
Activated charcoal, taken right before sleeping as it binds to everything, good and bad.
Bentonite clay, taken with the charcoal, right before bed, similar principle.
Probiotics, something everyone should be taking, all the time.
Herbs and supplements for support and healing:
Vitamin C, high dose, after eating.
Magnesium glycinate, for tremors, heart palpitations, anxiety symptoms.
5-HTP Power, a blend of B6, 5-HTP, and adaptogenic herbs, for anxiety and sleep.
B-Complex, for brain protection, anxiety.
Adaptogenic herbs (Kava kava, lobelia, Ashwaganda), for anxiety, adrenal protection, sleep.
Valerian, for sleep.
Chamomile tea, for sleep.
Dandelion root tea, for kidney and liver protection and support.
Milk thistle, for liver protection and support.
Ahhh, sweet relief. Almost.
I noticed a difference the first day of taking the additional supplements, and have been able to sleep decently since. I still have occasional waves of adrenaline throughout the day, but I’m able to get through them with some deep breathing, prayer, and distraction. And the frequency is declining every day that progresses, as are the shakes, blood sugar crashes, and fatigue. I also haven’t noticed any significant brain fogginess, which is a good sign. I used to experience that pretty badly before having my fillings replaced.
How did this happen anyway?
So you might be wondering how I even got that much mercury in my body to begin with? Well, it doesn’t take a lot to build up, and if your diet isn’t great with the fiber (think fruits and veggies), or foods like cilantro, then it’s pretty easy to build up. Like I said before, bodies are designed to handle a bit of it, as it is naturally occurring in the environment, but the danger lies in all the additional exposures. Amalgam fillings will easily leach out mercury, especially when exposed to things like acids (think soda pop). Many flu vaccines have mercury (thimerosal) added as a preservative. Environmental exposure from industry, fossil fuels, and vehicle exhaust are ever increasing. And this increase is contaminating waterways, which means, fish and other seafood, can also be a big source. This was one of the biggest sources for me fairly recently, as I participated in a mercury study by eating a large amount of fish, 3 weeks in a row, with a set amount of mercury closely approaching the EPA safety limit. I thought I had taken precautions to prevent absorption at the time, eating it with selenium and probiotics, doing a detox after the study was done, and in fact, my blood levels were tested just 3 months ago and were extremely low, so it’s quite possible it was previous exposure and not the recent research study that did it. I will know more once the study is done and they release my before, during, and after levels.
So there you have it. As they say, you CAN have too much of a good thing.
The good coming out of this is the life lesson, and experience of a seriously horrible herx reaction, the reminder of how to properly detox from heavy metals, and increased empathy for anyone suffering from debilitating anxiety. More ways for me to connect with clients looking to heal their bodies naturally.
Oh, sweet Cilantro, I still love you.
Oh and in case you haven’t totally been turned off from cilantro (I still love it), here’s the recipe, it really is delicious.
- One whole organic pineapple; peeled, cored, and chunked.
- One whole organic mango; peeled, and chunked.
- One small red onion; minced.
- One jalapeno pepper; deseeded, finely minced.
- 2 tbsp of finely chopped, fresh organic cilantro.
- Juice of one lime.
- 1 tbsp of coconut aminos, organic tamari sauce, or organic soy sauce (optional, adds salty umami).
- Mix all ingredients together, well. Serve chilled.
- Resist the urge to add in the entire bunch of cilantro. Just don't do it. Unless you've been consuming loads of it for a long time prior to this recipe. Then you will probably be fine. Probably.