Going Vegan, Ep. 18: Getting sick and the mystical “healing crisis”

 In lifestyle

cleanseI noticed I was feeling a little sick.  The left tonsil (still got ‘em) felt swollen.

“Apparently begin vegan doesn’t mean you don’t get sick,” observes Alan cutely.

“Apparently not,” I say.  “But maybe I’m detoxing.  When you eat better, an the fat starts to melt away, bad stuff that was stored in there starts to come out of you.”

He looks unconvinced, “Maybe.”

“It’s a healing crisis,” I insist.  “All the toxins in your cells come out and you feel bad for a day or two and then you get better.”

“Or maybe being vegan has weakened your immune system and you just got a cold.”

I pause.  I have to do some research on this.

Some naturopathic websites extol the “healing crisis” as a sign that you’re actually improving your health:

  • The healing crisis is a process in which the body undergoes an intense period of cleansing and rebuilding.  It is called a “healing” crisis because the body is healing itself and becoming stronger.  It is referred to as a “crisis” because the symptoms can be dramatic and rather unpleasant during this time.  Because the healing crisis is accompanied by unpleasant symptoms it is often mistaken as a sickness.  In reality, it is just the opposite.  It is a process in which the body is overcoming ill health and becoming healthier and stronger.”
  • “Also known as the “Herxheimer Reaction”, this reaction occurs when the body tries to eliminate toxins at a faster rate than they can be properly disposed of. The more toxic one’s bodily systems are, the more severe the detoxification, or healing crisis. It is characterized by a temporary increase in symptoms during the cleansing or detox process which may be mild or severe. You may feel worse and therefore conclude that the treatment is not working. But these reactions are instead signs that the treatment is working and that your body is going through the process of cleaning itself of impurities, toxins and imbalances.”
  • A healing crisis is the body’s sign of being overloaded and overwhelmed with the changes that are taking place on the road to becoming healthier.  This is often due to the body suddenly recognizing and eliminating toxins that otherwise had just been sitting there.  Donna Gates in The Body Ecology Dietrefers to healing crises as something that the body does as it’s organizing a major cleanse:

The first time I saw a healing crisis was when I put my daughter on a gluten free casein free diet (prior to GAPS); one of her cheeks turned bright red with the removal of gluten, which was acting like a toxin (or feeding toxins) in her body.  As we went through the GAPS Intro I saw the same red cheeks.  When I started her on B12 injections (B12 plays a huge roll in detoxification, which many GAPS kids have trouble with) she got night terrors/has trouble sleeping.  Night terrors and trouble sleeping are other signs of her healing crises, though these also are signs that she’s gotten food she shouldn’t have or has been exposed to a toxin.  This is where it gets tricky figuring out what is what.”

Okay, this last one freaked me out.  Seriously, there’s a mom taking her kid off gluten and giving her B12 injections?  Maybe the kid is hungry and doesn’t like being stuck with a needle?

So, what is the medical opinion on healing crises?

Hmmmm, I couldn’t find any.

That made me nervous.

I asked my nurse friend Ashley about it.

“I don’t know about this healing crisis thing,” I said.  “Am I detoxing here or do I just have a cold.”

“It shouldn’t make you sick,” Ashley said, “your body’s major routes for detoxing are breathing, urination, and defecation.”

I blinked.  “Not sweating?  Yoga teachers talk all the time about the detoxifying properties of sweating.”

She shook her head, “Sure, but that’s mostly salt.  Sweating’s good for your circulation.  And yeah, sure, stuff can get stored in your fat, but I don’t buy the healing crisis thing.”

The more I thought about it, the less sense it made.  It seemed to me that if your body was being properly supported by your diet and your nutrition, then it would feel better, not worse.  If you went off of caffeine, you likely just felt worse because you were having withdrawal symptoms or because your body was was getting used to a new diet.  This train of thought of course brought to mind the obsession with doing “cleanses.”  More on that later.

So what exactly is “detoxification?”   And what exactly are we detoxing from?  While “Detoxification” has become a buzz word for alternative health, that also doesn’t diminish the fact that we are truly exposed to a crazy number of chemicals that are probably not good for us.

Here’s the answer on our toxin exposure in part.  And a fairly sensible sounding article from the Huffington Post about “detoxing.”

 

 

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  • maili

    Rachel, I haven’t been sick in 7 months. I have spent two days with no caffeine or sugar and I have a very sore throat, phlegm and a headache. Every time I have cleansed with a few rare exceptions this is my physiological response. My macrobiotic friends call it a discharge. Phlegm is also a bodies method of discharge, hence the cold.

  • Rachel

    Hi Maili!
    Cleaning up our diets from caffeine and sugar is an excellent thing – no doubt! Interesting to hear about your phlegmy reaction and cold. I know I have withdrawal symptoms from caffeine as well when I get rid of it. I suppose what I worry about is people not treating themselves well and then excusing it with “it’s a healing crisis.” Or not eating at all during a cleanse, which I don’t think is good for us. Thanks for adding that piece of the puzzle, Maili, that makes sense~ xo

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