Are you having trouble sleeping, fatigue, or mood swings? Trouble with your bowel movements or bloating? When you go to your MD these types of complaints are considered manageable and if treated, they are treated usually with over-the-counter medication to only get symptom relief without addressing the real issue. In my office very frequently these symptoms are indicators of something that most doctors are not trained to look for, adding to the number of undiagnosed, misdiagnosed, and wrongly-medicated cases. PARASITES!
The truth is emerging and unbiased science is backing it up. Parasites may be responsible for many common conditions like joint pain, chronic fatigue, immune and digestive disorders; however, most doctors who practice Western medicine are not properly educated to recognize signs of parasitic infections.
What is a parasite?
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) define a parasite as an organism that lives on or in a host organism and derives its food from or at the expense of the host. Right away you may be thinking intestinal worms, which is correct, but the parasitic population is much bigger.
According to a report from the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America (PNAS), the helminth (worm) class of parasites alone is estimated to be between 75,000 and 300,000 species strong. PNAS also indicated that they have no credible way of estimating the number of parasitic protozoa due in part to the continual discovery of new species and extinction of others [Dobson et al.. (2008). Homage to Linnaeus: How many parasites? How many hosts?. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America , August(105), 11482-11489. Retrieved 26 May, 2015, from http://www.pnas.org/content/105/Supplement_1/11482.full].
Not Just a Problem in Developing Parts of the World
The majority of parasitic infections are reported in tropical and subtropical regions of the world. Topping the charts as the most fatal parasitic infection is malaria, which, according to the World Health Organization, was responsible for an estimated 584,000 deaths in 2013 from the nearly 198 million cases reported [World health organization.(2015). 10 facts about malaria.Retrieved 22 May, 2015, from http://www.who.int/features/factfiles/malaria/en/].
But parasites don’t care where you live or whether or not you have access to adequate healthcare. We’re all equal opportunity hosts. Parasites are prevalent, even today in developed countries with advanced public health and safety practices designed to keep harmful organisms out of food and water supplies. Because total eradication of parasites is impossible, they just might be one of the greatest hidden health threats contributing to under diagnosed diseases and conditions in the West, and indeed all over the world.
I get asked a lot from my patients who are doing a parasite cleanse how they got the parasite in the first place. There is no way to know for sure but unwashed fruits and vegetables can have parasites on them. Raw meat or fish, contaminated water (think Mexico), insect bites (insects carry parasites) and pets are the most common places. In 2014 there were 304 confirmed cases of illness caused by Cyclospora. Of those cases, 133 were linked back to eating contaminated fresh cilantro imported from Mexico [Centers for disease control and prevention.(c2015). Cyclosporiasis Outbreak Investigations — United States, 2014. Retrieved 22 May, 2015, from http://www.cdc.gov/parasites/cyclosporiasis/outbreaks/2014/].
In 2007 there were 31 confirmed cases of waterborne Giardia in a New Hampshire community. After a thorough investigation, the illness was linked to the community’s treated water supply [Daly et al..(2010).Epidemiology and Infection. Outbreak of giardiasis associated with a community drinking-water source ,138(4),491-500. Retrieved22 May, 2015, from http://dx.doi.org/ 10.1017/S0950268809990744]. And these cases are just a tiny fraction of the parasitic infestations that have occurred in the United States within the last decade.
Your best defense to not getting a parasite is a strong immune system. That way if you eat an apple with a parasite in it or some raw fish sushi, you would ingest it and the acid in your stomach would start killing it, sending signals to the immune system that there is an invader and the immune system would do the rest. In a healthy body, parasite in, parasite out. Parasites thrive in individuals with compromised immune systems. Young children and the elderly are also at greater risk due to fragile immune systems that have not built up sufficient immunity or have lost immune strength respectively. But even those considered healthy with relatively good immune function are becoming susceptible to parasitic infections due in large part from daily exposure to pollutants and toxins that overstimulate and exhaust the immune system, resulting in diminished ability to fend off pathogens naturally. Pollutants include solvents used in the manufacturing of products, including food. Solvents weaken the natural immunity barrier that should protect us so detoxing heavy metals and chemicals is also part of a good parasite cleanse. If you have any heavy metal or chemicals in your body it creates an environment in your body where parasites can thrive.
Despite the prevalence of parasites and their ability to cause a multitude of health problems, the diagnosis of a parasitic infestation as the primary cause for many ailments is often overlooked. Why? Largely because the medical community doesn’t know what to look for. Physicians schooled in what is considered modern, Western medicine are typically not trained in parasitology, and therefore are not readily equipped to recognize the correlation between symptoms of illness and parasites.
Common ailments, including skin rashes, gastrointestinal discomfort, and insomnia are easily affiliated with other diseases. Certainly the changes the body undergoes as it passes through different stages of the lifecycle can also mask signs of a parasitic infestation, as can the body’s reaction to something ingested, exposure to a chemical, or even seasonal climate changes. This leaves the door open for inconclusive testing, misdiagnosis, and treatment for symptoms instead of the undefined cause.
Testing for Parasites
Considering that many people harboring a parasite don’t know they are infected, and because there are few clear signals that point to a parasitic infestation directly, how can you get tested if your own doctor doesn’t think a parasite is the likely cause of your ailment? Be your own advocate. Insist on being screened for a parasitic infestation. Tests can be performed to look for evidence of parasites, even in medical facilities that follow the Western medicine approach.
More than one type of test may be needed to confirm the presence of a parasite.
1. Stool Sample
This test is looking for eggs from parasites that cause intestinal issues such as diarrhea, loose or watery stools, cramping, and gas. A single stool sample may be inconclusive and perhaps only show evidence if the sample were taken around the time the adult parasite laid its eggs. A more reliable test would utilize three or more stool samples since the elimination of eggs in the stool tends to be cyclical. Parasites in the upper GI tract may not leave evidence in a standard stool sample.
A purged stool test using a powerful laxative may yield more conclusive results. This type of test is more useful when looking for Giardia, amoeba, roundworms, threadworms, tapeworms, flukes, Cryptosporidium, and hookworms.
2. Rectal Mucus Sample
Sampling rectal mucus may be a more reliable way than a stool sample when looking for a parasitic infestation because parasite eggs are prone to adhere to the mucus.
3. Direct Tissue Sample
Parasites that do not inhabit the lower GI tract, but rather in muscles and other tissues, will not show up in stool samples. Direct tissue samples will need to be obtained and tested.
4. Blood Test
Some blood tests can be used as a general indicator of a parasitic infection, but may not be relied on alone for confirmation. Blood tests can also be used to look for specific antibodies to some parasites, but in an individual whose immune system is already compromised to the point that they’ve stopped making antibodies, a blood test may be of little use.
5. Endoscopy & Colonoscopy
Endoscopy and colonoscopy can be used to look for parasites and other abnormalities in the GI tract. The procedure is done by inserting a tube equipped with a mini camera down the mouth (endoscopy) or through the rectum (colonoscopy).
6. X-ray, MRI, CAT
These imaging tests can be utilized to look for some parasitic diseases that cause lesions in the organs.
Some holistic doctors, including myself, use one of the increasingly popular biofeedback tests (muscle testing) to gauge physiological function and to determine the presence of a foreign stressor, such as parasite.
Treatment for parasitic infestations is not a one size fits all deal. And unfortunately it’s certainly not something that can be cleared fast.
Prescription drugs are often oral pesticides with toxic chemicals that would otherwise not be suitable for consumption, and there’s no guarantee that they will work. Sometimes they kill 90% of the parasites but the other 10% is remaining to continue causing havoc in your body. Some of the prescribed drugs are recognized as teratogens, agents that can cause malformation of a developing fetus.
Prescription parasiticides are designed to be effective against a single organism. They generally don’t have a broad reach and as with most prescriptions, they have side effects. If you have more than one parasite (which is common), you need to take more than one drug and suffer the side effects of multiple medications. But before medication can be prescribed lab testing is needed to clearly identify the organism. Unfortunately, testing for parasites is not an exact science, so there’s a chance that you may never know just how many parasites are in your body.
Much like strains of drug-resistant bacteria that have evolved over the years, parasites learn to adapt and can become resistant to certain medications and deterrent chemicals that were once thought to be effective forms of treatment. Chlorine, for example, was once believed to be a powerful disinfectant and preventative measure that could keep waterborne illnesses in check. However, outbreaks of Cryptosporidium and Giardia have been reported from water sources that met the chlorine treatment standards of quality at the time.
The CDC was forced to make a bold admission, stating that Cryptosporidium eggs are resistant to chlorine. Their findings were based on several outbreaks of legionnaire’s disease, Cryptosporidium, and Giardia linked to the use of chlorinated hot tubs, public spas, and swimming pools [Shields, J.M, Gleim, E.R & Beach, M.J. (2008). Prevalence of Cryptosporidium spp and Giardia intestinalis in Swimming Pools, Atlanta, Georgia. Emerging Infectious Diseases, 14(6), 948–950. Retrieved 26 May, 2015, from doi: 10.3201/eid1406.071495].
Admittedly, sometimes looking to the past for answers is wise. Some individuals choose to approach parasitic infestations like our ancestors did. Herbal remedies that were used in tribal and folk medicine for centuries have made a comeback thanks in part to trained healers keeping these practices alive and to patients looking for an alternative to prescription medications.
Herbs do not have the toxic, synthetic chemicals found in prescription medications, and they are less likely to have the unwanted side effects of prescriptions. Further, herbs support the theory of strengthening the immune system and keeping intestinal flora in balance so that parasites are less likely to thrive. Compared to the prescription drug approach it’s easy to see that parasite cleanses with herbs and potent essential oils can be far more beneficial.
For parasitic infections, among the most common herbs that people test for in my office are black walnut hull, garlic, wormwood, and cloves. While each herb has its own antimicrobial properties, they are often used together for greater effectiveness. Essential oils can also be used effectively against parasites. Using muscle testing (biofeedback) we develop a specific designed clinical nutrition program for you.
Patience must be practiced when using herbal remedies. You will most likely need to take them for a few months, even if you start feeling better sooner. You must continue to take the herbs over the entire lifecycle of the parasite. The adults are likely to be killed first, but not the eggs. Being persistent about continuing the treatment better ensures that the maturing parasites will eventually die off as well.
Ultimately, the best treatment for parasites remains prevention. But with the prevalence of parasites in and among our everyday lives, we’re all potential hosts on the cusp of being infected.
You may also need to consider cleansing the body of other accumulated toxins that suppress immune function and allow parasites to thrive. Toxic heavy metals and overgrowth of Candida yeast can strain the immune system over long periods of time without clear signs of doing so. There’s often a correlation between heavy metal toxicity, Candida overgrowth, and parasitic infections with unhealthy biofilms in the gut. So cleansing heavy metals and Candida to improve the health of intestinal biofilms and to empower immune function is often what I help patients with when cleansing parasites.
Life After Treating Parasites
Once your parasitic infection has been cleared, certain lifestyle changes are encouraged to prevent re-infestation. Now the focus shifts to strengthening the immune system through a combination of protocols:
- Eat a healthy, balanced diet.
- Store and prepare food properly.
- Get your water tested for both microorganisms and toxins (remember, parasites like weakened immune systems, including those weakened by toxins).
It’s a complex and detrimental human health problem when many of our physicians would never think to look for a parasite infestation as a primary cause of illness. This leaves patients undiagnosed or misdiagnosed while parasites continue to cause damage to organs and tissues and steal essential nutrients from the body. This scenario also leaves physicians prescribing strong drugs that cause further stress on the immune system and the liver by introducing potentially toxic chemicals into the body.
In a nutshell, it comes down to this:
- Take preventative measures.
- Be your own health detective and get tested for parasites.
- If you have a parasite, weigh the pros and cons of each treatment type and decide which course of action to take.
- Be diligent, yet patient with your treatment – you won’t be cured overnight.
- Strengthen your immune system and keep up with the preventative measures to limit re-exposure.