Parasites and Natural Treatments (plus how to test)

A parasite infection never brings up a pleasant image - but for many people with digestive issues this is often the cause.

Bacteria, virus and fungal infections can all cause digestive problems but just the name “parasite” seems to have more of an “eek” factor.

I see people who have had chronic digestion problems like constipation, diarrhea, gas, bloating and reflux who find out that they have a parasite infection - this becomes their number one focus, but eliminating it does not always resolve their digestion problems.

There are a number of reasons for this, including poor quality testing or the fact that they may have a bacteria or yeast infection that is the main cause of their symptoms rather than the parasite.

This article will tell you have to test for parasites, how to treat parasite infections, plus what other infections to watch out for.

Parasite Infections are Widespread

It may not be something that we want to think about, but it’s a reality for many people.

Parasites can plague many of us for a variety of reasons. It’s a health epidemic in certain parts of the world, especially third world countries …. but they are a problem in the U.S, Canada, Australia and can be found worldwide - you don’t have to travel to get a parasite infection.

It’s often misunderstood and therefore misdiagnosed. It’s important to understand the different types of parasites, how they are tested for, and of course how to treat them.

It’s also important to know what type of diet or lifestyle you should keep in working towards the treatment (and prevention) of parasites.

By working to understand parasites you can trust that they won’t be a factor in your life.

By creating the right environment within your body, you can work at treating parasites and so many other digestive infections as well. So let’s gain some understanding of this often misunderstood health condition.

Noteworthy:  Optimizing your digestive health may be the best thing that you do for your overall health in the long term!

Testing for Parasites 

This is not an area where you should guess. This is an area where you want definitive proof one way or another if you do in fact have parasites.

The only way to test if you have parasites is with a stool test, and there are many different options to choose from, with the best ones identifying the DNA of a parasite.

Most tests only give a positive or negative result for parasites, but it is important to know the quantity of parasites present - as you may have a low level parasite infection that is not the cause of your digestion problem.

feacal multiplex

The reality is that proper testing isn’t always done when it comes to parasites. Many tests like the one in the image above only show you that a parasite has been detected.

These tests are highly accurate and it is possible that they are showing a positive result even if you have very low levels of a parasite, OR you could have high levels.

When you see a positive test for parasites the focus often turns to antibiotic treatment, antiparasitic herbal treatments.

But without doing a more comprehensive test, assessing overall gut health, bacteria, yeast and viral infections you may not be treating the cause of your problem - in fact you could be making things worse.

Parasite infection and treatment

The G.I Map test will give you the exact levels of a parasite infection

If you have digestive symptoms or chronic health problems doing a comprehensive stool test is the best place to start, as it is important to understand the underlying cause.

My favourite test for assessing digestive health is the G.I Map test.

This one test goes above and beyond in terms of detection, and of course leading you towards the help that you need.

 While standard stool tests only show if you are positive or negative for parasites the G.I Map test will give you a precise analysis, showing you how many parasites are detected.

Advantages of the G.I Map Test in Parasite Detection

Parasite infections on G.I Map test

This is an example of a low level parasite infection

Blastocystis hominis is a common parasite infection that is often detected on stool tests, and it is controversial because many people have it without any symptoms - so doctors will often ignore this infection.

The test result above shows a low level infection, and while this person may have digestive symptoms it is possible that these symptoms are caused by other infections, especially bacteria infections.

Below you will see some of the other bacterial infections that we he tested positive for, and this was the main cause of the digestive problems - not the parasite that was present.

Treating a parasite infection can be difficult, one of the reasons for this is that there is a lot of inflammation present, and the body’s own immune defence systems are low. This creates an ideal environment for parasites and other infections to thrive.

Secretory Immunoglobulin A (SIgA) is part of your digestive systems defence against pathogens - there are many things that can affect your SIgA levels like stress, poor diet, and infections.

Having low levels of SIgA can make it difficult to eliminate parasites and this is one of the first areas that needs to be addressed - before you try anti-parasite treatments.

Having low SIgA levels and high levels of inflammation is why many parasite treatment plans fail.

Intestinal Health

The first step to treating a parasite infection is with diet and specific supplements to boost your SIgA levels.

The G.I Map test by Diagnostic Solutions in the U.S can be shipped worldwide and will help you to take out the guesswork when addressing your digestion.

Other Digestion Tests 

Endoscopy/Colonoscopy  - This is a procedure in which a tube is inserted into the mouth (endoscopy) or rectum (colonoscopy) so that the doctor, usually a gastroenterologist, can examine the intestine.

This is great for assessing structural problems, Inflammatory bowel disease, polyps or cancer, but you cannot diagnose parasites or other infections with this type of test.

Many people with digestion problems often have a colonoscopy which comes back perfect - they are then told that they “just” have IBS and there is nothing that can be done

Blood tests - There are a number of blood tests that can help with the detection of parasites. It is rare for parasites to be found in the blood, and if they are then you have a serious infection as parasite infections are usually localized to the digestive tract.

  • Serology: This test is used to look for antibodies or for parasite antigens produced when the body is infected with a parasite, and the immune system is trying to fight off the invader.
  • Blood Smear: This test is used to look for parasites that are found in the blood. By looking at a blood smear under a microscope, parasitic diseases such as filariasis, malaria, or babesiosis, can be diagnosed.

X-ray, Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) scan, Computerized Axial Tomography scan (CAT) - used to look for some parasitic diseases that may cause lesions in the organs and central nervous system. These are usually higher powered tests that can detect the presence of a parasite, it is rare for parasites to be found outside of the G.I tract so MRI scans are not recommended if you have digestive problems.


Parasitic Pathogens

Parasites

A parasite is an organism that lives and feeds on a host organism at the expense of the host. The GI-MAP tests for pathogenic parasites and protozoa most commonly occurring in the GI tract.

Cryptosporidium

Epidemiology - how you get infected

  • Faecal contamination of ingested foods and liquids (contaminated water and swimming pools, undercooked meat, and raw milk) 
  • Common cause of traveler’s diarrhea

Clinical Implications

  • Symptoms typically last 2 –3 weeks and are self-limiting
  • If symptoms persist, look for sources of contamination, such as drinking water
  • Can cause reactive arthritis

Therapeutic Approaches & Considerations

  • May not require treatment if it is a self limiting infection but if it is a chronic infection will cause inflammation and you need to assess calprotectin and SIgA levels to determine GI inflammation and immune response
  • If necessary, consider anti-parasitic herbal treatments and address inflammation and other gut infections 
  • Search for and remove sources of faecal contamination

Entamoeba histolytica

Epidemiology

  • Faecal contamination of ingested foods or water
  • Pets may be a source of exposure
  • Sexual contact may be a source of exposure

Clinical Implications

  • Symptoms include diarrhea, fulminating colitis (resembling ulcerative colitis), and dysentery
  • Extreme cases may invade liver and lung tissues

Therapeutic Approaches & Considerations

  • See patient’s calprotectin and SIgA levels to determine GI inflammation and immune response.
  • Treatment may be indicated, even in asymptomatic carriers consider anti-parasitic herbal treatments, this is a serious parasitic infection so you should work with an experienced practitioner.

Giardia

Epidemiology

  • Most commonly isolated protozoan worldwide 
  • Found in outside water sources (lakes, streams, ponds) and can get past filtration systems
  • Carried by animals
  • Common in daycare workers

Clinical Conditions

  • May be asymptomatic, especially in patients with adequate levels of normal bacteria and SIgA
  • Symptoms include acute diarrhea, bloating, cramps, weight loss, intestinal malabsorption, and steatorrhea
  • Can cause urticaria or neurologic symptoms such as irritability, sleep disorder, or depression

Giardia intestinalis protozoan

  • May cause malnutrition and vitamin B12 deficiency
  • Can cause reactive arthritis

Therapeutic Approaches & Considerations

  • See patient’s calprotectin and SIgA levels to determine GI inflammation and immune response Protocol to repair and rebuild the gut mucosa is often necessary after a giardia infection due to the inflammation and leaky gut that it can cause.

Protozoa

Blastocystis hominis

Epidemiology

  • Fecal contamination of food or water is common 
  • Found worldwide

Clinical Implications

  • Symptoms include diarrhea, abdominal pain, nausea and vomiting, fever, fatigue, irritable bowel syndrome, infective arthritis

Therapeutic options and considerations

  • Difficult to eradicate and it is important to address the overall gut health, opportunistic bacteria, and biofilms and not just focus on the parasite
  • It is also possible to have blastocystis hominis and be asymptomatic - even if you have G.I symptoms they may be caused by other bacteria and not the Blastocystis.
  • Most stool tests only show if you are positive or negative for parasites and do not tell you the exact quantity - this is important to know which is why I like the G.I Map test.

Chilomastix mesnili

Epidemiology

  • Fecal contamination of food or water

Clinical Implications

  • Considered non-pathogenic and may not cause symptoms
  • May indicate dysbiosis or suppressed immunity and can cause problems with dysbiosis and leaky gut at higher levels

Cyclospora spp. (Cyclospora cayetanensis)

Epidemiology

  • Fecal contamination of food and water 
  • Associated with water- and food-borne outbreaks
  • Common cause of traveller’s diarrhea
  • May be found on imported fresh produce from tropical regions

Clinical Implications

  • Symptoms include prolonged watery diarrhea, abdominal cramping, loss of appetite, weight loss, nausea, and vomiting
  • May cause alternating diarrhea and constipation
  • Can cause bloating,flatulence, and burping
  • Flu-like symptoms such as fatigue, headaches, and low fever may be present in some individuals
  • Infection is usually self-limiting, with symptoms usually lasting about seven days, but can last weeks or months in immunosuppressed patients

Therapeutic Options and Considerations

  • In cases lasting more than seven days, treatment with probiotics, broad-spectrum anti-parasitic herbal formula

Dientamoeba fragilis

Epidemiology

  • Not well understood; probably fecal contamination of food or water

Clinical Implications

  • May be asymptomatic so it is important to find out the exact levels of the infection and not just a positive or negative result
  • May cause diarrhea, abdominal pain, nausea, fever, fatigue, weight loss, appetite loss, and/or fatigue

Therapeutic Options and Considerations

  • “Moderate” amounts of DNA, that are not above the laboratory reference range, may cause symptoms and warrant treatment
  • Consider probiotics, broad-spectrum anti-parasitic herbal formula
  • Look for and address sources of reinfection » Address other imbalances on the GI-MAP test

Endolimax nana

Epidemiology

  • Fecal contamination of food or water

Clinical Implications

  • Considered non-pathogenic; individuals may be asymptomatic
  • May be indicative of dysbiosis, conservative treatment may be indicated if clinical presentation is consistent with enteroparasitosis

Therapeutic Options and Considerations

  • Consider probiotics and addressing other infections on the G.I Map test

Entameoba coli

Epidemiology

  • Fecal contamination of food or water 
  • Found in the large intestine,considered to be non-pathogenic

Clinical Implications

  • May be indicative of dysbiosis, conservative treatment may be indicated if clinical presentation is consistent with enteroparasitosis

Therapeutic Options and Considerations

  • Consider probiotics and herbal treatment - often found in conjunction with other G.I infections and dysbiosis

Pentatrichomonas hominis

Epidemiology

  • Fecal contamination of food or water

Clinical Implications

  • Considered harmless, a non-pathogen
  • Infected individuals are usually asymptomatic
  • May contribute to dysbiosis
  • Also colonizes dogs, cats, and other animals

Therapeutic Options and Considerations

  • May be asymptomatic unless found in conjunction with other infections or dysbiosis
  • In women with vaginosis, consider treatment to reduce chances of vaginal contamination or reinfection
  • If treatment is needed, consider a broad-spectrum anti- parasitic herbal formula plus the right probiotics

Symptoms of Parasite Infections

There is something that leads you to get the testing done in the first place. There is something that you just feel isn’t right.

For many people this is digestive symptoms, but often it is other chronic health problems that may lead to fatigue, or affect your skin, or anxiety/ depression and even autoimmune problems.

Whatever the symptoms may be, there is something that leads you to believe that there may be parasites present. It’s time to investigate that and to understand what the true cause is, maybe it is a parasite infection, or possible something else.

Here are the telltale symptoms of a parasite, and do keep in mind that they are often combined with other gut infections, and there maybe multiple parasites present.

Also you don’t have to have all of these symptoms, there maybe no diarrhea or gut symptoms, and your only symptoms is fatigue or depression.

  • Watery, sometimes foul-smelling diarrhea that may alternate with soft, greasy stools: This doesn’t just go away after a day or two such as with the stomach flu. This is the type that tends to linger and the unusual diarrhea seems to get worse.
  • Fatigue or malaise: This is of course a symptom associated with so many other health conditions. Just being exhausted or lacking energy may not be the only telltale sign of parasites. When you combine it with other symptoms though, it begins to paint the picture.
  • Abdominal cramps and bloating: This is one of the symptoms that often gets mistaken and misdiagnosed for a stomach condition. This is usually a fairly profound type of bloating and cramping though. It’s easy to see that this is not the standard bloating and it seems to linger for quite a long time.
  • Gas or flatulence: Again this often goes hand in hand with the cramping and bloating. Your stomach is telling you that something isn’t right, and it doesn’t seem to go away. You know that it’s nothing that you ate because it goes on far longer.
  • Nausea: It’s easy to dismiss a sudden wave of nausea, but not when it’s combined with other symptoms. If the nausea persists or if it’s combined with any of these other symptoms, then it may very well be time to get evaluated for parasites. This can interfere with eating normally or even digesting the food that you do eat.
  • Weight loss: This is typically the symptom that most healthcare professionals look to. If you have a parasite, you can often count on weight loss to be a symptom that appears. No matter what you eat or how much you eat, it seems that the weight loss continues.

It may be combined with other symptoms or act just on its own. If you have sudden or recurring weight loss without any further explanation, then it may very well be a parasite to blame. 

Here are some of the other symptoms that a parasite infection can cause - even without having too many digestive symptoms.

  • Itchy skin
  • Finger joint pain - often temporary in duration
  • Brain fog
  • Sharp shooting pains throughout the body
  • Muscle twitches
  • Hypersensitivities such as hay fever or latent allergies
  • Chronic fatigue
  • Autoimmune conditions
  • Anxiety and depression

Parasite and Natural Treatments 

If you have the symptoms, go through the testing, and get the diagnosis, then you want to know how to treat the parasites.

This isn’t a health condition or diagnosis that people want to deal with, and therefore you want to look for the fastest and most effective treatment possible.

Often people choose antibiotics as the fastest option - but they are often ineffective, especially by themselves.

There are some wonderful natural treatments that can be effective at eliminating parasites, but it is important to work with a experienced practitioner as you want to treat infections in the right order - and create an environment that makes it difficult for the parasites to survive.

Not only do you want to target the parasite but you also need to address the biofilm’s, these are best described as the parasites “defence shield” that can make eliminating them difficult.

Herbal Treatments

Many antibiotics are ineffective against parasites as they have built up a resistance, and even the ones that can be effective can often cause more damage that benefits.

This is why I prefer natural treatment options, but even if you decide to go down the antibiotic route they are going to be more effective when used in combination with natural treatments.

Using the right combination of herbs and essential oils is important - and also they need to be taken at a therapeutic dose.

Here are some of the common herbs that can be effective against parasites.

  • Garlic - Equally effective agent against Blastocystis hominis as conventional prescription medication. It has antimicrobial properties and those can be instrumental in fighting parasites as well.
  • Wormwood - it is a mild sedative and can increase stomach acidity, therefore creating the right environment to fight off parasites and infection.
  • Black Walnut - traditional remedy to fight parasites and fungal infections, it also promotes good digestion and serves as a mild laxative.
  • Goldenseal - Helps promote healthy immune function, fights inflammation and infections while cleansing the body and improving digestion. All of these work together to cleanse the body of parasites and create an environment where their existence isn’t as likely in the future.
  • Clove – studies have shown that clove oil, may be beneficial at eliminating parasites.
  • Thyme oil and Oregano oil - these are both effective anti-parasitic herbs

Nutrition

This may be one of the most instrumental and effective ways to treat and prevent parasites. You want to be aware of the right foods to eat and the wrong foods which you should always avoid when it comes to parasites.

You want to neutralize the environment within your body so that parasites aren’t as apt to become an issue.

The Foods to Eat

These are the foods to eat if you are trying to get rid of parasites. They can also work well in the prevention of parasites as well. You want to be certain that you eat a balanced, healthy, and nutritious diet, and that you have a strong focus on these foods in particular.

Green veggies

These vegetables are highly beneficial in reversing the effects of gut microflora imbalance, as well as strengthening the immune system. Especially spinach and broccoli so be sure to make them a staple. They can help with parasites and so much more too.

Lean proteins

The good news is that these provide no “food” for Blastocystis Hominis, while providing you with essential amino acids that your body requires to function properly. If possible, try to find meats from animals that are grass fed and not treated with antibiotics, since as we know, antibiotics are also disruptive to gut microflora balance.

Most whole grains

There is no true connection between gluten and a parasite infection but parasites cause inflammation which can be aggravated by gluten - so avoid wheat and other gluten grains.

Rice is probably the safest and best tolerated grain.

Natural herbal foods

These are excellent in helping to restore gut health and are such an instrumental part of a healthy diet. These include herbs such as garlic, thyme, oregano, rosemary, and parsley. You can even look to cinnamon and cloves for many helpful health properties. Fresh ginger is an essential part of this category as it is hated by parasites.

Onions, leeks, chives and other “bitter foods”

These are highly beneficial for digestive health and may work towards a proper cleanse and prevention as well.

But if you have SIBO as well as a parasite infection then these foods may aggravate your symptoms.

Fermented and cultured foods

These are known for their probiotic properties, helping restore the good bacteria you need to fight the bad guys.

Coconut oil

The monolaurin found within this oil can effectively kill parasites and other toxins and infections as well.

Apple Cider Vinegar

Taking one tablespoon of this before a meal can help stimulate your stomach acid and prepare your digestive system for absorption. Increased stomach acid can help to protect you against parasites.

Papaya

Contains an enzyme called papain that will aid digestion.

Pineapple

This fruit has an enzyme called bromelain that will aid in digestion and create a better gut environment.

The Foods To Avoid

Equally as important as the right foods to eat are the foods that you should avoid. Eating these foods can actually create an environment where parasites are likely to develop. These foods aren’t good for your health and may cause not only parasites, but also many other health conditions.

Do your best to phase out these foods if you are trying to get rid of parasites or if you are wanting to improve your digestion.

Sugars, starches and processed foods 

These offer no nutritional value, but they may actually work against you where parasites are concerned. These foods tend to be very high in sugar and/or starch-heavy. Blastocystis Hominis eagerly feeds on these bad carbs, creating an even more favorable environment for parasitic reproduction.

This includes a wide array of foods including baked goods, candy, frozen foods, fried foods, sugary foods, salty foods like chips, white bread, rice, and pasta, and foods that are processed beyond recognition.

If you try to read a label and you can’t understand most of the ingredients listed, then there’s a good chance that this is a food to avoid. These foods will only create an environment favorable by parasites, and they will work against your health overall.

Alcohol

Despite the enjoyment you may get from your nice wine, aged whiskey or craft beer, you will need to put it on the shelf until you get your gut health back on track. Alcohol can contribute to leaky gut and inflammation - especially if there is already inflammation present that is caused by the parasites

Foods that trigger digestive symptoms

This is going to vary for everyone as will the actual symptoms. Keep track of this type of reaction, and if you notice that you suffer from some sort of digestive symptom then make this food off limits for the time being.

It could be gluten, dairy, eggs or sugar or something completely different—get in tune with your body so that you understand what you should avoid for the foreseeable future.

I have tried everything to eliminate parasites - and they are still there

There are a number of reasons for this and the first thing I would assess is whether your symptoms have improved or are they still the same - sometimes people feel a lot better after the parasite protocol yet the parasite is still present at low levels.

What type of test did you do? If you are just doing a positive or negative test there may have been a significant reduction in parasite numbers but they are still present.

Are there other infections like SIBO, Helicobacter pylori or candida that are present and have not been addressed first?

Make sure you test for more than just parasites

  • Test adrenal health with the DUTCH hormone test as adrenal function will may influence your treatment, especially SIgA levels
  • Test SIgA and other gut health markers like Zonulin and Calprotectin
  • Have you tested other bacteria and yeast infections with the G.I Map test?

What about Biofilm’s and Parasite Infections

As I mentioned earlier a biofilm can help to protect the parasites and make them difficult to eliminate - this is often the number one reason why parasite treatments are ineffective.

Biofilms are like a protective mucous bubble that surround parasite and bacterial infections making it more difficult to eliminate them - this is why breaking down the biofilm is an important part of the treatment process.

It is not easy to test for biofilms, but if you have a number of parasite infections combined with high levels of opportunistic bacteria like Pseudomonas and Streptococcus you can be sure biofilm’s are present.

There are a number of different natural options for breaking down biofilms and which ones you use will depend on the type of infection present, the overall health of the patient and how chronic their condition is.

Biofilm agents include:

Parasite Treatment Summary

This is a step by step summary for treating parasite and gut infections

  • 1
    Do an advanced stool test like the G.I Map test to get an accurate assessment of your gut infections
  • 2
    Have your test results assessed by a practitioner experienced with the G.I Map test so you get a customized treatment plan
  • 3
    Make sure you have optimal SIgA levels and reduce inflammation
  • 4
    Optimize your diet and nutrition
  • 5
    Treat infections like Helicobacter pylori first
  • 6
    Address the parasite infection with a combination of herbs, essential oils and biofilm agents for 8 weeks
  • 7
    Heal the gut and improve beneficial bacteria levels with prebiotics and probiotics
  • 8
    Retest

About the Author Michael

Michael is head consultant at Planet Naturopath - Functional Medicine and Nutrition Solutions.

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