Parasites are so often overlooked when it comes to diagnosing patients, yet they are a MAJOR root cause of many chronic health problems. Think of parasites as the unwelcome and uninvited guests to the party you are hosting. They rely on us for nutrition and survival, robbing us of nutrients and wreaking havoc on our gut. Microscopic parasites can live inside your cells (red blood cells or fat cells) and/or in the spaces between your cells. Your muscles, lymph, gut, brain, lungs, liver and other organs/tissues can be invaded by parasites, causing organ destruction and dysfunction. When parasites clog the bile duct, they can impede your body's ability to detoxify and digest properly.
Protozoa, helminths, and ectoparasites are the three types of parasites found in humans.
These parasites act like sponges that trap bacteria, virus, heavy metals, candida and mold (this is why it is absolutely necessary to treat parasites before addressing other toxins and infections). Parasites can also be a trigger for autoimmune disease. Because parasites feed off of ferritin (iron stores) they can also cause chronic anemia as well as other nutritional deficiencies.
Conditions caused by parasites include:
Recurrent urinary tract infections (UTI)
Small intestine bacterial overgrowth (SIBO)
Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)
Chronic yeast infections
Blood sugar dysregulation
Weight loss resistance
Infertility or ectopic pregnancy
Parasites (or "gu syndrome" in Chinese medicine) mainly affect the nervous system and digestive system. As strange as it seems, symptoms usually worsen during the week of a full moon - the time of your circadian rhythm when your melatonin is lower and your serotonin is higher. When your melatonin is low, your immune system can't fend off parasites as well. Parasites also thrive off your elevated serotonin, which allows them to reproduce, move more freely, become stronger, and feed more.
Symptoms of parasitic infection:
frequent yeast infections
catching colds easily
muscle & joint pain
dark circles under eyes
skin problems (acne, eczema, hives, rashes, etc.)
gluten or dairy intolerance
inability to lose or gain weight
Where do you get parasites from exactly? You don't have to travel to a foreign country to get parasites (although this is a common sign). Parasites can come from undercooked meat (especially pork and sushi), contaminated fruits and vegetables, soil, tap water, toilets, pets, insects, bedding, toys, and door handles. You can also get parasites from other people via blood, sexual contact, or fecal-oral transmission.
Risk factors for parasitic infection include:
swimming in a lake, river or pond
drinking unclean water
eating pork, sushi or uncooked meat
letting your pets lick you or sleep in your bed
working in childcare
traveling to foreign countries
getting blood transfusions
handling animal or human feces
food poisoning or traveler's diarrhea
compromised immune system
low stomach acid
use of antacids medications
How do we diagnose parasites? Diagnosis can be tricky, as parasites can hide in biofilms or other areas of the body that may not show up on bloodwork or stool tests. Additionally, stool testing can come with many false negatives or positivies, making it unreliable, as you really have to swab the mucosa of the colon to get an accurate diagnosis. A combination of elevated eosinophils, elevated basophils and low ferritin are the tell tale signs of parasitic infection, yet this won't show for every patient that has parasites. In reality, there is no perfect way to diagnose parasites, which is why it is important to pay attention to your symptoms (although you can still by asymptomatic).
We de-worm our pets, but why not us humans?! Treating parasites is an important part of maintaining good health. This is why parasite detoxification is an essential part of our functional medicine program. Treatment is aimed at killing and properly eliminating parasites with powerful anti-parasitic and anti-microbial herbs, supporting your nervous system with acupuncture, and healing the gut. Now don't go hop on Amazon and order yourself a parasite cleanse. Parasite detoxification should always be done under the guidance of a functional medicine physician or naturopathic doctor. As always, it is necessary to support drainage pathways before beginning any detox program.