Updated: Apr 11, 2019
Does the thought of creepy crawly parasites living within your body give you the heebie-jeebies?? Well from my clinical experience, they are way more common than we are lead to believe. They are not just a problem of undeveloped countries, but are present in a large number of my clients here in New Zealand.
Many are surprised to find their chronic health complaints clear up once they address a parasitic infection safely and effectively. Symptoms can vary widely from digestive complaints, chronic fatigue, insomnia, skin conditions and so much more. So how do you know if parasites are affecting you?
What are parasites?
Parasites are organisms that require a host to survive. They use the host's resources to grow and multiply, often at the expense of the host. They are incredibly varied, but with 3 main types. Protozoa are single celled organisms eg. plasmodium which causes malaria. Helminths are parasitic worms such as round worms and pin worms. Thread worms are particularly common in children. Ectoparasites live on the body of the host, rather than in, and include tics and fleas.
Signs and symptoms of a parasitic infection include:
Transmission and spread
A parasite has the ability to wreak havoc on the human body. However the severity appears to depend on the type of parasite, size or number and location within the body. Most parasites or their eggs are ingested through contaminated food or water. Transmission can also occur through mosquito or insect bites, or bathing in contaminated water. Some can even enter through your feet. The parasite can reside anywhere in the body (even the brain!) but it is most commonly a cause of poor gut / intestinal function.
Risk of infection
A healthy stomach acid production is thought to prevent live parasites making it through to the intestines. Stomach acid acts as a natural defensive barrier that kills pathogens we ingest with our food. However many of us have low stomach acid production due to nutritional deficiencies such as the mineral zinc, which is required to make stomach acid.
It is also estimated that around 1 in 5 are on antacids and other acid blocking medications that can further reduce stomach acid production. This includes products such as Losec, Zantac, Gavsicon & Mylanta.
One study suggested that these products suppress gastric acids allowing viruses and bacteria in the upper GI tract to migrate into the respiratory tract, potentially doubling the risk of pneumonia and lung infections. So if viruses and bacteria can migrate more easily, it makes sense that parasites could too under similar conditions. Having an adequate first line defense immune system is therefore so important in the protection against parasites.
Tips to reduce your risk of infection
Eat immune boosting foods - coloured fruit and vegetables, garlic, turmeric, etc
Avoid overly processed and packaged foods and drinks
Freezing meat can kill many parasites - defrost and cook before consuming
Wash hands thoroughly after using the toilet, before eating and after touching animals
Keep finger nails short
When travelling to tropical or undeveloped countries, be even more cautious of where you eat, hand washing and use insect repellent (preferably one without toxic DEET)
Address poor gut health and nutritional deficiencies - especially check your zinc status. If you suffer from reflux or heart burn, work out why.
Other immune boosters include getting adequate sleep, avoiding sugar, & reducing stress.
Detection and diagnosis
Unfortunately some parasites can "hide" and/or evade the body's immune system making detection and treatment challenging at times. Standard testing can also miss a parasitic infection, and is therefore ruled out as a possible cause of ill health all too quickly. Sometimes I've found it isn't even considered as a potential cause.
Conventional parasite testing involves sending a stool sample to a lab for a a medical technologist to view under a microscope. To be considered a positive test the technologist must view a live parasite swimming across a slide. However parasites can go from being dormant and inactive to alive depending on which life cycle phase they are in. Also the parasite may not even be contained within the small sample of stool. It is therefore recommended that at least three to four separate samples be taken. Which is very rarely done with conventional testing through a GP.
A much more sensitive test is a Functional Medicine Comprehensive Stool Analysis with Parasitology. It uses Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR) technology to amplify the DNA of the parasite if there is one. This means that false negatives are less likely as the parasite can actually be detected even if dead or in it's dormant phase. Parasites do not shed and their eggs do not appear on stool specimens on a regular basis. So one day’s sample may produce negative results, while the following day’s sample may be positive. It is therefore also recommended that three specimens are taken over three separate days.
My recommendation is to NOT try and clear parasites without professional help, whether using conventional medicines or natural supplements and herbs. It is very important to make sure gut integrity is optimal before doing so to prevent driving the infection further into the body or causing additional symptoms. You also need to be particularly careful treating parasites if you are a heavy alcohol drinker or have a history of liver issues.
Gut health is vital to overall health and well-being and parasites are not the only cause of impaired intestinal / gut function.
An overgrowth of certain bacteria and yeasts can also cause similar health issues and lead to chronic degenerative diseases. This includes food allergies, systemic illnesses, autoimmune disease and toxin overload. So keep parasites and poor gut health in mind if you suffer from any of the illnesses or symptoms mentioned above. Otherwise it could have a serious impact on your health and well-being.