Parasites: the good, bad and ugly

Stories in the media about a five-foot-long tapeworm crawling out of a Californian man’s body earlier this year or the brain eating amoeba which thrives in warm fresh water across large parts of inland Australia sound like they might be straight out of a horror film.  

Parasites, which take up residence in their human host and feed on their nutrients, causing both minor ailments as well as serious and sometimes life-threatening illness, are enough to make, even the toughest of us, squeamish.

Parasites are all around us, they are everywhere - and they are not only a problem faced by the developing world. There are 3000 different types of parasites and they are more common that you might think in first world countries and a lot of people in Australia, UK and the USA are travelling around with a host of different parasites.

How do you get a parasite?

You can get parasites from many different places. There are water-borne parasites, living in unfiltered drinking water and rainwater tanks; you can pick them up swimming in contaminated waterways or even swimming pools; from unwashed contaminated fruit or vegetables; bathroom fixtures; nappy change tables; walking on contaminated soil; sexual contact and more.

The best way to avoid getting parasites is follow strict hygiene and preventative measures – make sure bedrooms and beds are clean and that hands are washed properly. You need to wash your hands with soap, or sanitising wash, for 45 seconds to make sure they’re really clean before eating or preparing food. Often parasite eggs will live under fingernails and it’s important to scrub there too.

How common are they?

Some parasites, like lice and pinworms, are regularly passed around at schools, with many kids getting these several times a year. They are relatively easy to treat and it’s important the whole family, and pets, follow the same protocol to get rid of them as re-infection is common.

Other common parasites I see a lot of are blastocystis hominis and dientamoeba fragilis – a large portion of the population will have these two gut parasites and they are extremely hard to get rid of.

There is a growing tide of medical research indicating these two common parasites may also be contributing to the increase in unexplained irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) cases.

Intestinal parasites exist throughout the world. The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that 3.5 billion people worldwide are infested with some type of intestinal parasite, and as many as 450 million of them are sick as a result. Children are most frequently infected with these parasites.

What are the symptoms of a parasite?

Because parasites come in so many different shapes and sizes, they can also cause a very wide range of problems. Some consume your food, leaving you hungry after every meal and unable to gain weight. Others feed off of your red blood cells, causing anemia. Some lay eggs in the intestines that can cause itching, irritability, and even insomnia. In extreme cases parasite can destroy your tissue and strip your bowel, even worse they can lay lava in your brain and liver, which will kill you.

If you have tried countless approaches to heal your gut and relieve your symptoms without any success, a parasite could be the underlying cause for many of your unexplained and unresolved symptoms.

In most cases there will be symptoms when there is a parasite, however not in all cases – some people have parasites with no symptoms.

If you do have symptoms, some of the common ones that we often see are gas, bloating and distension of the stomach. There may also be abdominal changes and cramping, diarrhea and changes in system functioning (generally in the early stage of infestation); later there may be liver and gallbladder issues as your liver works hard to deal with the waste product; as well as nausea, fatigue, lack of appetite, feeling heavy, overweight or extreme emancipation.

Many doctors say it’s OK to live with some parasite but in my opinion, as soon as you know you have a parasite, it should be dealt with.

Whatever the symptoms are, it’s important to find out which parasite you have and then follow a treatment protocol. Just be careful, not all parasites can be treated with antibiotics, yet in some cases antibiotics, or even stronger treatments are required.

Our first line of treatment is sending for a specific stool test to determine exactly which parasite is there, then we work on specific medical and diet protocol. Every case will be different as each person’s immune system will respond in a different way to someone elses, and there might be other contributing factors at play as well.

Treating a parasite

Ayurveda will have different treatment protocols depending on the type of parasite and symptoms.

The most fundamental approach is making sure your system is functioning well and that there is a strong digestive fire which will make it more difficult for your body to host a parasite.

The first steps in strengthening your agni, or digestive fire, is eating for your body type. If you don’t know your body type, you can do the test here. Or find out more about what foods suit your individual constitution in these articles I wrote specifically for vata, pitta, and kapha body types.

Diet is very important when treating a parasite. You will need to eat light foods, a lot of soups, but very limited, or no sweets and sugary foods as these are what parasites tend to feed off. You will also want to eat a fresh organic diet. Other anti-parastic foods include coconut, pumpkin seeds and Ajwain seeds (in the dill, caraway and cumin family). Cajun pepper, ginger and ginger tea will also strengthen digestive fire.

Home remedy

Ajwain seeds, ghee and rapadura sugar mixed in equal parts and formed into balls (roughly the size of a 10-cent piece) should be eaten on an empty stomach just before bed. The sugar attracts the parasite, while the ghee is anti-inflammatory and assists the Ajwain seeds to kill it off.

Some parasites are harder to get rid of than others, but despite what some medical professionals may say, it’s not advisable  to live with certain parasites in your body.

If you have any symptoms which feel like they may be a parasite, get in touch with our team - we can help you get rid of it and restore your health.