The Hidden Problem. Are they in you?
A parasite is an organism that lives off of another organism, such as an animal or a human.
Parasites travel throughout our bodies, live off the food we eat, and leave their waste behind. When they live inside us, they can feed off our metabolic processes and drain our inner resources, leaving us fatigued and debilitated. Parasites infect more than 2 billion people worldwide. Persistent skin problems, digestive difficulties, constipation and a wide range of other complaints are linked to parasites. In some cases, parasites kill. In 1993, an outbreak of cryptosporidium in the water supply in Milwaukee, WI, sickened over 400,000 people, causing watery diarrhea and other digestive symptoms. Over 100 people died from this incident.
The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) in Atlanta estimates that 76 million people pick up parasites from food every year in the United States, and by the year 2025 scientists estimate that half of the world’s population will be infested with some type of parasitic infection.
Thanks to global warming, which makes the general environment more parasitefriendly, and increased global travel, parasites are now more common in North America than ever before. Other factors spreading parasites include pollution, increased crowding of children together in day care centers, infected military personnel returning from infested areas, household pets, the overuse of antibiotics and other drugs, infected food and water, exposure to multiple romantic partners and infected community swimming pools.
Researchers at Ohio State University estimate that 400 million people worldwide are infected with the pinworm parasite. One of the most common types of parasitic worm found in the digestive system of North Americans, pinworms are a class of worms called nematodes, or roundworms, and they dwell in the upper portions of our large intestines and appendix. Easily transmitted through direct contact with pinworm eggs found on contaminated furniture, bedclothes or doorknobs, this infection is often asymptomatic.
You may have parasites and not know it. According to Ann Louise Gittleman, PhD, CNS, author of Guess What Came to Dinner (Avery, 1993), “These masked marauders mimic other diseases, so they are often misdiagnosed. Without proper detection and treatment, parasites can linger in the body wreaking havoc for up to 30 years.”
Other parasites cause noticeable symptoms, including fever and abdominal pain. Some parasites are able to block your absorption of minerals and other nutrients, which can lead to malnutrition, weight loss, and other ailments. Because doctors are not trained to recognize parasite problems, and because so many of their symptoms can mimic infection from bacteria or virus, parasitic infestations are often neglected and patients are treated for the wrong disorder.
Complicating the issue, testing for parasites is of limited usefulness. While over 1,000 parasites can inhabit the human body, diagnosticians have only devised tests for 40. Though most parasites make their home in the nutrientdense small intestines, they can migrate throughout the body. Tests for parasites usually depend on examination of several stool samples. The irregular life cycles of these pests mean that on any given day, no sign of them may be evident in feces. A thorough examination may require multiple tests over multiple time periods.
You can contract parasites in a number of ways. Contaminated water is probably the most common source. Parasites can lurk in tap water, contaminated bottled water, hot tubs, rivers and streams, saunas and swimming pools. Unfortunately, chlorine does not kill most forms of parasites and many are able to escape common filtering systems. To avoid parasites in your food, be cautious when consuming raw, undercooked or cured meats or unwashed, raw fruits and vegetables.
According to researchers at the Center for the Advancement of Health, undercooked meat is the main risk factor for parasite infection by an invader called toxoplasma. Infection by this protozoan is called toxoplasmosis, and can lead to brain damage, birth defects and brain inflammation in a mother and her fetus. Most people carrying this parasite are unaware of it. Often it infects lymph nodes but can spread to the eyes and brain. About 35 million people in the United States are chronically infected with toxoplasma. (Science, 1/17/03) Cat litter can also harbor this nasty parasite.
Close contact with animals increases the risk of parasite infections, especially for small children. Family pets are notorious harbingers of parasites and should be dewormed regularly. You can pet your dogs, but follow stringent hygiene practices when cleaning up after them. A study at the Milwaukee Health Department found the parasites cryptosporidium and giardia in about one in five samples of dog stools. (New Scientist, 5/98) The stools were found to contain adult parasites, eggs, larvae and their highly resistant cysts. Ninety percent of the dogs testing positive for cryptosporidium were puppies 30 weeks or younger, while for giardia, puppies accounted for three out of four of the affected animals. Even though they were infected, these dogs appeared perfectly healthy, and none of them displayed signs of illness.
Farm animals, houseflies and mosquitoes can also carry and pass parasites onto humans. Always wash your hands after handling animals. Parasites are adept at survival. Some fool the body into thinking they are a normal part of our tissues or organs. Other parasites secrete a fat that inhibits our immune response. Parasites also give off metabolic wastes of their own that are damaging to our immune system. One fungal offender, Candida albicans, secretes an acid that can damage the mucosal lining of the digestive tract, allowing the organism to puncture the intestinal wall and enter the bloodstream.
When toxins and waste material build up in your colon, you increase your risk of parasites. So the first step in lowering your risk is the speedy elimination of these wastes. Daily helpings of fiber can stimulate the colon’s muscular contractions, (known as peristalsis) that remove the contamination on which parasites thrive. Fiber sweeps the intestines clean of toxins and even pulls parasites from the wall of the digestive tract. Flax, which consists of both water-soluble and insoluble fiber, is perhaps the most ideal fiber supplement. It provides plenty of roughage for bulk, and its soluble fiber feeds the beneficial bacteria that help maintain a healthy intestinal environment, thereby helping to balance the levels of pathogens. If you are concerned about parasites, you may want to use an internal cleansing program designed to promote a healthy balance of intestinal microbes. A quality product will provide a broad spectrum of ingredients including herbs and nutraceuticals so the greatest number of organisms is addressed. Cleanses can include herbs such as rosemary, thyme, marshmallow, orange peel, grapefruit seed extract, black walnut, wormwood, and garlic, along with supportive nutraceuticals such as undecylenic acid and bismuth citrate. Herbs such as goldenseal, barberry and Oregon grape that contain berberine, a natural medicinal compound, can help fight the parasites that cause diarrhea.
For maintenance, as well as during the cleansing process, enzyme supplements should be used to support a parasite management program. Taken with food, these products will assist your body’s own digestive processes, helping to break down foods that, left partially undigested, can provide food for parasites in the digestive system. If your stomach acid is low, your supplement regime should include hydrochloric acid (HCl). HCl in the stomach serves to sterilize the food and liquids we consume. Without sufficient acid, organisms are able to enter and cause problems.
Betaine HCl from beets is best when taken along with other digestive aides and enzymes. Look for products that contain a variety of digestive enzymes, including protease for protein, lipase for fats, and amylase for starches and sugars. You will also benefit from L-glutamine, N-acetyl D-glucosamine (NAG) and gamma oryzanol, which support a healthy intestinal lining. Butyric acid, a common byproduct of fiber fermentation by probiotics in the large intestine, is also available in supplement form and can be of particular benefit to individuals concerned about intestinal well-being.