Avoid a Detox Crisis! Common Snags and How to Dodge Them

Functional Medicine Doctor By Isaac Eliaz, M.D., M.S., LAc
Functional Medicine Doctor
Isaac Eliaz, M.D., M.S., LAc is a respected author, lecturer, researcher, and clinical practitioner. He is the founder and medical director of Amitabha Medical Clinic in Santa Rosa, California. He received his M.D. from Sackler Medical School in Tel Aviv University, Israel and his M.S. in Traditional Chinese Medicine from the American College of Traditional Chinese Medicine.

As natural health enthusiasts, we all love the idea of total-body cleansing and detox, right?

Well, maybe not.

While the popularity of detox kits continues to climb, many people have found that the promises fall short. Instead of greater energy, vitality and weight loss as advertised on these programs, often we just feel worse.


Healing Crisis. Detox Reaction. Herxheimer Reaction. This is what you will hear from cleanse experts to describe uncomfortable side effects that can occur when we rapidly detoxify chemicals, heavy metals and accumulated wastes from tissues and cells.

Serious headaches, confusing mental fog, insomnia, constipation or digestive upset, lethargy, respiratory problems and others all fall under this category of symptoms.

“Just get through this initial phase and you’ll feel much better,” we’re told.

“Stop!” you say after a few days. “I just can’t deal with it!”

And you shouldn’t have to! Painful reactions are not part of a healthy, gentle and supportive cleanse. In fact, they can do a lot of harm, particularly in the elderly or people with long term health issues.

How to Avoid a Detox Crisis

The good news is you can largely avoid these negative effects by adhering to some key principles and moving at a gradual pace. After all, toxins may have been stored in your tissues for years, so you can’t expect them to be easily eliminated with a quick-fix, weekend program.

When done correctly, however, a gentle detox program safely and effectively removes heavy metals, toxins and waste from the body, resulting in numerous benefits including:

  • Better digestion
  • Stronger immunity
  • Healthier circulation
  • Pain-free joints and muscles
  • Greater energy
  • Improved mental clarity and emotional balance
  • Increased sense of wellbeing

Even better, a healthy cleanse can be an enjoyable and uplifting experience on all levels, free of discomfort or the dreaded “detox crises.”

Here are some common obstacles that can get in the way of a successful cleanse, and the best strategies to overcome them.

Pitfall #1: Detoxing too quickly. 

This is the most common problem with detoxing. Toxins are “quick-released” into the circulation, and the body’s elimination systems become overburdened, causing reactions such as headaches, fatigue, digestive discomfort and others.

Certain extreme cleanse supplements, and some treatments, as well as rapid weight loss, can facilitate the release of too many toxins from organs and tissues all at once. The resulting discomfort can lead many people to discontinue the detox process, leaving pollutants to circulate freely in the blood stream. This can be really detrimental to health.

How to Avoid This: Begin cleansing gradually. Slowly transition your diet away from processed foods, cooked oils, alcohol and caffeine. Emphasize vegetables, fiber, and nutrient dense whole foods in their natural form. Then, you can begin taking gentle detoxification supplements which clear toxins from the digestive tract and circulation.

In my practice, I rely on a combination of the natural ingredients modified citrus pectin and sodium alginates, which promote the safe removal of heavy metals and environmental toxins from the digestive tract and circulation. These gentle cleansers do not disrupt essential mineral levels or cause uncomfortable side effects.

Medicinal mushrooms such as Reishi, Cordyceps, Tremella, Coriolus, Maitake and others are also excellent introductory detox agents. In addition to gently removing toxins from digestion and circulation, they help support numerous systems in the body and increase immunity and vitality, all crucial during a cleanse.

After a period of 1 to 3 weeks, you can incorporate more powerful detoxification ingredients and extracts, such as Alpha Lipoic Acid, cilantro, dandelion leaf, milk thistle seed, goldenrod, N-acetyl cysteine, Oregon grape root and others. These detoxifying agents help to pull toxins from organs and tissues, support our natural elimination systems, increase vital energy and protect against inflammation and free radicals.

Pitfall #2: Getting dehydrated

Even the most health-conscious people can become easily dehydrated in just a short time. During detoxification, this situation can drastically worsen. Your body needs a lot of extra hydration to flush out toxins and keep the bowels moving efficiently. Otherwise, waste products are stuck in transit, causing numerous uncomfortable symptoms and increasing your toxic body burden.

How to Avoid This: Drink up to a gallon of filtered water (can include herbal teas) daily, throughout the duration of your cleanse. Vegetable broths that are free of additional salt can also help hydrate and nourish. Hot water with lemon is an excellent cleansing and hydrating beverage to support numerous areas of health. Avoid regular table salt and dehydrated foods, as both are very drying.

Pitfall #3: Out-of-control cravings!

Just finding the discipline to follow a detox program is often the biggest hurdle. Even the most diligent health conscious people can succumb to the unending list of temptations. But remember this: If you stray away from your program, don’t be hard on yourself! You can always start again.

How to break the cycle: For many of us, it only takes a few days of a healthy detox diet before our bodies and minds hunger for healthier foods. But sometimes, our sweet tooth feels more like a gnawing, raging beast! Fear not. Specific botanicals and nutrients can help balance blood sugar and curb cravings. Chromium polynicotinate, alpha lipoic acid, L-glutamine, fenugreek seed, astragalus, ginseng and others can all help to balance blood glucose and reduce cravings for sugary and unhealthy foods.

What You Need: Time, Space and Loving Support. 

It’s also very important to get regular exercise and practice healthy stress relief, such as meditation and deep breathing, to help detoxify any mental or emotional roadblocks which often come up during a cleanse.

Above all, take it slow and honor yourself with time, space and gentle loving support. Together, these simple guidelines can help your cleanse lift you to a greater plateau of health and vitality. It can even be something you love to do!

Ready to learn how to fight inflammation and address autoimmune disease through the power of food? Join our 5-Day Inflammation Video Summit with mindbodygreen’s top doctors.

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