Intestinal parasites are micro-organisms that live in the intestines. Some cause problems while others can live for long periods in the bowel without causing symptoms or requiring treatment.
Infection by intestinal parasitic worms (geohelminths) is widespread throughout the world, affecting hundreds of millions of people. Children are particularly susceptible and typically have the largest number of worms. Three of the most common kinds of worms are roundworm (Ascaris lumbricoides), whipworm (Trichuris trichiura) and hookworm (Ancylostoma duodenale and Necator americanus). These worms live in the intestines and their numbers build up through repeated infection. It is possible to be infected with more than one kind of worm.
A parasite survives by hijacking another organism, robbing it of nutrients and thanking it by leaving behind toxic waste. Obviously, we would be much happier without having these pint-sized freeloaders around.
Yet, there are over 100 different types of parasites that can live in human hosts. Since the world's population is becoming more mobile, with US tourists traveling to foreign countries where parasites are prevalent and immigrants moving to the US from these countries, parasitic infections are increasing. The fact is, parasitic infections may have reached epidemic levels in the US and most other countries.
Types of Parasite
Parasites include an amazing cast of characters that can end up taking residence in our bodies. There are four different groups to choose from: roundworms, single celled protozoa, tapeworms and flukes.
Roundworms exist worldwide, especially in warmer climates. 25% of the world's population may be infected with roundworms (which can reach the size of pencils) and include hookworms, whipworms, pinworms and trichinae. Hookworms migrate down the digestive tract where they attach to intestinal walls and ingest blood. The victim may experience nausea, indigestion, diarrhea, anemia and listlessness. Whipworms are small, about 3 to 5 centimeters long, and infect the large intestine. Pinworms are the most common roundworm in the US and inhabit mostly crowded areas such as schools, day care centers and mental hospitals. They can be as contagious as the flu and usually infect several members of one family. Trichinae are tiny roundworms found in the muscle of infected animals, usually pigs, that cause trichinosis, a disease characterized by intestinal disorders, fever, muscular swelling, pain and insomnia. If you eat pork, be careful since even a small uncooked portion can lead to infection. Always cook pork until it's well done.
Minuscule, single celled protozoa permeate our environment and harm more people worldwide than any other parasite. Protozoa form cysts, or a resting stage, where they become resistant to temperature extremes, chemicals and drying. Humans can easily ingest these small cysts and many of us have been exposed. Yet, our immune systems come to the rescue and eliminate the cysts, keeping them under control. Individuals with a weakened immune system due to stress or illness, however, may experience outbreaks curable with certain herbs.
Common throughout the world, tapeworms are long and ribbon-like. Humans can ingest tapeworm larvae by eating raw or under cooked beef, pork and fish or from coming in contact with infected animals or contaminated grains. Tapeworms live in our intestines and absorb nutrients through their skin. People with tapeworm infections feel dizzy, toxic, have unclear thinking, high and low blood sugar levels, hunger pains, poor digestion and allergies.
The various species of flukes – tiny flat worms that look like odd-shaped pancakes – include blood flukes, fish flukes, intestinal flukes, liver flukes, lung flukes, lymph flukes and pancreatic flukes. Humans can become infected by eating raw or under cooked seafood, eating infected vegetation like water chestnuts or watercress or drinking or wading in infected water. Once inside the body, flukes migrate to various organs and may cause liver swelling, jaundice, weakened lungs and blood clots.
Worms are prolific little creatures. They can release tens of thousands of eggs at a time and it's the eggs or the freshly hatched larvae that we inadvertently pick up as we walk barefoot or garden in infected soil. Parasitic infection may spread through contaminated water, fruits, vegetables, grains, poultry, fish or meat. Parasites, in addition, can be transferred from pet to owner. Since children spend more time outdoors, they're more likely than adults to be exposed to parasites.
People become infected with intestinal worms through contact with soil that has been contaminated with human feces from an infected person. In the case of roundworm and whipworm, people can become infected when they ingest the worm eggs, either by eating contaminated food (e.g. fruits or vegetables that have been watered with water containing contaminated soil), or by geophagic activity (ingesting contaminated soil directly). People become infected with hookworm when the larvae burrow through the skin of bare feet.
Parasites are responsible for many ill health conditions including diarrhoea, gastrointestinal upset, vaginal irritation, joint pain, nervous diseases, immune dysfunction and chronic fatigue. Long term, undetected infestation can cause many systemic problems. For the very old, very young or immunocompromised, a parasitic infection can be extremely problematic.
Signs of infection include less conclusive symptoms such as a runny nose, nighttime restlessness and blisters on the lower lip inside the mouth. If you become infected, be prepared for a rough time. Infected individuals may feel bloated, tired and hungry. They may have allergies, anemia, lethargy, fuzzy thinking, headaches and roller-coastering blood sugar levels. They may experience restlessness, hair loss, diarrhea, arthritis, mineral imbalances and nighttime teeth grinding. One or more symptoms may occur to a greater or lesser degree depending upon the individual.
Especially with heavier infections, intestinal parasites can also cause symptoms such as:
These symptoms may last for weeks and return several times a year. Other parasites are nearly harmless (at least in small quantities) and often don't cause symptoms. In North America and Europe, parasites rarely cause serious complications. The incidence of parasite infection is both overestimated and underestimated, depending on who you are listening to. If you have symptoms suggesting their presence, you should be carefully and even repeatedly tested, if necessary.
It doesn't take Stone Age sanitation habits or a lengthy trip exploring dense jungles to increase parasitic infection risks. Parasites are almost everywhere. Yet, many medical doctors hesitate to diagnose parasitic infection and won't treat the infection unless symptoms are serious. Even though we've always had to deal with parasites, medical doctors have found that patients don't want to hear about them.
And it's just as well. The drugs most physicians use against parasitic infection work on the premise of differential toxicity which means that the drug is hopefully more toxic to the parasite than to us. Side-effects include nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain, rashes and headaches.
Fortunately, there are gentler herbal remedies that rid systems of persistent parasites. Some work better in combinations and some are very strong, so it's best to obtain advice from an herbalist before ingesting them.
Take herbal remedies before meals on an empty stomach and, if you can, wait until just before the full moon since worms may be more active then. Begin taking herbs five days before the full moon and continue for about two weeks.
A combination of pumpkin seed, garlic, cramp bark, capsicum and thyme, can chase away tapeworms. An herbal mixture of black walnut leaves, wormwood, quassia, cloves and male fern, helps eliminate roundworms. Three parts capsicum, two parts wormwood and one part sage is an effective combination against worms. Black walnut, sassafras and pine needles also works.
As worm populations build up over time, many of the health problems caused by these worms become chronic. The worms can cause malnutrition as they rob the body of food – either by reducing appetite, or by preventing food from being absorbed properly once it has been eaten. Children with chronic worm infections and large numbers of worms may become stunted and underweight.
Heavy infections with roundworm can cause bowel obstruction. Intestinal worms – especially hookworm – can contribute to anemia by causing intestinal bleeding and thus loss of blood. The larger the number of worms, the more likely they are to make a person ill. Chronic infections can lead to long-term retardation of mental and physical development and, in very severe infections, even death.
The long-term presence of parasites may contribute to the development of food allergies.
Intestinal parasites such as worms destroy friendly bacteria in the gut, making yeast overgrowth possible. It is common for Candida patients to also have parasites and parasites should be suspected if Candida overgrowth recurs.
A common natural remedy for flushing parasites out of one's system is a blend of 3 herbs: Black walnut (green hull) tincture, wormwood capsules, and fresh ground cloves (to kill the parasites' eggs).
Artemisia annua has primarily been used for treatment of protozoan infection. The most active ingredient, artemisinin, is a potent prooxidant whose activity is enhanced by polyunsaturated fats such as cod liver oil and antagonized by vitamin E. Artemisinin is used intravenously in Southeast Asia for the treatment of cerebral malaria; it has no known side-effects except for induction of abortion when used at high doses in pregnant animals.
If you suspect parasites, you may simply have to confirm this by taking an anti-parasite cleanse.
For those not afraid of using pharmaceutical remedies, treatment for intestinal worms is simple, cheap and effective, with a single dose of Albendazole (400mg pills), which kills the adult worms. As reinfection may occur (particularly amongst children), treatment is advised once a year, or every six months if reinfection is a big problem. Those who should not be treated by these means include: those who are already unwell for some other reason, e.g. with a fever (treatment should be delayed until they are feeling better); girls/women are pregnant (treatment should not be given during the first three months of pregnancy); those with chronic illness such as sickle cell anemia.
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