by Jenny Lelwica Buttaccio
When people step into the world of chronic Lyme disease treatment, they’ll see the world “detox” mentioned in abundance. It’s probably not an unfamiliar term for the majority of people — many health and wellness trends hold detox as a core component.
But for the Lyme community, detox means something a little bit different, especially for those who have become well-acquainted with Jarisch-Herxheimer Reactions, or “herxing” for short. A Herxheimer Reaction in people with Lyme disease occurs when Borrelia bacteria are killed off by an antibiotic or herbal therapy, and parts of dead bacteria known as endotoxins are shed.
“These endotoxins then circulate throughout the body and cause an intense whole-body inflammatory reaction,” explains Dr. Bill Rawls, Medical Director of RawlsMD and Vital Plan. “Then, the war against microbes that’s already going on inside your body worsens for a time.”
But herxing isn’t the only time detoxing can be helpful for Lyme patients. A consistent detox practice can keep your body running as efficiently as possible, reduce inflammation, improve energy levels, decrease toxins like mold or heavy metals, and allow you to tolerate your treatment protocol.
Best of all, detoxing doesn’t have to cost copious amounts of money. Here are some ideas to detox better on the cheap.
1. Lemon Water
You’ll hear many Lyme patients mention lemon water as an integral part of their detox regimen. And fortunately, a pound of organic lemons costs just a few dollars.
Lemons stimulate the production of bile and help to cleanse your liver, which has the job of detoxifying chemicals and metabolizing drugs. Lemons also possess a unique trait: When you metabolize the fruit or juice, it becomes alkaline and helps to neutralize your body’s pH. That reduces acidity and balances your acid-alkaline levels, which many patients report reduces herxing.
To get the benefits, add a lemon wedge to hot or cold water and sip away. Afterwards, be sure to rinse out your mouth: over time, the acidity of the lemon may weaken your teeth’s enamel or contribute to sensitivity.
2. Herbal Teas
There are a variety of teas on the market at different price points that target areas that need additional detox support such as your liver and digestive tract. Drinking herbal teas will help you stay hydrated, another great way to detox by flushing out toxins. And they can supply you with easily-absorbable antioxidants to quell inflammation.
Whenever possible, purchase organic teas to reduce your exposure to pesticides and other toxic substances. A few detoxifying tea examples include:
- Milk thistle and dandelion root teas, which provide liver support.
- Peppermint and ginger teas can soothe an irritated digestive tract and reduce nausea.
- Chamomile, lavender, and lemon balm teas have calming properties to aid in a more restful night’s sleep.
- Licorice root and orange peel teas aid in combating fatigue, especially adrenal fatigue, minus the adrenaline rush that caffeine produces.
If you prefer to make your own beverages, try this simple, tasty home-brewed ginger tea recipe, courtesy of Emily Grimes, Manager of Community Engagement at Vital Plan.
- 1 large piece fresh ginger
- 1 gallon of filtered water
- 1 large bag of green or black tea (optional)
- Honey, stevia, or sweetener of choice (optional)
- Peel ginger using the back of a spoon to scrape off the thin peeling, then slice or chop it into small ½-inch chunks or thin ½-inch slices.
- Pour water into a large pot over high heat; add ginger pieces.
- Bring water to a boil, then reduce to a simmer for 10 minutes. Add tea bag for flavor, if desired.
- Allow tea to cool slightly, then strain into a large serving vessel; discard ginger pieces.
- Sweeten to taste with honey or stevia. Store in the refrigerator for up to 5 days.
Juicing with vegetables and low-sugar fruits can be a cost-effective way to provide your body with bioavailable nutrients while reducing your toxic burden. These antioxidant-rich foods help cleanse and sustain your organs. But high-sugar fruits like bananas, pineapples, and oranges can raise your blood sugar levels, so try to avoid those as best you can.
Top foods for juicing include:
- Leafy greens like spinach, kale, parsley, cilantro, and Swiss chard
- Vegetables, including celery, cucumber, a small carrot, beets, cabbage, and zucchini
- Low-sugar fruits such as green apples, lemons, limes, and berries
To get the most out of juicing, drink the juice within 20 minutes of making it for the most active phytonutrients and enzymes. When possible, use organic produce.
If juicing seems cost-prohibitive, considering doing it two or three times a week as opposed to daily, or look for cold-pressed juices at the grocery store and stock up when they go on sale. (My personal favorite detox juice is Suja’s Uber Greens from Target or Walmart, which tends to last a few weeks if left unopened.)
Toxin binders can be used to corral toxins from Lyme disease, coinfections, mold illness, and more. They assist your body by binding to toxins so they can be eliminated them more efficiently.
Several toxin binders are reasonably priced. In most cases, binders can’t differentiate between different kinds of substances, so don’t use them within two hours of taking any herbs, supplements, and medications to avoid preventing their absorption.
If there’s any confusion about what to take or how to take it, consult with your doctor before incorporating binders into your treatment.
For most people, activated charcoal is a relatively gentle supplement, and it doesn’t cost a fortune. It can bind to a wide range of toxins, and it helps you excrete them through the GI tract. Activated charcoal has a good safety record; hospitals and emergency rooms have used it for years to treat cases of poisoning in both children and adults.
Some people may experience constipation when taking activated charcoal or other toxin binders. When this happens, increasing your intake of magnesium, especially magnesium glycinate or citrate, can be useful to keep the digestive tract moving.
This nutrient-rich freshwater algae contains a spectrum of amino acids, iron, vitamins, and minerals. As a toxin binder, chlorella works particularly well for withdrawing heavy metals from your body. Pure chlorella can be purchased in the form of bulk powder, tablets, or capsules.
Because chlorella mobilizes metals, start slowly and gradually increase the dose to find the amount that feels best to you. Not only does chlorella bind to toxins, but it assists in healing and soothing the gut.
Contrary to activated charcoal, some individuals may experience loose stools from chlorella. If this happens to you, simply back off on the dose.
Originating from volcanic ash, bentonite clay is rich in minerals and has been used as a healing aid in many parts of the world since ancient times. You can purchase a bottle of it from most online retailers and local health food stores for less than $15.
In regards to detox, bentonite clay can be used in a variety of ways. First, you can dissolve it in water and drink it. Ingested, it acts as a toxin binder, soaking up endotoxins from Lyme and mold, heavy metals, and other undesirable materials. A review in the Iranian Journal of Public Health also suggests that bentonite clay may contain antimicrobial properties and provide vital nutrients to the gut to maintain a healthy microbiome.
Second, you can apply a bentonite clay paste to the skin. This draws out impurities that may be contributing to rashes, skin eruptions, and itching.
To date, there are no standardized dosing instructions for the clay, but large doses may cause side effects like an electrolyte imbalance and constipation. If you choose to use this product, it’s best to consult with your doctor for an individualized recommendation.
Additional Inexpensive Ways to Detox
Dry Skin Brushing
The skin is the largest organ of the body, so it’s only natural that is should be included as part of a well-rounded detox protocol. Enter dry skin brushing, the cost of which is roughly $20 for a long-handled brush made with natural bristles.
Dry skin brushing all over bare skin is a favorite technique by many Lyme patients to stimulate the drainage of the lymphatic system — a network of lymph tissues, organs, and fluids that expel waste and disseminate immune cells all through the body. Plus, dry skin brushing improves circulation, enhances skin tone, increases energy, and assists in unclogging the skin’s pores.
The key to dry brushing correctly is to begin on your extremities and brush towards the direction of your heart. For instance:
- Begin with one foot and brush both sides of it.
- Then, move up your leg, making sure to brush it from all sides.
- Repeat on the other leg.
- Once you’ve finished with your legs, move to your upper body.
- Choose one hand and brush both sides.
- Progress to the rest of your arm, always moving in the direction of your heart.
- Repeat on the other arm.
- Once you’ve finished your extremities, brush your abdomen, chest, and back to the best of your ability.
- Initially, your skin may be sensitive to brushing, so begin with a light touch and increase pressure to your preference.
- Finish the brushing session with a shower.
Epsom Salt Baths
Used in conjunction with dry skin brushing or on its own, Epsom salt baths are an economical way to decrease inflammation, lessen pain, and support liver and skin detoxification. The main component of Epsom salts is magnesium sulfate, a mineral known for its ability to calm the musculoskeletal and nervous systems.
Many Lyme patients use this mineral-rich salt to mitigate herxing during treatment. It is thought that magnesium sulfate absorbs through the skin and cleanses the liver by promoting bile production.
To reap the benefits of Epsom salts, add one to two cups to your bath and soak for 15 to 20 minutes. Note that some patients report feeling lightheaded following Epsom salt baths, a temporary reaction from magnesium and heat, which can lower blood pressure. If you’re concerned about low blood pressure due to Lyme or related conditions like POTS, you can try out Epsom salts in a foot soak instead of a full-body bath.
Exercise to Your Tolerance
Depending on the severity of your symptoms, exercise might be last on your list of ways to detox, and rightfully so. There are times when exercise isn’t an appropriate step for where you’re at in your healing.
However, if your symptoms are stable or improving, it’s probably time to add some movement into your daily routine. Exercise improves circulation, oxygenates your tissues, and enhances the work of the lymphatic system through muscle contractions. To cut down on the risk of exacerbating your symptoms, stick to low-impact exercises such as walking, yoga, Pilates, and qigong.
Though the initial cost of an infrared sauna may seem expensive, you’ll get your money’s worth with consistent use. (I’ve had mine for six years and use it two to three times per week.) Infrared saunas can assist with removal of heavy metals and other toxins through sweating, plus they help boost immune function and increase endorphin production.
“Heat remedies like infrared saunas are possibly the most precise way to raise your body temperature,” says Dr. Rawls. “You can regulate the temperature of the sauna so that it can be gradually increased as your tolerance to heat improves.”
But don’t hop in or zip yourself into one and expect to stay in it for 30 minutes right off the bat. Too much heat can worsen symptoms for a lot of people, so start with five minutes and slowly build up to 20 to 30 minutes. Also, remember to stay hydrated, and take a shower soon after getting out of the sauna to remove toxins that have accumulated on the skin.
Simple detox principles can be a boon for Lyme patients who often suffer from bodies that feel toxic. By implementing detoxification strategies regularly, you’ll slowly begin to feel better. You’ll likely notice you have less pain, better energy reserves, and improvements in sleep.
Ultimately, detoxing shouldn’t feel like a burden, so find strategies that fit into your daily life as opposed to making you feel more overwhelmed.
Dr. Rawls is a physician who overcame Lyme disease through natural herbal therapy. You can learn more about Lyme disease in Dr. Rawls’ new best selling book, Unlocking Lyme.
You can also learn about Dr. Rawls’ personal journey in overcoming Lyme disease and fibromyalgia in his popular blog post, My Chronic Lyme Journey.
1. Moosavi M. Bentonite Clay as a Natural Remedy: A Brief Review. Iranian Journal of Public Health. 2017 Sep; 46(9): 1176–1183.
2. Zellner T, Prasa D, Färber E, Hoffmann-Walbeck P, Genser D, Eyer F. The Use of Activated Charcoal to Treat Intoxications. Deutsches Ärzteblatt International. 2019 May; 116(18): 311–317. doi: 10.3238/arztebl.2019.0311