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February 5, 2018

The Truth About Parasites: Avoiding, Treating, and Defeating

What do we know about parasites? While the name alone might send shivers down your spine, these little things could be squirming around in your intestinal tract right now. What do you need to know about them, and how can you best handle them? Today, I want to talk to you a bit more about the matter of parasites.

What is a parasite?

Simply understood, a parasite is one organism that feeds off of another organism. It lives off its host, and gets its food from the host or at the host’s expense (1). In the context of our discussion today, I really want you to think about the parasites that we might be able to find in our intestines.

Types of Parasites

The main way that we can differentiate parasites between one another, is based on how they move. The different types of parasites, as defined by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), are as follows:

  • Sarcodina – the ameba
  • Mastigophora – the flagellates
  • Ciliophora – the ciliates
  • Sporozoa – organisms whose adult stage is not motile
Ultra Fiber - Dr. Alan Christianson

The Problems with Parasites

So, what’s the big deal about parasites? To this point, our discussion might have seemed very “sciency,” and I want to pull back a little bit so that we can really understand the problems with parasites and how they pertain to our overall health.

The discussions I have seen surrounding the effects of parasites in the human body, and their ill effects, often revolve around:

  • Disbiosys
  • Autoimmunity
  • Digestive systems
  • Many other maladies

Bottom Line: The concern surrounding parasites is totally valid. There is something that can happen, that you may have, and that you may not be aware of – which is often the worst part of it all.

How do you know if you have parasites?

It’s like I always say: test, don’t guess! There are some simple tests that doctors can order when it comes to the most severe and egregious forms of parasitic infection. That can include:

  • Stool analysis, and
  • Stool antibody studies

There are even blood markers available. There is a type of white blood cell known as the eosinophil (EOS), and those who have severe parasitic infections will consequently have severe levels of EOS in their system. This would go well into the 20’s, 30’s, and even greater in some cases. Small elevations might just be allergies, but major elevations can be severe parasitic infections.

What are some of the symptoms?

The symptoms involved with parasites are almost always unpleasant. Parasitic infections tend to target our intestines, and can do a great deal of damage (both in the short and long-term). When we think about parasites in our body, these are some of the issues that we might come across:

  • Abdominal pain
  • Nausea
  • Rash
  • Loose stools
  • Gas
  • Bloating
  • General fatigue
  • Antibody-type responses
  • Recurrent malabsorption of nutrients (iron, zinc, B12)

These are all things that could point towards the presence of parasites in the body. When it comes to those that have been trying to track down Thyroid disease, Hashimoto’s disease, or Grave’s disease, we have gone a long way in instructing the importance of tracking down what we call “root causes.” Conveniently enough, parasites could be one of those root causes that you might be dealing with.

There are also some other symptoms that we can consider, like:

  • Restlessness
  • Irritability
  • Unexpected hunger
  • Rectal itching
  • Recurrent yeast infections
  • IBS symptoms
  • Odd cravings (what we call pica – which are cravings for clay and dirt)

Bottom Line: There are general symptoms, and then there are specific ones. When you have some of both, you might not necessarily have a parasite, but it certainly does not hurt to find out. Once you have dealt with your parasite, though, you should also ensure that you are ruling out other issues. That all leads us back to one common question, though: are you at risk for getting a parasite?

Who is at risk?

Who has to be worried about parasitic infections? These are typically some of the most vulnerable groups:

  • Parents with young children (especially those in childcare settings)
  • People who live with and manage pets
  • Children in childcare centers
  • Child care workers
  • Farmworkers
  • Those exposed to untreated waters

Why are parasites bad?

We have talked a lot about parasites so far, but what are some of the more in-depth reasons why we would want to avoid them? Basically, why are they bad?

Suppress Immunity

Primarily, parasites are harmful because they end up tying up a lot of the immune resources in your body. You have this thing, lurking inside of your body, which your body is actively trying to get rid of – but it may not be able to successfully do so on its own. This can lead to:

  • Malabsorption of key nutrients
  • Developing food intolerances (2)
  • Losing many of your good bacteria

Bottom Line: These are some of the main categories that we need to think about when it comes to parasitic infections. When we have parasites in our system, we can basically think of it as a drain on our body. This sort of drain and strain can have a largely negative impact on so much of our body, and the factors that follow tend to make things even worse.

Which parasites cause problems?

When it comes to doing damage to our bodies, there are actually 12 main parasites (3) that we need to think about. These are the ones that can cause damage to our bodies, and can lead to all of the symptoms that I have mentioned above.

1. Tapeworms

This is the one you might have heard of the most in movies and television, where someone has a tapeworm inside of them to help them eat more. Many tapeworm infestations in the body can lead to no symptoms, but can result in pain and loss of B12 vitamins.

2. Human Pinworms

These are the most common in the United States. Human pinworms live in the small intestine, and can lead to appendicitis in young children.

3. Ascaris

This is one of the largest parasites that can live inside humans. Their presence in the body can lead to many long-term symptoms and afflictions.

4. Hookworms

These parasites can be spread by soil contaminated by human feces. It can lead to diarrhea, nausea, vomiting, and other pains.

5. Intestinal Flukes

Parasites like these are often transmitted from an intermediary host, like a fish or a vegetable. When someone consumes one of these undercooked, they may be at risk for developing this parasite.

6. Microsporidia

This is a spore-forming parasite, which can result in chronic non-bloody diarrhea, weight loss, abdominal pain, nausea, vomiting, and malnourishment.

7. Balantidiasis

This parasite comes to us through pigs, so it is particularly susceptible to those who work with them (like farmers).

8. Dientamoeba fragilis

Caused by human-to-human contact, this parasite can result in abdominal pain, weight loss, headaches, and more.

9. Giardiasis

Always check your drinking water. This one is caused by tainted water, and can have unfortunate symptoms (like diarrhea) lasting for up to three weeks.

10. Entamoeba histolytica

This parasite can cause tissue destruction, as well as bloody diarrhea.

11. Cryptosporidiosis

A highly-infectious parasite that can result in symptoms for up to 4 weeks.

12. Cystoisosporiasis

This final intestinal parasite can cause the same symptoms as the ones before it. Believe me, you do not want any of these in your body.

Bottom Line: There are plenty of different types of parasites, but if you follow some basic action steps you are likely to avoid all of them. What are they? Let’s talk about it.

Action Steps: Parasites

So, what can we do about parasites? If someone does have autoimmunity, malabsorption, or digestive symptoms, it really is worth a good screen to get to the bottom of the issue. Testing always helps us understand more of what is going on, and how we can best treat it – and, with most of these parasites, treatments are readily available.

The more common tests look for antibodies to a small number of bowel infections, or parasites, and they are accurate when they are positive – but that does not mean that they are always accurate when they are negative.

Key Insight: In medical testing, the common association is that positive is bad and that negative is good. Positive typically means that there were findings (which would be bad), and negative means that there were no findings (that nothing out of the ordinary was in existence).

When we talk about how often tests can be mistaken, we need to consider the higher rate of “false negatives” over “false positives.” This means that if a test says that you have parasites, there is a much lower chance that the test is wrong (and that you do not have parasites).

On the other hand, if the tests say you do not have parasites, that is not necessarily definitive. There is still a chance that you have parasites, no matter what the test initially states.

Daily Reset Shake - Dr. Alan Christianson

Bottom Line: If you have a lot of strong symptoms, and you take a test, and that test is positive – it means you need to treat and resolve right away. If the test is negative, and you have assessed all of the other potential causes, doing a short treatment for the healing of parasitic infections is not unreasonable.

What kind of treatments exist?

First, there are two courses for treatment. What we have are:

  • Conventional treatments, and
  • Natural treatments

In the conventional world of medicine, one of the mainstays is mebendazole. There are also many others, but none of which are innocuous. This means that nearly all of them do not make you feel good, as you are taking them. They also have the potential to harm your good gut flora, and can cause other issues down the road.

Bottom Line: I would not recommend the conventional route, unless you knew exactly which bug you were dealing with. Oftentimes, the conventional route can be even riskier.

Some excellent alternative methods include good, antiparasitic, natural herbs. These include:

  • Artemesia (3)
  • Black walnut
  • Berberine (4)
  • Triphala

All of these options are much safer to use, but I would not say that they are perfectly safe for long-term use. At extremes, these herbs could have the unintended consequence of harming your gut flora, as well as developing resistance. We need to use them, but only in moderation.

Bottom Line: These herbs are great, but you cannot take them forever! If you have vague symptoms, and they are not getting better with herbal treatment, do not assume that you need to do the treatment longer. Instead, work with a naturopathic doctor or a functional medicine practitioner to sort out what is really behind your symptoms.

Preventing Recurrence

There are three key steps that I want you to know about when it comes to preventing the recurrence of parasites in your system. Here are the three keys that you need to follow:

  1. Heal digestion – eat the right foods
  2. Fermented foods – learn more about amazing fermented foods
  3. Avoid exposure – try to limit your exposure to parasitic environments

Bottom Line: Nobody wants a parasite, that is for sure! The things that we can do to prevent parasites are pretty simple, but they are important not to forget. We need to take care of our guts, eat the right foods, and avoid situations where parasites are known to manifest. Once we do this, we will be way better off – and much safer.

Have A Healthy Gut

Are you worried about the status of your gut? Or do you think you might be dealing with a parasitic infection? You need to learn more about your body, and always test (don’t guess). After all we talked about today, keeping your gut in check is top-of-mind for me right now. Here’s what we use in the clinic: it’s called Healthy Gut (5), and I would recommend that you check it out to keep things in balance – and to keep your gut out of trouble – today.

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Dr. Alan Glen Christianson (Dr. C) is a Naturopathic Endocrinologist and the author of The NY Times bestselling Adrenal Reset Diet.

Dr. C’s gift for figuring out what really works has helped hundreds of thousands of people reverse thyroid disease, lose weight, cure diabetes, and regain energy. Learn more about the surprising story that started his quest.

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