Types of Parasites

How Can I Tell If My Gut Issues Are Being Caused By a Parasite?

Category: Gut Health

It’s the middle of the night and you can’t sleep because you’ve got stomach pains, nausea, vomiting, and diarrhoea, you feel exhausted and your skin is hot and itchy. You’re feeling the worst you’ve ever felt and worry gets the better of you, so you summon Dr Google.

Feverishly, you type: ‘diarrhea causes’ or ‘causes of gastroenteritis’ and as the results roll in, you are becoming more and more convinced it could only be one thing.

You have a parasite.

As naturopaths, we get told by patients “I think I have a parasite” a lot. And while parasites could be the cause in some cases, for others the cause could be something entirely different.

So let’s start with what parasites are and how you can get them:

Close-up image of parasites

What are parasites?

A parasite is an organism that lives in or on another organism (called the host) and derives its nutrients and survival from the host organism. Parasites can be found in various forms, including protozoa, helminths (worms), and ectoparasites like ticks and lice.

There are different types of parasites:

  • Endoparasites: These parasites live inside the host’s body. Examples include certain types of worms and protozoa that live in the human digestive system.
  • Ectoparasites: These parasites live on the outside of the host’s body. Examples include ticks, lice, fleas, and mites.
  • Microparasites: These are microscopic parasites, such as bacteria and viruses, that can cause diseases in their hosts.

Parasites can have various life cycles and can cause a wide range of health problems in their hosts. Some parasites cause diseases in humans, animals, and plants, leading to economic losses in agriculture and livestock.

Parasitic relationships can be harmful to the host, as the parasite derives benefits at the host’s expense. In some cases, parasites can cause diseases and adversely affect the host’s health and well-being.

Woman yawning in front of her computer

Symptoms of a parasitic infection

  • Diarrhea: Chronic or recurring diarrhea is a common symptom of certain parasitic infections.
  • Abdominal pain: Persistent abdominal pain, cramping, or bloating might be a sign of a parasitic infection.
  • Nausea and vomiting: Some parasites can cause nausea and vomiting, leading to dehydration.
  • Weight loss: Unexplained weight loss can occur if a parasite is affecting your body’s ability to absorb nutrients properly.
  • Fatigue: Parasites can cause fatigue due to nutrient depletion and disruption of the body’s normal functions.
  • Itchy skin or rash: Skin issues might occur in some parasitic infections.
  • Passing worms in stool: In some cases, you might actually see worms in your stool, which is a clear indication of a parasitic infection.

What causes a parasitic infection?

  • Contaminated food and water: Parasites can enter the human body through the consumption of contaminated food or water. Improperly cooked or undercooked meat, contaminated fruits and vegetables, and untreated water sources can harbor parasites and lead to infections.
  • Contact with infected individuals: Direct contact with an infected person, especially in crowded or unsanitary living conditions, can lead to the spread of certain parasites, particularly those that affect the skin or are present in faeces.
  • Insect bites: insects like mosquitoes, flies, and ticks can carry parasitic microorganisms. When these insects bite humans, they can transmit parasites into the bloodstream.
  • Animal contact: Close contact with infected animals, especially pets and livestock, can lead to parasitic infections. Animals may carry parasites that can be transmitted to humans through contact with their fur, faeces, or saliva.
  • Poor sanitation: Inadequate sanitation practices, such as open defecation or improper disposal of sewage, can contaminate the environment and water sources, leading to the spread of parasites.
  • A weakened immune system: Individuals with weakened immune systems, such as those with HIV/AIDS or undergoing immunosuppressive treatments, are more susceptible to parasitic infections.

Travel to Endemic infection areas where parasites are prevalent increases the risk of exposure. Consuming local food and water, as well as exposure to local insects, can lead to parasitic infections.

Doctor collecting a blood sample from a patient

How can I test for parasites?

  1. Stool Tests (Ova and Parasite Exam): Stool tests are the most common way to diagnose intestinal parasites. You will be asked to provide a stool sample, which will be examined under a microscope to detect the presence of parasite eggs, cysts, or larvae.
  2. Blood Tests: Blood tests can help detect certain parasitic infections, especially those that affect the bloodstream or organs. Blood tests can identify antibodies the body produces in response to a parasitic infection.
  3. Serologic Tests: Serologic tests involve analysing a blood sample to detect specific antigens or antibodies related to parasitic infections. These tests are often used for protozoan infections like amoebiasis.
  4. Colonoscopy or Endoscopy: In some cases, a healthcare provider may perform a colonoscopy or endoscopy to directly visualise the gastrointestinal tract and collect tissue samples for examination under a microscope. This method can be useful for diagnosing certain parasitic infections and related complications.
  5. Microbiome testing: This is a comprehensive way to look at your gut microbiome to determine if you have a parasite or something else causing your symptoms. It will look at your beneficial microbiome species, parasites, worms, yeast, ability to digest gluten, intestinal permeability and inflammation. This is the best option if you are unsure whether a parasite causes your symptoms.

What if it’s not a parasite?

While it’s possible to have a parasitic infection, it is more likely that something else is causing your digestive symptoms. Here are some alternatives to rule out:

  • Food intolerance or allergy
  • Gut dysbiosis
  • Chron’s disease
  • Coeliac disease or gluten intolerance
  • Viral gastroenteritis
  • Food poisoning

Lady washing her fruit and vegetables thoroughly

To prevent parasitic infections:

  • Practice good hygiene: Wash your hands thoroughly after using the restroom, before eating, and after handling pets.
  • Cook food thoroughly: Ensure that meat, fish, and other animal products are cooked properly to kill any potential parasites.
  • Avoid contaminated water: Drink clean, purified, or boiled water, especially when travelling to regions with poor sanitation.
  • Wash fruits and vegetables: Rinse fruits and vegetables thoroughly, especially if you plan to eat them raw.

The team at Healthy Remedies

I have a parasite, what now?

Treatment for parasitic infections typically involves medications (usually called anti-parasitic) prescribed by your GP to remove the body of parasites.

As naturopaths, we also have a range of herbs that can be used to get rid of parasites, these include:

  • Wormwood: Traditionally, wormwood has been used as an antiparasitic, and this bitter herb is also helpful for stimulating digestion.
  • Berberine: This is a broad-spectrum anti-microbial herb that kills off unwanted microbes, worms and parasites. Be cautious and discontinue use after 12  weeks to avoid killing off too many of the beneficial species in your gut microbiome.
  • Oregano oil: This strong anti-parasitic can be taken as a tablet or in oil form. It can be quite harsh on the digestive system and at upper doses has been known to cause indigestion & nausea, so best to work with your naturopath to get the dosing right.

If you suspect you might have a parasite because you have digestive problems that no one can give you a reason for then the most important thing you need to do is to do a microbiome test to find out if you do or don’t.

This is because if you use anti-parasitic herbs and supplements when they aren’t needed, they can be extremely harmful to your good gut bacteria.

There are many things that can cause gut symptoms and parasites are just one of them.

So test, don’t guess.

If you need help to get your gut microbiome tested then we can help you. We have helped hundreds of patients get their gut microbiome checked for parasites as well as good and bad gut bacteria and we can help you too.

To get our help, contact us for more information or book an initial consultation with one of our gut health specialist naturopaths.

Over to you

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