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parasite cleansing

Should I do parasite cleansing?

Is parasite cleansing right for you?

In my 6 years of helping people with their gut health and analysing the gut microbiome, I have come across many people asking for help after parasite cleansing. Understanding the larger context of the gut microbiome has made this much clear:

Parasites are not the route of all evil. 

If you live in a developed country, chances are you do not have a parasite in your gut. So why do your symptoms seem to match up with all the online descriptions?

Read on to find out the more likely scenario, and what to do if you do have a parasite in your gut. 

What are parasites?

Parasites are organisms that live on or within another organism, known as the host, and obtain nourishment and protection from the host while also harming or potentially causing disease to the host. There are many different types of parasites, including viruses, bacteria, fungi, protozoa, and multicellular organisms such as worms and arthropods.

Parasites can be classified as ectoparasites, which live on the surface of the host’s body, or endoparasites, which live inside the host’s body. Some common examples of parasites include head lice, tapeworms, malaria parasites, and fleas.

Parasites can cause a wide range of health problems in their hosts, including infections, anemia, malnutrition, and organ damage.

How can I test for parasites?

The only way to know is to test. Your GP or healthcare practitioner can refer you for a faecal multiplex PCR test. This should include at least the 10 most common parasites:

Parasites:

  • Giardia intestinalis
  • Cryptosporidium
  • Dientamoeba fragilis
  • Entamoeba histolytica
  • Blastocystis hominis

Bacteria:

  • Campylobacter spp
  • Salmonella spp
  • Shigella spp
  • Yersinia enterocolitica
  • Aeromonas spp

What symptoms do parasites cause?

This is where it gets tricky. Many people do live with parasites in their bowel, and yet are completely asymptomatic. Other parasitic infections are known to be self-limiting, meaning that they resolve with no treatment – it just needs time. 

For example, many people infected with Giardia, Entamoeba histolytica, Dientamoeba, Blastocystis, and Cryptosporidium may not experience any symptoms, or may have only mild symptoms that resolve on their own within a few days to a few weeks.

Similarly, some people infected with Salmonella, Campylobacter, Shigella, and Yersinia enterocolitica may not have any symptoms, while others may experience a self-limited gastrointestinal illness that resolves on its own without treatment.

The most common symptoms of gastrointestinal parasitic infections:

  • Diarrhoea
  • Abdominal pain and cramping
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Loss of appetite
  • Weight loss
  • Fatigue
  • Fever
  • Dehydration

The severity and duration of symptoms can vary depending on the specific parasite, the individual’s immune system, and other factors such as the dose of the parasite and the route of transmission. Some parasites, such as Giardia and Cryptosporidium, can cause persistent or recurrent symptoms that last for weeks or even months.

In addition to gastrointestinal symptoms, some parasites can also cause symptoms outside of the digestive system. For example, Entamoeba histolytica can cause liver abscesses, while some types of tapeworm infections can cause neurological symptoms or cysts in various organs.

What is the most common parasite?

In my clinical experience, the most common parasite is Blastocystis hominis, followed by Dientamoeba fragilis and Aeromonas species. However, compared to other gut problems (like leaky gut, SIBO, endotoxin production) parasites show up rarely and are not responsible for as many symptoms as people think. Furthermore, they are usually part of a larger picture of gut dysbiosis. 

Why are parasites hard to treat?

The idea of parasite cleansing has become hugely popular. However, the reality is that they can be difficult to treat because of biofilms, which is essentially a protective layer that protects it from eradication. 
 

Biofilms are communities of microorganisms that adhere to a surface and secrete a matrix of extracellular polymeric substances, which can protect the microorganisms from environmental stressors such as antibiotics and host immune responses.

Aeromonas,  Blastocystis, Salmonella, Campylobacter, and Shigella are all capable of producing biofilms. These are often associated with gastrointestinal infections in humans and can form biofilms on the lining of the intestine.

The problem with parasite cleansing

The main issue with parasite cleansing from my perspective is that far too many people are self-treating with low quality herbs, and without first testing. How can you treat something you haven’t identified? Many people who come to me after self-treating for parasites did not know if they had one in the first place. 
 
So it’s really important to 1) Identify if you have a parasitic infection and 2) Identify which parasite you have. Not all parasites are susceptible to the same treatments. A perfect example is Blastocystis hominis which can take many months to eradicate (if you choose to do so). 
 
Others like Aeromonas species are often gone after one round of the right anti-microbial treatment. 
 

But there’s a larger issue. 

 
Blindly cleansing yourself of parasites can make your microbiome vulnerable. From what I have seen, many people have serious deficencies of beneficial bacteria like Lactobacillus, Bididobacteria or Faecalibacterium prausnitzii for example. Often this is a cause of their gut symptoms like bloating, abdominal pain, gas or diarrhoea. 
 
Introducing harsh, potent anti-microbial agents can be as damaging to these floundering populations as antibiotics. Even natural remedies can have undesirable effects on the gut microbiome. We don’t want the cure to be worse than the problem.
 
So before you decide to do that parasite cleanse, I hope you will first ask your healthcare practitioner for the appropriate stool test and make your treatment targeted and holistic. 
 
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