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Can a Detox Feel Worse Before It Feels Better?

Don’t Give Up in a Healing Crisis

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A detox can bring past symptoms to the surface. Listen to your body and your practitioner to work through the detox healing crisis to attain balance.

If you’re planning on detoxing or have just started, your body may experience what is known as a healing crisis. Early in the process, your body may feel worse than when you started.

What is a Healing Crisis?

The lack of formal research means there’s a lot we don’t know about healing crises—what causes them and what is actually happening in the body during one. The concept, however, is simple: You might feel worse before you feel better. Dr. Alana Hendrickson, ND, explains it as a return of old symptoms the body had previously suppressed.

“It doesn’t always make sense,” Hendrickson says. “That’s part of the reason why there’s not a lot of research or evidence backing this up.” Anecdotally, Hendrickson and many others in the naturopathy and alternative medicine world have noticed the pattern of a temporary worsening of symptoms as part of the body’s healing process.

[Read: “Are You Having a Healing Crisis?”]

“Often we don't realize that medications, drugs, steroids, addictions, habits can actually suppress disease in the body. This pushes the disease process deeper,” Hendrickson explains. Sometimes when we enter the healing process, these suppressed symptoms resurface. For example, an old rash might resurface when you start a detox. “It won't last very long (usually 24-72 hours tops). If you can trust this process, the disease will clear; if you reach for the steroid cream again, it will suppress it deeper.”

A Detox Healing Crisis

When Hendrickson herself underwent a detox, she experienced a healing crisis. She relates, “When I started doing some deep detoxification, probably about five or six years back, I had a return of acne that I had when I was a teenager. I was on birth control when I was younger to clear that, and it suppressed it.”

As an adult, when she began her detox process, the acne returned. Hendrickson explains, “My body had to push through that process. It lasted for me only a couple weeks. I didn’t feel great in that time, and it made me freak out and want to stop what I was doing because my skin was breaking out.”

While the exact symptoms may differ, Hendrickson has observed her detoxing patients experiencing a similar pattern. “Oftentimes I see people who are making really big diet changes. They’re getting rid of so much crap, so many toxins, and they’re really cleaning things up, and I’ll see that there’s a shift.”

Detox Healing Crisis Symptoms and Effects

Common symptoms Hendrickson sees in patients who are undergoing a detox include a return of acne and skin rashes (eczema, psoriasis). “Other less-common symptoms could be muscle aches and pains, sore throats, cystitis, fevers, headaches, joint pain. Even digestive symptoms—sometimes the body is clearing bacteria from the gut,” she says.

The effects can also be emotional, associated with what we were feeling at the time when we first experienced those symptoms. This is also part of the healing process. Hendrickson explains that these emotions “can provide great insight into belief systems that need to change around what might be holding us in this state of being (physical or mental emotional).”

Often our response to these symptoms is to question the detox because we’re uncomfortable. But Hendrickson reminds us that discomfort may be part of the healing process.

“In our culture, we’re taught that being uncomfortable is something we shouldn’t experience, but it’s a part of life. You’ve got to go through those tough times, and you have to trust that the body can heal itself,” Hendrickson says. “It knows what it needs to do to reach a new balance. Trust that. I even catch myself sometimes thinking, ‘What can I next put into my body to make it better?' When really a lot of times it’s about removing things.” That’s exactly what detoxing does—removes toxins and things that the body may have grown used to but that are actually weighing us down.

What to Do If You’re Experiencing a Healing Crisis

Hendrickson advises that if you’re experiencing detox healing crisis symptoms, “Find ways to support the body.” Rest and plenty of fluids are important. “I find herbs are a great support through a healing crisis. Lots of water, herbs, rest.” She also recommends hydrotherapy, applying hot or cold water to the affected area.

You may just need to sit tight and trust that the symptoms are temporary. Staying in touch with your practitioner will help you discern whether what you’re experiencing is due to a healing crisis or if it might be something else.

Most of all, trust that your body knows what it’s doing. “The body is always trying to find a balance so that you can function and move forward in life,” says Hendrickson. A detox-induced healing crisis is part of the body’s “surrender and removing of obstacles to cure.”

Discover how to be your own healing crisis guide.