- Kinds of parasites
- Symptoms of Parasites
- How Do you get parasites
- People who are succeptible to parasites
- Testing for parasites
- Parasite Cleanse
- Herxheimer reaction
Parasites – You Might be surprised by what’s living in your body.
No one wants to think about having a parasite crawling or living within their body, but millions of Americans have symptoms of a chronic parasitic infection that has gone on undetected for years. Parasites can be an underlying contributing factor to many chronic health problems and a big reason why previous attempts at healing have been unsuccessful.
A parasite is an organism that take up residence and lives on a human host and gets its food from or at the expense of its host. This in turn can cause both minor ailments as well as serious and sometimes life-threatening illness.
As a Certified Functional Medicine Practitioner (CFMP), parasitic infections are detected in the vast majority of my patients. Parasites can be an underlying contributing factor to many chronic health problems and a big reason why you may still be struggle with things like weight loss, poor nutritional status, gas, bloating, constipation, diarrhea, feeling tired and run down, Hives and unhealthy skin.
Kinds of Parasites
There are three main classes of parasites that can cause disease in humans: protozoa, helminths, and ectoparasites.
Protozoa are single celled organisms that have two stages: the trophozoite stage where they are metabolically active and invasive. They also exist in the inactive cyst stage
Protozoa are microscopic, one-celled organisms that can multiply in humans. Transmission of protozoa occurs through a fecal-oral route. This may happen from contaminated food or water or person-to-person contact. Protozoa that live in the blood or tissue of humans are transmitted to other humans by an arthropod vector. An example of this may be the bite of spider, tick, mosquito, sand fly. The protozoa that are infectious to humans can be classified into four groups based on their mode of movement:
The major symptoms associated with protozoa include diarrhea, constipation, nausea, abdominal pain, bloating, dehydration, weakness, low energy and joint pain.
- Babesia microti is a Lyme co-infection that can cause flu-like symptoms and anemia.
- Blastocystis hominis infects intestinal cells and can cause leaky gut and food sensitivities.
- Cyclospora cayetanensis can result in explosive bowel movements and diarrhea.
- Cryptosporidium parvum causes watery diarrhea and digestive distress.
- Dientamoeba fragilis causes diarrhea, abdominal pain, and appetite loss.
- Entamoeba histolytica triggers stomach pain and loose stools, which may be bloody.
- Giardia lamblia causes diarrhea, greasy stools that float, and upset stomach.
- Leishmania tropica leads to skin sores, which may start as bumps.
- Plasmodium falciparum infects red blood cells and causes malaria, characterized by flu-like symptoms.
- Toxoplasma gondii sparks mild flu-like symptoms and enlarged lymph nodes.
- Trichomonas vaginalis triggers burning and itching of the reproductive organs.
- Trypanosoma cruzi may lead to enlarged spleen and liver, and abnormal heart rhythms.
The GI effects tests for pathogenic parasites and protozoa (some of which are non-pathogenic) most commonly occurring in the GI tract. Sources of exposure should be identified and eliminated to prevent reinfection. This is home test that can be purchased here at DrHagmeyer.com.
Helminths are large, multicellular worm like organisms that are generally visible to the naked eye in their adult stages. Like protozoa, helminths can be either free-living or parasitic in nature. In their adult form, helminths cannot multiply in humans. In both human and animal hosts, helminths establish long-term chronic infections associated with significant degrees of downregulation of the host immune response (1)
There are three main groups of helminths (derived from the Greek word for worms) that are human parasites:
- Flatworms (platyhelminths) – these include flukes and tapeworms. Tapeworms get into the body when someone eats or drinks something that’s infected with a worm or its eggs. Once inside the body, the tapeworm head attaches to the inner wall of the intestines and feeds off the food being digested. In the larval form they can be found in subcutaneous tissue, heart, muscle, and eye in the larval form.
- Thorny-headed worms (acanthocephalins) – the adult forms of these worms reside in the gastrointestinal tract. Thorny-headed worms are common parasites of wildlife and some domestic animal species. (2)
- Roundworms, Pinworms, Threadworms (nematodes) – These are small white nematodes that again live in the colon and rectum. Roundworms and Pinworms can live in the human intestine for a long time. Pinworm infections result from touching eggs laid near the opening of the buttocks (anus).
You can accidentally ingest roundworm eggs by preparing food or touching soil that’s contaminated. The eggs then hatch inside your body. Symptoms include abdominal pain or intestinal blockage, vomiting, fever, diarrhea, malnutrition or cough. Roundworms are common in puppies.
Although the term ectoparasites can broadly include blood-sucking arthropods such as mosquitoes (because they are dependent on a blood meal from a human host for their survival).
Example of Ectoparasites. Arthropods include
- lice and
- mites that attach or burrow into the skin and remain there for some days, weeks and months before being identified.
Arthropods can cause disease all on their own, however, they are the main vectors in that they transmit multiple pathogens when they latch on to us and break skin and when they feed.
Most common include Borrelia Burgdorferi (Lyme), Bartonella, Babesia, Plasmodium parasites (malaria), and the West Nile virus. (3)
Symptoms of Parasitic Infection
What are some symptoms that you may have a parasite? We have already listed several of them but to summarize,
- Digestive issues (constipation, diarrhea, vomiting, gas, heartburn)
- Stomach pains and tenderness
- Loss of appetite
- Aches and pains
- Symptoms of dehydration
- Coughing, Wheezing
- Allergic Hives/Rashes.
- Lyme Disease Symptoms
People Susceptible to Parasites
People with the following issues are more susceptible to having parasites in the stomach:
- Immune Compromised (including fetuses, infants, the elderly)
- People taking corticosteroids (prednisone), antibiotics, or immunosuppressive agents- Humira, Imuran, Cyclosporine, Tacrolimus)
- Long term use of NSAIDS due to impact on T-cells
- People with Autoimmune disease (Hashimotos, Lupus, Celiac Disease, RA)
- People who have a history of Tick bite or past history of Lyme Disease
- Multiple Sclerosis
- Vitamin Deficiencies
- Chronic Fatigue
- Leaky Gut Syndrome (Giardia, Entamoeba
- Kidney Stones
- Crohn’s Disease
- Skin conditions including eczema and psoriasis
- Insomnia and sleep disturbances
- Digestive problems- especially people who have think Mucous layer
- People who work at a Zoo, animal shelter or dog breeders
How Does Someone Become Infected With A Parasite?
Parasitic infections affect millions around the world causing seizures, blindness, infertility, heart failure, and even death, they’re more common in the US than people realize and yet there is so much we don’t know about them. (4)
One potential cause of parasites is eating undercooked or raw meat. Meat can harbor many diffent kind of parasites and worms due to the poor conditions that livestock are typically raised in.
Seafood can also transfer harmful organisms, including beef, shellfish, and crab.
Soil-transmitted helminths (worms) are transmitted by eggs that are passed in the feces of infected people or animals. This may be something as simple as the people picking your fruit, vegetables defecating in the farm fields. Adult worms live in the intestine where they produce thousands of eggs each day.
- eggs that are attached to vegetables are ingested when the vegetables are not carefully cooked, washed or peeled.
- eggs are ingested from contaminated water sources.
- eggs are ingested by children who play in the contaminated soil and then put their hands in their mouths without washing them.
International travel is another potential cause. If you live in the United States or Europe but have ever been to another country like China, India, Africa or Mexico, there’s a chance that drinking or brushing your teeth with the local water and eating the food in these places may have caused you to pick up a parasite.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), “Globally, contaminated water is a serious problem that can cause severe pain, disability and even death.” (5) Contaminated water includes not only drinking water, but water from swimming pools, hot tubs, lakes, rivers or the ocean.
If you’ve ever returned from an internal trip and developed dysentery or another digestive problem afterward, you might be dealing with what the CDC calls persistent travelers’ diarrhea, which refers to gastrointestinal symptoms that last for more than 14 days.(6)
According to the CDC, the pathogenesis of persistent diarrhea in returned travelers is sometimes caused by an infection as a result of a parasitic organism.
In addition to being careful about the food and water you consume when traveling, proper sanitation and hygiene are also essential to preventing parasites and similar illnesses.
Still other ways of contracting parasites include changing diapers or helping children who have parasites, Swimming in contaminated lakes or rivers, tick bites, spider, mosquito, Flea,
Testing for Parasites and Intestinal Infections.
If you suspect your symptoms may be due to a parasitic infection, there are a few ways you can test for parasites, so you and your doctor can start target treatment accordingly. The most common test for a parasitic infection include;
- Comprehensive stool test
In Functional Medicine when a patient presents with chronic gut problems, we often run a Comprehensive Stool Profile. This test provides information about digestion, inflammation, Parasites and bacterial metabolism markers, it can also show us what medication and antimicrobials are most sensitive to the parasites that have been identified.
This Stool Profile offers the advantage of assessing multiple functional areas that may be contributing to protozoan and helminth symptoms. For example, diarrhea could stem from multiple causes including pancreatic exocrine insufficiency, inflammation, food allergies, or the presence of a parasite.
This test also has the added benefit of using polymerase chain reaction technology (PCR) for parasites. PCR is a highly sensitive and specific methodology that detects an organism’s DNA. Some of the most common Parasites that can be detected include;
- Blastocystis spp.
- Cryptosporidium spp.
- Cyclospora cayetanensis
- Dientamoeba fragilis
- Entamoeba histolytica
Who Needs To Get A Stool Test
Stool Testing can identify both helminths and protozoa. Stool samples must be collected before you take any anti-diarrhea drugs or antibiotics, or before x-rays with barium are taken. We recommend ordering a stool parasite test for you or your child if you have any symptoms of a parasite infection. These include:
- Abdominal pain or discomfort
- Air hunger
- Autoimmune disease
- Bed-wetting (kids)
- Bladder inflammation
- Chronic fatigue
- Eye inflammation
- Flu-like symptoms
- Food sensitivities
- Gallbladder and bile duct disease
- Hashimoto’s thyroiditis
- Itching around the anus
- Leaky gut
- Low blood sugar
- Muscle and joint pain
- Nutritional deficiencies
- Skin rashes and sores
- Teeth grinding
- Weak immunity
- Weight loss
- Endoscopy and colonoscopy
If a stool test fails to find any parasites but your doctor still suspects an infection, he or she can examine your intestines with a camera, located at the end of a tube inserted through either your mouth (endoscopy) or rectum (colonoscopy), to look for signs of parasites.
- Blood tests
A serology test looks for antibodies produced when the body is infected with a parasite, and a blood smear looks for parasites in the blood by examining the sample under a microscope. The blood smear tests can be more important for diagnosing blood-borne parasites. Here is the United States, unless a patient has traveled to Africa or some other country where parasites that cause malaria and sleeping sickness (African trypanosomiasis) are endemic, this kind of test would be of little utility and of little help in finding parasites. We use blood testing for parasites the least often unless a patient has a history of a tick bite. In that situation we use blood testing.
Are Stool Tests Accurate for Parasites?
Stool testing that incorporates a combination of PCR testing and culture/microscope are very accurate.
PCR when combined with culture/microscope technology offers a much more accurate way to detect and quantify clinically relevant organisms than stand alone PCR, culture or microscopy.
Accurately assessing how much of an organism’s DNA is present in a patient’s stool sample is essential for helping practitioners to determine the clinical significance of pathogenic organisms and dysbiosis patterns and best way to treat it.
If your test comes back positive, this means the lab found parasites, parasite eggs, or both. If these are present, it means you have a parasitic infection.
A negative test means they didn’t find any eggs or parasites. This can mean you don’t have an infection, or it can mean there isn’t enough to find. The stool tests have better accuracy when more samples are examined. In some cases, you may need to collect several stool samples over the course of 3 days.
What Should You Do If you Suspect a Parasite.
Consider ordering a Parasite Stool test to help confirm any presence you suspect you might have. Alternatively, find a practitioner who reads bloodwork in a functional way to determine if you have any red flags in your labs that scream parasites. Sometimes bloodwork may show changes in your white blood cell count, red blood cell count or iron levels. Other times you may see elevated Eosinophils or Basophils.
If you have bloodwork or stool testing work with a Certified Functional Medicine Practitioner or contact my office. We work with patients all over the world.
For most, finding out that they have parasites is a sigh of relief, finally you found the cause of your symptoms. Having something tangible can help keep you committed to your program and give you a goal to focus in on.
Getting Rid of Parasites – Parasite Cleanse and Diet
If you’ve established that you have a parasite, you’re probably looking for the best parasite cleanse to help you recover. Part of this entails going through a parasite cleanse diet but also preventing it from coming back.
Below are suggestions for following a parasite cleanse diet, as well as more practical tips and supplement recommendations that can help kill off the Protozoan and Worms in your system. Keep in mind a Parasitic diet will not enough be enough.
Antiparasitic drugs are a group of medications (Prescription or Natural) used in the management and treatment of infections by parasites, including protozoa, helminths, and ectoparasites.
1. Following an Anti-Parasite Diet
Here are some other top anti-parasite foods: These are foods you want to eat.
- Garlic and onions – Both of these immune-boosting vegetables have anti-parasitic effects due to their sulfur compounds and antioxidants that can destroy pathogenic organisms. Using Ginger whenever possible.
- Herbs – Certain herbs, like garlic, oregano, and ginger, can have antibacterial and antiparasitic effects because they help increase the production of stomach acid, which can kill parasites and prevent infections.
- Berries, Banana, Pineapple, and papaya– These fruits support digestion and are proteolytic enzymes which can kill worms.
- Coconut meat and the oil – Coconut oil has antibacterial and antimicrobial properties.
- Probiotic-rich foods – Consuming high probiotic foods like kefir, sauerkraut, and yogurt.
- Apple cider vinegar — Helps restore healthy pH balance and can help improve digestion.
- Other fresh vegetables — These are rich sources of protective compounds that help nourish the gut, and they provide fiber, which encourages regular bowel movements.
- Fiber- Chia seeds, Brown rice, Beets, Chickpeas, Psyllium husks, Pears, Brussel sprouts, Almonds, Quinoa.
- Low Starch vegetables- Spinach, dandelion greens, Kale, Cherry tomatoes, Cucumber, Broccoli, Brussels sprouts, Zucchini, bell peppers,
- Oils to use for cooking- Avocado, Olive, Coconut
- Fermented beverages such as coconut kefir and apple cider vinegar provide organic acids that have anti-parasitic properties (11). These are powerful tools to help destroy parasites. These contain key enzymes that help to create an environment that is non-conducive for parasitic development.
Foods to Avoid on a Anti-parasitic Diet
- Added sugar –feeds harmful organisms in the gut and contribute to inflammation.
- Processed foods –if it’s in a bag or has more than a few listed ingredients, you will want to avoid it.
- Alcohol – Concentrated sugar- Avoid it, It’s bad for intestinal microbiome health.
- Wheat – Gluten- Wheat, Rye, Barley. These grains can not only cause a leaky gut, intestinal inflammation, and changes in intestinal PH (parasites are already doing this) but they also quickly break down into sugar feeding Bacteria, parasites, worms, protozoa etc.,
- Avoid High Starch Vegetables- Yams, sweet potatoes, Peas, Corn, Beans,
Avoid Added Sugars
Keeping your sugar intake at a minimum can help to starve these organisms and weaken them, making them more vulnerable to anti-parasitic herbs and foods. Added sugars are in many foods, and we often consume them without realizing it. Because of this, it is essential that you read the labels on foods and check the ingredients for added sugar. If you avoid most packaged foods, you won’t need to worry too much about these. Foods that often have added sugar include:
- energy drinks
- sports drinks
- salad dressings
- fruit juices
- yeast bread
- grain-based desserts
- dairy desserts
- packaged and processed foods
2. Parasite Cleanse Supplements
When supplementing to kill parasites, there are natural anti-parasite compounds you’ll want to use. Here are the top herbal supplements I often use during a parasite cleanse:
- Black walnut Has been traditionally for the treatment of parasites. (7)
- Wormwood It’s known for its anti-parasitic properties. (7a)
- Oregano oil Oregano oil has both antibacterial and anti-parasitic effects.(8)
- Goldenseal and Wormwood. Goldenseal and wormwood are not only antiparasitic, they are also antibacterial, and antiviral. It’s also great for detoxifying the blood
- Grapefruit seed extract — Has been shown to have antimicrobial properties against a wide range of organisms. The antiparasitic action of GSE is effective against microorganisms and parasites, including Giardia Lamblia and Entamoeba Histolytica (9)
- Clove oil Contains high amounts of eugenol, a compound that has been shown to help kill harmful bacterial and parasitic organisms. (10)
- Curcumin- is the major active ingredient of Curcuma longa L., traditionally known as turmeric and has been shown to exhibit a wide range of pharmacological activities including anti-parasitic effect.(10a)
- Probiotics These “good guy” bacteria help repopulate the gut with microbes that support digestive health.
- I found that it also helps if you take a binders like Activated Charcoal, Humic and Fluvic acid or Zeolite Clay (1-2 capsules) per day during your parasite cleanse. These agents assist in binding up toxins, metals, and unwanted microbial by-products. Just be sure to take the binders 2 hours before or after other supplements and main meals.
One of the biggest things you can do to prevent die off is keeping your colon moving. It’s important to prevent constipation and encourage regular bowel movements when cleansing because this is what helps eliminates your body of the parasites.
Colonics can be a great way to get things moving. One to three colon cleanses once a week for three weeks. Aim for 3-4 bowel movements per day while you are doing a parasite cleanse. Once you stop the parasite cleanse 2-3 bowel movements per day should be your goal. If you are not keen on colonics another option is something like herbal teas or Ready Set Go! This product contains Ginger, Fennel, Coriander. Its incredible gentle especially for children.
Together these methods can be an incredibly effective strategy for helping to rid your body of parasites while also keeping your body hydrated and nourished.
Risks and Side Effects Of Parasite Cleanse- Jarisch-Herxheimer reaction
Something to be aware of if you are treating a parasitic infection in a way that removes the parasites quickly is the possibility of a Jarisch-Herxheimer reaction.
When you attempt to kill off and rid yourself of parasites, they release toxins as they die off. Without proper liver support or proper elimination of these toxins, your body may respond to this elevated toxin load with uncomfortable detox symptoms.
Most common symptoms of die off or a Herx reactions include, headaches, chills, achy joints, fever, feeling run down or the exacerbation of current symptoms. If this happens make sure to keep drinking fluids and try to eat smaller meals regularly to keep your energy up
It is important to remember to start with a low dosage of either pharmaceutical or herbal anti-parasitic, and gradually work your way up to a full dose, to avoid this reaction as much as possible.
Symptoms caused by parasites can range from mild to very serious, depending on the type of organism and the individual who’s affected.
Not all the herbal supplements mentioned in this article are safe for every person. If you are already taking prescription medication you will only want to start a herbal parasite cleanse under your doctors supervision. Work with a Certified Functional Medicine Practitioner who can review any medications or health conditions that would be a contraindication.
Also, do not use these supplements if you are pregnant, nursing or with small children unless under proper supervision of your doctor.