Having a parasite can be a scary thought. However, you are not alone, parasites are far more common than you think. It’s a myth that parasites only exist in underdeveloped countries. In fact, the majority of the patients I see have a parasite. As you will see parasites can causing a myriad of symptoms only a few of which are actually digestive in nature.
What is a parasite?
A parasite is literally any organism that lives and feeds off of another organism. When I refer to intestinal parasites, I’m referring to tiny organisms, usually worms, that feed off of your nutrition.
Some examples of parasites include: roundworms, tapeworms, pinworms, whipworms, hookworms, and more. Because parasites come in so many different shapes and sizes, they can 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 that can cause itching, irritability, and even insomnia. 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.
How do you get parasites?
There are a number of ways to contract a parasite. First, parasites can enter your body through contaminated food and water. Undercooked meat is a common place for parasites to hide, as well as contaminated water from underdeveloped countries, lakes, ponds, or creeks. However, meat is the not the only culprit. Unclean or contaminated fruits and vegetables can also harbor parasites. Some parasites can even enter the body by traveling through the bottom of your foot.
Once a person is infected with a parasite, it is very easy to pass it along. If you have a parasite and do not wash your hands after using the restroom, you can easily pass microscopic parasite eggs onto anything you touch – the door handle, the salt shaker, your phone, or anyone you touch. It is also very easy to contract a parasite when handling animals. Hand-washing is a major opportunity to prevent parasite contamination and transmission. Traveling overseas is another way that foreign parasites can be introduced to your system. If you consumed any contaminated water during your travels, it is likely that you may have acquired a parasite of some kind.
10 Signs You May Have a Parasite
Unexplained constipation, diarrhea, gas, or other symptoms of IBS
Traveled internationally and remember getting traveler’s diarrhea while abroad
History of food poisoning and ‘your digestion has not been the same since’
Trouble falling asleep or wake up multiple times during the night
Skin irritation or unexplained rash, hives, rosacea or eczema
Grinding your teeth in your sleep
Pain or aching in your muscles or joints
Fatigue, exhaustion, depression, or feeling of apathy frequently
Never feeling satisfied or full after your meals
Diagnosis of iron-deficiency anemia
The signs of a parasite can often appear unrelated and unexplained. As I mentioned previously, there are MANY different types of parasites that we are exposed to in our environments. I typically see parasites causing more constipation in patients than diarrhea, but some parasites are capable of changing the fluid balance in your gut and causing diarrhea. Trouble sleeping, skin irritations, mood changes, and muscle pain can all be caused by the toxins that parasites release into the bloodstream. Often times, these toxins cause anxiety, which can manifest itself in different way. For instance, waking up in the middle of the night or grinding your teeth in your sleep are signs that your body is experiencing anxiety while you rest. When these toxins interact with your neurotransmitters or blood cells, they can cause mood swings or skin irritation.
How to Test for Parasites
The best way to test for a parasite is to get a stool test. Most doctors will run a conventional stool test if they suspect a parasite, however these are not as accurate as the Comprehensive Stool tests that we use in Functional Medicine.
Conventional Ova and Parasite Stool Test
Conventional stool tests can identify parasites or parasite eggs in your stool, yet this test comes with many limitations. The problem with this test is that it is only conditionally successful. This test requires three separate stool samples that must be sent to the lab for a medical technologist to view under a microscope. Parasites have a very unique life cycle, where they can rotate between dormant and alive. In order to identify them in this conventional test, the stool sample must contain a live parasite, the parasite must remain alive as the sample ships to the lab, and the medical technologist must be able to see the live parasite swimming across the slide. While these can certainly be useful tests for some people, they are unable to identify dormant parasites and therefore I often see a high number of false negative tests with this type of stool test.
Functional Medicine Comprehensive Stool Test
In my practice, I use a comprehensive stool test on all of my patients. The comprehensive test is much more sensitive than the conventional stool test because it uses Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR) technology to amplify the DNA of the parasite if there is one. This means that the parasite can actually be dead or in its dormant phase and it will be detected on this test. Because this test utilizes PCR technology it is not reliant on a pathologist seeing a live parasite swimming on the slide. I frequently diagnose parasites in my patients that were missed on conventional stool tests.
How to Treat Parasites
The comprehensive stool test is able to identify seventeen different parasite and so when I know which parasite my patient has I use prescription medications that target specific species of parasites and attack their central nervous systems. If however, the parasite cannot be identified, I usually use Para-Cleanse, a 10-day program designed to support the efforts of the intestinal system in removing unwanted guests. This carefully formulated herbal combination supports an intestinal environment that is not hospitable to foreign invaders. Para-Cleanse provides a broad spectrum of activity against the most common pathogens present in the human GI tract, while sparing the beneficial gut bacteria.