Fermented Veggies and a Herxheimer’s Reaction

by Claire

The more I investigate Candida and gut health, the more I am convinced that many of my symptoms point to a bacterial imbalance in my gut. “Your gut is much more than a food processing tube — it houses about 85 percent of your immune system. This is in large part due to the 100 trillion bacteria that live there, both good and bad that can stimulate secretory IgA to nourish your immune response.” [1] My lovely brother and his fiancée have also been doing their own investigation into digestive health, and brought over a jar of cultured fennel for me to try. pat's veg

Fermented vegetables have a heap of health benefits. They are preserved when the starches and sugars in vegetables and fruits are converted to lactic acid by the many species of lactic-acid-producing bacteria or lactobacilli.[2] This action breaks down the food and makes the nutrients more readily available to the body. The bacteria also produce B vitamins and enzymes that are beneficial for digestion as well as antibiotic and anticarcenogenic substances. Dr. Mercola recommends starting with a teaspoon daily as too large a portion may provoke a healing crisis, which occurs when the probiotics kill off pathogens in your gut.”[3] Little did I know this when I ate a heaped tablespoon at lunch and again at dinner that night.

The sweats started at about 8.00pm. I spent a sleepless night as pain wracked my body and I alternately wished I wouldn’t vomit, and then wished I could just so it would be over. I spent the morning shivering and shaking on the couch, too dizzy to walk far, with headaches that shot up the back of my skull but only lasted for a few minutes. I was confused and upset and very sensitive – to light, sound, movement and very emotionally sensitive. (Crying, complaining, irritable, needy – I was such a delight!)

This ‘healing crisis’ is a Jarisch-Herxheimer Reaction, and I got it bad. When bacteria die, they release endotoxins.[4] These endotoxins are attacked by the body’s immune system, which causes the symptoms of a Herxheimer’s Reaction. This can happen in any case where an anti-fungal, anti-viral or anti-biotic medication is being taken, or when something occurs to cause the death of a large number of cells in the body.

Symptoms of a Herxheimer’s Reaction can include “increased fatigue, joint or muscle pain, skin rashes, photosensitivity, irritability, paresthesia, dizziness, sleep disturbances, asthenia, muscle cramps, night sweats, hypertension, hypotension, headaches (especially migraines) and swollen glands. Also reported are heavy perspiration, metallic taste in mouth, chills, nausea, bloating, constipation or diarrhea, low grade fever, heart palpitations, tachycardia, facial palsy, tinnitus, mental confusion, uncoordinated movement, pruritus, bone pain, flu-like syndrome, conjunctivitis and throat swelling.”[5]

Luckily most of my symptoms went down about 30 hours after starting the fermented veggies. I got through it by resting, drinking lots of water and having hot showers. Warm water with lemon juice and a wheat bag really helped as well. About a week later the last of the sensitivity to touch and muscular pain left!

The overwhelming advice from the internet is that anyone going through Herxheimer’s should ease off the dosage that is causing the die-off until the symptoms become bearable, however this can prolong the length of time that the symptoms are experienced. Following a detox protocol can help the body eliminate the toxins. Begin by reducing stress, resting and not adding extra toxins for the body to process via food and the environment. Some of these might help with the detox process:

  • LOTS of water
  • Massage
  • Dandelion root tea – reduces inflammation, is a diuretic, assists in elimination
  • Hot water bottle/wheat pack
  • Castor oil treatments – helps with liver detox
  • Lemon juice in water
  • Vitamin C – supports your adrenals
  • Skin Brushing – assists lymphatic drainage
  • Peppermint tea
  • Chlorella and Spirulina – naturally detoxifying, binds to heavy metals
  • Milk Thistle – supports liver and purge toxins
  • Parsley and Burbur
  • Bentonite clay – applied to the skin to draw out toxins
  • Infra-red sauna*
  • Epsom Salts bath*
  • Hot/Cold showers* – improves circulation
  • *Some people with CFS react badly to high/low temperatures.

On the other side of the Herxheimer’s reaction, life is feeling pretty good on the fermented vegetables. I am no longer chronically constipated and my skin is glowing. I have noticed a reduction in headaches and fibromyalgia, although whether this is due to the fermented veggies or improved activity management is hard to say. One benefit that I did not anticipate is in my mood – I am noticeably calmer and more relaxed since starting the fermented vegetables. Studies are beginning to suggest that there is a correlation between pathogenic and non-pathogenic gut bacteria and mood/behaviour. [6] I highly recommend anyone with a chronic illness, or anyone trying to improve their health to investigate fermented vegetables as a powerful probiotic. There are heaps of websites with instructions on how to make your own or you can buy some ready-made, but be careful; many store-bought fermented products are not ‘alive’ and will not have the same health benefits.

I tried Pat’s Veg fermented fennel – http://patsveg.com/#portfolio


I took a gut flora test a few weeks ago (in November) and got the best results my doctor had seen in a sick person. My Candida had completely gone, I had hardly any levels of pathogenic bacteria, and healthy levels of the good ones. The only healthy bug I was missing was lactobacillus so I’m taking a pro-biotic for a month to sort that out.