This article is for information only and doesn't call for any action.
Having a parasite can be a scary thought, but you're not alone; parasites are far more common than you think. It’s a myth that parasites only exist in underdeveloped countries. In fact, the majority of the patients I see in my clinic have a parasite. As you will see, parasites can cause a myriad of symptoms, only a few of which are actually digestive in nature.
What is a parasite?
A parasite is any organism that lives and feeds off of another organism. When I refer to intestinal parasites, I’m referring to tiny organisms, usually worms, that feed off of your nutrition.
Some examples of parasites include roundworms, tapeworms, pinworms, whipworms, hookworms, and more. Because parasites come in so many different shapes and sizes, they can cause a very wide range of problems. Some consume your food, leaving you hungry after every meal and unable to gain weight. Others feed off of your red blood cells, causing anemia. Some lay eggs that can cause itching, irritability, and even insomnia. If you have tried countless approaches to heal your gut and relieve your symptoms without any success, a parasite could be the underlying cause for many of your unexplained and unresolved symptoms.
How do you get parasites?
There are a number of ways to contract a parasite. First, parasites can enter your body through contaminated food and water. Undercooked meat is a common place for parasites to hide, as well as contaminated water from underdeveloped countries, lakes, ponds, or creeks. However, meat is the not the only culprit. Unclean or contaminated fruits and vegetables can also harbor parasites. Some parasites can even enter the body by traveling through the bottom of your foot.
Once a person is infected with a parasite, it's very easy to pass it along. If you have a parasite and don't wash your hands after using the restroom, you can easily pass microscopic parasite eggs onto anything you touch — the door handle, the salt shaker, your phone, or anyone you touch. It's also very easy to contract a parasite when handling animals. Hand washing is a major opportunity to prevent parasite contamination and transmission. Traveling overseas is another way that foreign parasites can be introduced to your system. If you consumed any contaminated water during your travels, you may have acquired a parasite of some kind.
Signs You May Have a Parasite
- You have unexplained constipation, diarrhea, gas, or other symptoms of IBS
- You traveled internationally and remember getting traveler’s diarrhea while abroad
- You have a history of food poisoning and your digestion has not been the same since.
- You have trouble falling asleep, or you wake up multiple times during the night.
- You get skin irritations or unexplained rashes, hives, rosacea or eczema.
- You grind your teeth in your sleep.
- You have pain or aching in your muscles or joints.
- You experience fatigue, exhaustion, depression, or frequent feelings of apathy.
- You never feel satisfied or full after your meals.
- You've been diagnosed with iron-deficiency anemia.
The signs of a parasite can often appear unrelated and unexplained. As I mentioned previously, there are MANY different types of parasites that we are exposed to in our environments. I typically see parasites causing more constipation in patients than diarrhea, but some parasites are capable of changing the fluid balance in your gut and causing diarrhea. Trouble sleeping, skin irritations, mood changes, and muscle pain can all be caused by the toxins that parasites release into the bloodstream. These toxins often cause anxiety, which can manifest itself in different ways. For instance, waking up in the middle of the night or grinding your teeth in your sleep are signs that your body is experiencing anxiety while you rest. When these toxins interact with your neurotransmitters or blood cells, they can cause mood swings or skin irritation.
How to Test for Parasites
The best way to test for a parasite is to get a stool test. Most doctors will run a conventional stool test if they suspect a parasite, however these are not as accurate as the comprehensive stool tests that we use in functional medicine.
Conventional Ova and Parasite Stool Test
Conventional stool tests can identify parasites or parasite eggs in your stool, yet this test comes with many limitations. The problem with this test is that it is only conditionally successful. This test requires three separate stool samples that must be sent to the lab for a pathologist to view under a microscope. Parasites have a very unique life cycle that allows them to rotate between dormant and alive. In order to identify them in this conventional test, the stool sample must contain a live parasite, the parasite must remain alive as the sample ships to the lab, and the pathologist must be able to see the live parasite swimming across the slide. While these can certainly be useful tests for some people, they are unable to identify dormant parasites, and therefore I often see a high number of false negatives with this type of stool test.
Functional Medicine Comprehensive Stool Test
In my practice, I use a comprehensive stool test on all of my patients. The comprehensive test is much more sensitive than the conventional stool test because it uses Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR) technology to amplify the DNA of the parasite if there is one. This means that the parasite can actually be dead or in its dormant phase and it will be detected on this test. Because this test utilizes PCR technology, it isn't reliant on a pathologist seeing a live parasite swimming on the slide. I frequently diagnose parasites in my patients that were missed on conventional stool tests.
How to Treat Parasites
The comprehensive stool test is able to identify 17 different parasites, so when I know which parasite my patient has, I use prescription medications that target specific species of parasites. If, however, the parasite cannot be identified, I usually use a blend of herbs, including magnesium caprylate, berberine, and extracts from tribulus, sweet wormwood, grapefruit , barberry, bearberry, and black walnut. You can typically find an herbal combination at a compounding pharmacy or though my website. In general, these herbal formulas provide a broad spectrum of activity against the most common pathogens present in the human GI tract, while sparing the beneficial gut bacteria. Before starting an anti-parasite herbal supplement, I recommend you consult your physician and have your liver enzymes checked if you have a history of liver disease, heavy alcohol use or previous history of elevated liver enzymes.
If you think you might have a parasite, I encourage you find afunctional medicine physician in your area so that they can order a comprehensive stool test for you. My motto is, It all starts in your gut and your gut is the gateway to health. A healthy gut makes a healthy person.
Here are some tips for an effective cleanse:
A versatile food with many medicinal benefits, garlic is one of the top ways to kill parasites. Its anti-bacterial and anti-fungal properties make it a popular remedy. Raw garlic has sulfur-containing amino acids that are powerful in helping destroy the nasty invaders. Any effective parasite cleanse should include garlic and there are various ways you can take it. Try mincing 1-2 cloves in a glass of water and drink before meals or eat 3 cloves on an empty stomach every day for a week. If raw garlic is not to your taste, you can boil 2 crushed garlic cloves in half a cup of milk and drink it on an empty stomach for a week. Alternatively, take 2 garlic capsules with each meal for 10 days.
2. Apple Cider Vinegar
Well known for killing yeast and improving skin condition, apple cider vinegar is very nourishing to the body. Like garlic, it’s an easy and effective remedy for waging war against parasites. If you can get over the awful taste, you will reap the benefits. High in B vitamins, it helps the body’s pH neutralise and improves digestion to create an environment that is non-attractive for parasites. Hold your nose and try 1 teaspoon up to 3 times a day about 30 minutes before each meal. If you can bear it, increase the dosage to a tablespoon. It will help keep the stomach clear of parasites and kill off any larvae you might have eaten.
Coconut is a strong anti-parasitic agent. Both the fruit and oil can be used to treat intestinal worms. Eat 1 tablespoon of crushed coconut with your breakfast, and then after 3 hours drink a glass of warm milk mixed with 2 tablespoons of castor oil. Repeat this every day until the symptoms go away. However, castor oil is not recommended if you have gastrointestinal disease or the patient is aged under 5. Some people prefer to take coconut oil, which is anti-fungal and detoxifies your system. Use the extra-virgin type, which contains lauric acid, a natural saturated fat, which kills parasites after being converted by the body. Eat 4 to 6 tablespoons of extra virgin coconut oil daily. Mix it with smoothies, put it in your food or your tea to flush out internal parasites.
Parasites wipe out helpful gut bacteria. Taking probiotics will help replenish the good bacteria and kill the bad. Eating foods that are rich in probiotics, such as yogurt, kefir, miso and sauerkraut or taking probiotic supplements can help restore the natural balance of bacteria in your digestive system and keep it in good working order. It’s believed they have immune-boosting powers to ward off parasite invasions and keep you healthy.
5. Black Walnut Hulls, Wormwood and Cloves
From the black walnut tree, black walnut hulls have been used as a natural remedy for centuries. Native Americans, who used herbs from Mother Earth medicine cabinet long before there were drug stores and chemists, used the hulls as anti-parasite, anti-bacterial and anti-fungal treatments. The laxative effect of the green hulls has the ability to flush out and kill many different types of adult parasites by enriching the blood with oxygen. It is a potent remedy, however those who are pregnant or sick should not use it. Some people use a combination of black walnut hulls with wormwood and cloves. Wormwood is a bitter herb that can kill adult worms, but is not recommended for children due to its toxic nature. Cloves kill eggs that may linger in the intestinal tract and can help prevent future infestation. Try 500 mg of wormwood and black walnut hulls and put a teaspoon of powdered clove in a cup of hot water each day for 2 weeks.
6. Diatomaceous Earth
Diatomaceous earth is a natural pesticide that doesn’t harm humans or animals. It is mined from fossilised shells formed by tiny diatoms, a type of algae that are millions of years old. It kills insects, worms and parasites by dehydrating them. Naturally high in silica, which is good for skin, hair and nail growth, it also improves digestion. It’s a well-known anti-parasitic medication that can be used by adults and children. If you choose to take it, be sure to drink lots of fluids because it will dehydrate you and make sure you buy the food grade type because industrial diatomaceous earth is chemically treated and is not safe to digest. Also read the instructions carefully on dosage.
7. Dietary Adjustments
While on a parasite cleanse, it’s important to look after your body by taking regular exercise, getting plenty of sleep and having a good diet. Eating sugar and grains will slow the cleanse, so cut them out. Sugar and anything that turns into sugar feeds parasites and makes their removal uncomfortable.
Consider cutting out dairy food, refined foods, animal and fish products for a couple of weeks to recharge your batteries. Eat cleansing foods that keep your bowels moving. Raw fruits and vegetables with plenty of fibre will give your energy levels a boost and help clean your body faster. Try whipping up some healthy juices from raw veggies such as carrots, spinach, celery or cucumber. The antioxidants will clean the blood cells and zap parasites and toxins.