- If you live in a Western country, your doctor probably hasn’t looked to parasites as the root cause of your digestive symptoms. But maybe they should. Parasites don’t just cause life-threatening illnesses like Chagas disease and malaria. They can wreak havoc on your immune and digestive function, too… while going virtually undetected.
- Some symptoms of parasitic infection include watery stool, frequent diarrhea, malnutrition, skin rash, itchiness, anxiety, brain fog, and insomnia.
- Parasite treatment for humans isn’t as difficult as you might imagine. There are conventional, herbal, and even food remedies that can be used to clear your intestinal tract of parasites and alleviate symptoms.
Parasites. One word that strikes fear into even the most robust health fanatics.
Parasites have gained traction in recent years as more and more people complain of unexplained digestive issues, immune system dysfunction, and insomnia (all symptoms of parasitic infections).
It’s important to recognize that parasites don’t only cause deathly illnesses like malaria and Chagas disease in developing countries — they can be found virtually everywhere. The most common parasites in countries like Canada, the United States, and Europe can live in the intestinal tract of humans, going undetected for years. All the while, doctors are scratching their heads trying to figure out what is causing all your digestive symptoms (hint: it could be a worm).
When parasites begin to wreak havoc on our digestive and immune systems, we are quick to categorize the reaction as IBS or SIBO — and not look for a deeper root cause.
If you struggle with gut dysbiosis, interrupted sleep, and skin rashes, and you haven’t been able to find any answers — it might be time to look into parasitic infections.
Finding out about parasites can feel scary at first — and gross. But this could be the breakthrough you’re looking for to restore your health and quality of life.
Table of Contents:
- What Are Parasites?
- How Do You Get Parasites?
- Types of Parasites Found in Humans
- Intestinal Parasite Symptoms
- How to Test for Parasites
- Treatment Options for Parasites
What Are Parasites?
A parasite is a living organism that feeds off other people or animals. You might imagine parasites as the typical pinworm or tapeworm, but bugs like ticks and leeches are also technically considered parasites.
Parasitic infections can cause a host of issues — from temporary digestive distress to serious illness. But some parasites go completely undetected and cause no symptoms at all. This is why it’s so important to know how to detect and treat them.
How Do You Get Parasites?
Parasites are a part of life — and although we try to deny it, they’re pretty easy to contract, even in the developed world. Here are some ways you could contract parasites:
- Walking barefoot in areas known to have parasites
- Eating raw fish or meat (sorry, sushi lovers!)
- Consuming contaminated water
- Interacting with pets (especially pet feces)
- Working in the medical field
- International travel
- Swimming in contaminated water
- Poor hygiene (wash your hands, people!)
- Interacting with contaminated human waste
Tip: Children, the elderly, and people with weakened immune systems are more likely to contract parasites. If you fit in any of these categories, it’s important to be hyper-vigilant in your prevention methods.
Types of Parasites Found in Humans
There are three known types of parasites that can infect humans.
These parasites are single-celled organisms that can multiply within the host body on their own. Since they are microscopic, protozoa can be more difficult to detect and you won’t see them in your stool. Protozoa are quite common and studies estimate that everyone will become infected with a type of protozoa at some point in their lifetime.
These are your textbook parasites. The worm-like organisms you see in biology and in sci-fi movies. Tapeworms and roundworms are both considered helminth parasites. Typically, Helminths will lay eggs in their host and feed off their available nutrients. They can even manipulate the immune system in their favor, aka lower your immunity so that your body can’t kick them out — yikes!
Did you know? Ticks and fleas are considered parasites — and they’re part of the ectoparasite family. This unique parasite type makes its home outside of the host’s body. Ectoparasites temporarily feed off of their nutrients through blood-sucking bites or skin-deep burrows. If left undisturbed, these parasites can last for a while on their host. Thankfully, we have a lot of resources to get rid of ticks, fleas, lice, and leeches these days for animals and humans alike.
Intestinal Parasite Symptoms
How do you know if you have parasites?
Parasites are more common in the Western world than you think. And, they’re smart little buggers. Parasites can actually form biofilms that make them even more difficult to kill and detect.
If you suffer from unexplained GI symptoms, don’t count parasites out. They can easily infect the intestines and immune system while going undetected. Here are some symptoms of parasites that can help you determine whether or not they might be “bugging” your intestinal health:
1. You Never Feel Full After Meals… and You Never Gain Weight
If you’re consuming way more calories than necessary, and you can’t put on any weight… it might not be your fantastic metabolism. It might be parasites. Tapeworm especially is known for consuming all the nutrients from inside your gut. Although some people can contract tapeworm with virtually no symptoms, others experience things like diarrhea, nausea, malnutrition, dizziness, and abdominal pain.
There are a lot of gut issues that can cause malnutrition — including parasites. Since many parasites feed off the nutrients of their host, they can hoard your supply of essential vitamins and minerals. If you find that you are often low on nutrients, it may be worthwhile to test for parasites.
3. Watery Stool, Diarrhea, and Digestive Distress
That roadside taco stand you visited might have felt like a good choice at the time. But now that the toilet’s calling… you’re questioning everything. Giardiasis is a parasite that causes this reaction. Typically, an infection includes other symptoms like bloating, abdominal pain, nausea, fatigue, and more.
4. You Experience Illness After an International Trip
A lot of people experience symptoms of illness when visiting a foreign country. And sure, some of these may be due to jetlag and things the immune system hasn’t been exposed to. But it could be parasites, too. If you do catch an illness overseas, make sure you get it checked out when you come home. You don’t want to develop further GI issues due to undiagnosed parasites.
5. Itching and Rash
Parasites right under the skin may cause a tingly sensation, itchiness, and rash — like eczema. These unique symptoms may be due to an allergic reaction you’re having to the parasite itself.
6. Trouble Sleeping
If you experience all the other symptoms of parasites and have difficulty sleeping at night — it could be that bugs are waking you up. Parasites present in the intestinal tract can hijack the nervous system and increase cortisol levels. This may cause unexplained insomnia and wake you up during the night.
How to Test for Parasites
Parasite testing isn’t perfect — but it can be a helpful tool to determine which type of parasite you might have and how to treat it. A blood test or fecal test may help detect the presence of parasite eggs in your blood and stool.
Other testing options include things like a colonoscopy or an MRI. Both can find evidence of intestinal parasites (like tapeworms) with technology. While some parasites can be seen through imaging, doctors may be looking for signs of parasite damage in your intestinal tract and organs, too.
If you think you may have parasites… there’s one foolproof way to find out. Start a parasite cleanse and see what happens.
Treatment Options for Parasites
A lot of people are afraid to talk about parasites. They feel ashamed about contracting them and they’re nervous of what they’ll find if they begin a parasite cleanse.
But imagine the relief you’ll feel when parasites are no longer ruling your gut, your sleep schedule, and your immune system! It’s better to find them in your stool than in your body.
If you address the parasite infection through your doctor, they may recommend a prescription drug. Parasite treatment is advised based on which type of parasite is present in the body.
But keep in mind, parasite tests can be inaccurate — and conventional doctors may not know the best way to look for them. If you want to try treating parasites at home, there are a number of herbal remedies and foods you can try.
Here are Some Foods that Kill Parasites in Humans:
- Pumpkin seeds
- Papaya seeds
- Wormwood extract
Tip: Parasites are smart, and when attacked, they can actually create biofilms to protect themselves. If you’re actively treating parasites, but don’t feel any better, you may want to try something like biocidin to break apart the biofilms. Your practitioner may also have you rotate, or cycle through, different herbs and antimicrobials so that the parasite can’t develop immunity to any one compound.
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