Here’s a recent question from Jake about die-off myths:
“I’ve made great progress on the diet, 7 weeks ago I was moody, tired and my bowel movements were all over the map. Almost every area of my life is better, but I’m just not happy yet, I feel like I can’t get over the hump. Every other week I hit a couple day stretch where I feel awful, what is causing this die-off and when is it going to end?”
It could be die-off, but I’ve noticed a recent trend that must be corrected. Just because your symptoms get worse doesn’t mean that you’re having die-off. Most times, simply your symptoms got worse. Some call it a setback or flare, but in general it’s a reaction to something you’ve changed in your treatment plan or a failure to change something.
I’m sure that last statement was confusing for some, so let me break it down for you. You can have reactions from changes like:
Altering the dosage of drugs
Trying new foods
Lifestyle events, changes and toxin exposures
And you can have a reaction from the inflammation in your body getting to the point at which it starts to affect you
But first, let’s talk about die-off. In this article, we stated that die-off unusually lasts 3-7 days, which is true but that doesn’t mean that any worsening of symptoms or reaction that lasts 3-7 days is a die-off event.
What Is Die-Off Then??
Die-off is shorthand for a Herxheimer reaction (Jarisch-Herxheimer reaction). This term was coined to describe what Karl Herxheimer saw when he administrated drugs to patients. The reaction is thought to happen when toxins from dying pathogens (viruses, bacteria, parasites, candida, etc.) overwhelm the body’s abilities to clear them out.
This creates a toxic state in the body which produces symptoms like:
Excess Mucus Production
Increased GI Problems (diarrhea, constipation, etc.)
These symptoms are often reported by many to feel very flu-like or cold-like. Your whole body is generally sluggish and it usually feels as if your body is working harder – almost fighting something.
Why spend so much time on what’s really going on?
Because I hear the term die-off being thrown around way too much these days in situations that are unlikely to actually be die-off. And that’s important because making the correct change for your health is dependent upon the interpretation of what your body is actually trying to tell you.
What Really Causes Die-off?
There seems to be some confusion as to what might actually cause die-off. It’s led to us receiving several emails each week, like:
“I added broccoli and got an immediate die-off.”
“I upped my fat and now I’m having several days of die-off.”
Now, I’m not going to sit here and tell you that I know your body better than you do. But I am going to set the record straight on what is likely going on here.
To cause a die-off reaction, you need to actually make a very substantial change to your treatment plan. Because remember, die-off is a situation in which the toxins in your body overwhelm the natural ability to clear them.
The changes that might cause die-off are usually:
Switching from processed food to a real food diet (death of pathogens by starving)
Starting or increasing dosage of antiparasitic, anti-yeast or antibiotic (death of pathogens by bombing)
In each of these scenarios, the change in treatment will cause substantial changes in gut flora and knock out a big portion of the bad guys. When that happens, they release toxins that need to be excreted by the body. So can you see how each of the major changes above actually causes a release of toxins?
Let’s look at another example:
Joanna adds avocado because she knows eating good fats could really help her health. Upon introduction, she starts getting an immediate increase in bowel movements from 2 to 5 a day. They are also looser than they’ve been in a long time. After checking around online she observes that this might just be die-off as a result of introducing more fat and a new food, so she continues eating them thinking that everything will get better soon if she could just push through this setback.
Can you see how she might think based on what she’s researched that she is making the correct choice for her health? Especially when she asks for help and hears back from people“oh don’t worry you’ll be fine, avocados are healthy it’s just temporary die-off.” It’s likely all of us would keep pushing, never questioning whether or not it could be something else. However, if we thought this symptom change could mean a reaction, it would be easier to slow down or stop it altogether.
5 Die-off Myths You Need to Know About
I want to set the record straight with 5 very common comments we get that are not die-off.
MYTH 1: “I started [new supplement] and feel worse, I can’t believe I’m getting more die-off”
TRUTH: This is an unfortunate misinterpretation of what your body is trying to communicate. Unless you added an anti-parasitic, anti-yeast, or antibacterial agent, I can almost guarantee that what you are experiencing is a reaction to the supplement. This reaction can be caused by any number of reasons, like the fillers in the supplement, the substance itself, or even the dosage.
MYTH 2: “I added this new food and my symptoms got worse, die-off usually happens when I add new foods”
TRUTH: Not likely. Die-off may have happened when you initially switched to eating SCD, GAPS, or Paleo but it’s not happening now that you’ve been eating this way for a few weeks. If when adding a new food your symptoms get worse, then this is a sign that your body is saying, “Hey! Hold on, something isn’t right about this.” The truth is you could have introduced too much of the food too fast and need to slow down a bit or maybe your body isn’t ready to handle it yet and you should try again in a few weeks.
MYTH 3: “Out of nowhere my symptoms got worse, this must be another round of die-off”
TRUTH: Nope, this is what I was referring to at the beginning of the post: the situation in which upon observing your journal and life you can’t see any specific changes but all of sudden you feel worse. This is not die-off out of the blue. You could have more underlying health problems to fix but if I had to guess it’s actually stress from your life that is overwhelming your body. In general, what it means is that you need rest and/or you’re having a reaction to your current lifestyle, treatment and thought patterns. Stress can be very harmful to our health if not managed regularly.
MYTH 4: “I started to get better on SCD then got worse, now I’m getting more die-off”
TRUTH: Not likely. What is likely is that you haven’t taken the time to customize your diet and test foods like the four horsemen of setbacks. If you’re still very new to SCD, GAPS or Paleo, stop eating all four right away and see what happens. You can always add them back in slowly. The other reaction that could be happening here is that your body is in bad need of a specific supplement and you haven’t figured out what it is yet.
MYTH 5: “I have X pathogen (Candida, Parasites, Bacteria etc.) therefore I get die-off often”
TRUTH: This one is tough, because you could get die-off more often if you were constantly varying your antiparasitic, anti-yeast or antibiotic dosages. But, I’m not aware of any protocols that call for this so I’m guessing you’re not doing it. So what does this actually mean? It’s a great signal from your body for three things. The first is that what you thought you killed or are killing is actually alive and doing fine. Parasites are the best example, as they have different life cycles and can lay dormant before springing back to life and triggering your symptoms all over again. The second is that you’ve killed or suppressed the bad bugs but you haven’t dialed in your diet and supplements and are now reacting to them. The third and most frustrating is that you actually have a secondary infection of some kind. It’s not very unusual that once your immune system is compromised that you could have picked up several kinds of bugs. In each of these last 3 cases what you’re experiencing is a reaction and not die-off.
Understanding the Different Kinds of Clues From Your Body
As you can see, die-off is a nuanced subject and not always straightforward. But hopefully this article has shown you where you might have been misinterpreting some clues that your body was giving to you.
Understanding these subtle clues is often the difference between feeling amazing and quickly switching to the next fad treatment before feeling really good. If you need more help listening to your body and understanding what the subtle clues are telling you, we’ve put together a troubleshooting package for you that has helped many of our readers before:
Steve Wright is a health engineer and author. In 2009, he reached a breaking point when IBS took over his life and the doctors didn’t know how to help. Since then, he has transformed his health and started SCDLifestyle.com to help others naturally heal stomach problems. You can check out his story here and find him on Google+, Facebook or Twitter.