Think parasite infections only strike those traveling in exotic locations? Think again.
Do you suffer from chronic diarrhea, abdominal pain, frequent yeast infections, or other GI (gastrointestinal) symptoms? Have you been diagnosed with IBS, Crohn’s, colitis or other inflammatory GI issues?
If so, listen up: Did you know a parasite could be contributing to your symptoms?
Could You Have a Parasite?
Have you ever been sick from food poisoning or foreign travel and not felt quit right since, yet you’ve been told nothing is wrong? I can’t tell you how many clients I’ve had come to me for consultation after they’ve been put through the ringer with colonoscopies and other tests, only to be told there’s nothing wrong with them (even when they’re having pain and GI symptoms!), or they’re just given a diagnosis of IBS and sent away with a prescription.
You may be tested for parasites through your doctor and told the test came back clean, causing further confusion. Conventional medicine typically only screens for and treats acute parasitic infections, meaning the infection is present right now: chronic and severe diarrhea (common with giardia) for 3 weeks after trip to Mexico, for example. You’re probably sent away with antibiotics. Outside of this model, the testing doesn’t screen for chronic parasitic infections which may be misdiagnosed as colitis, heartburn, IBS, Crohn’s or gastritis. Worse yet, you may be given antacids or other drugs to treat the symptoms, not the underlying cause, which worsens inflammatory GI issues long term.
The failure to properly and fully diagnose can be detrimental, as seemingly unrelated problems such as hormonal imbalance or fatigue begin to arise. Because your immune system is stressed constantly fighting the infection (that you may not even know you have), your cortisol levels rise in response to stress, and sex hormone levels therefore drop since your body is using all raw materials it uses to make hormones to produce excess cortisol. Weight gain, infertility, and menstrual irregularities can occur.
Common parasites that can infect the human gut include
- Amoebas, like hystolitica
- Dientamoeba fragilis
These parasites commonly cause cyclical or recurrent diarrhea, cramping/abdominal pain, vomiting, heartburn, or sometimes seemingly unrelated issues like heavy periods, fatigue, or nutrient deficiencies.
Although anyone can contract a parasite infection, if your immune and digestive systems are in tip top shape, you have a better chance of fighting off the offender. Most often, parasites hitchhike into your body via food or contaminated water. Your stomach acid should kill them as they enter, but if your digestive system isn’t working well, they have a better chance of surviving and infecting you. You may experience food poisoning or begin to notice that you’re not feeling quite right.
There are generally two common issues contributing to chronic digestive problems.
One is food allergies/intolerance, most commonly to gluten, dairy and eggs; the other is GI infections and/or overgrowth of bad bacteria.
Consuming foods to which you are intolerant completely destroys the villi (lining) in your small intestine, and the lining becomes inflamed. Kind of like taking a blow torch to a lush green lawn, leaving it barren and charred. When this lining becomes damaged, food particles can leak through and become tagged by the body as antigens, and the body mounts an immune attack, seeing the food as an invader (after all, food is not meant to escape from your digestive tract). This is called leaky gut syndrome, and it creates inflammation and is responsible for the development of numerous food intolerances. When you eat the food you’re sensitive to, you experience a heightened immune response. If you are repeatedly eating foods to which you’re sensitive, your immune system is running on hyper-drive and can begin to run amok and attack itself: an origin of autoimmune disease.
The inflammation from leaky gut encourages bad bacteria overgrowth and lowers the immune defenses that can help prevent parasite infections.
The second issue that causes digestive symptoms is low-grade chronic infections in the digestive tract such as parasites, overgrowth of “bad” bacteria, pathogenic bacteria and yeast overgrowth. Either or both of these two issues causes tissue damage and inflammation in the digestive system, and that leads to constipation, gas, bloating, diarrhea, heartburn, or indigestion. The bacteria feed on and ferment carbohydrate starches you eat and multiply, emitting endotoxins and slowing digestion, which causes pain and bloating after meals. When you have leaky and and bacterial imbalance in the gut, you are more susceptible to contracting parasites.
To make matters worse, parasites or pathogens in the digestive tract lead to major inflammation and exacerbate leaky gut. Left untreated, these buggers in your GI tract can cause fatigue, hormone imbalance, weight gain, systemic inflammation, insomnia, anxiety and malabsorption. They also contribute to IBS, Crohn’s and inflammatory GI issues.
Because digestive wellness is the focal point of my practice, I see a lot of folks who suffer from IBS and major GI problems. They’ve been to countless doctors who haven’t been much help. I recommend GI assessments (stool testing like the GI MAP test) to these clients, and to most of my clients, for that matter. The stool assessments screen for parasites, pathogenic bacteria (such as h pylori), dysbiosis/bad bacteria overgrowth, worms, amoebas, and yeast. I rarely see one come back clean. And these little buggers can be responsible for a whole host of ills outside of the digestive tract. Often times, people don’t display any obvious symptoms.
(NOTE: when I refer to GI infections in this post, I’m referring to parasites, pathogenic bacteria, dysbiosis, worms and yeast/candida)
If you suspect infections in the GI tract, your best bet is to see a practitioner and do a stool sample to test for giardia, amoeba hystolitica, blastocystis, and cryptosporidium. These tests can also check for pathogenic infections like c difficile, klebsiella, h pylori, e coli overgrowth, candida, etc.
In my practice, once I see what’s going on, I can design a GI cleanse using herbs to kill off whatever bugs are present. Depending on what shows up (they are all treated differently), I’ll use a combination of wormwood, berberines, oil of oregano, black walnut, grapefruit see extract and olive leaf extract, for example. I’ll have the person eliminate inflammatory foods like gluten, dairy, soy, alcohol and sugar for best results. I also recommend a good probiotic and a digestive enzyme along with the herbs. It takes about 6-8 weeks, then we work on recolonizing the gut with good bacteria and healing leaky gut.
Here is the general parasite cleanse I use
It’s not uncommon to see yeast occur with parasites. I sometimes recommend following up a parasite cleanse up with a candida treatment . This can be a similar herbal cleanse using berberine, oregano oil or leaf, caprylates, and pau d’arco, among others. Colloidal silver works great against candida too– it’s a natural antibiotic and anti-microbial. A candida cleanse diet should be followed as well: in addition to gluten, cut out anything with yeast or mold such as beer, cheese, mushrooms, and also minimize fruit and sugars.
Parasites, bacteria and yeast are little bugs that cause big damage. If you have been given a leaky gut or IBS diagnosis, or you suffer from any GI symptoms, get tested for GI infections! I offer this testing in my practice.
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Mary Vance is a Certified Nutrition Consultant and author specializing in digestive health. She combines a science-based approach with natural therapies to rebalance the body. In addition to her 1:1 coaching, she offers courses to help you heal your gut and improve your health. Mary lives in San Francisco and Lake Tahoe in Northern California. Read more about her coaching practice here and her background here.