Parasitosis: Brief Physical State and Natural Solutions
“Greedy guests who hastily eat at a host’s table, while at times good conversationalists, are parasites. The little creature who lives by his host, through him, with him and in him, altering his present state and putting him at risk of death, is called a parasite. The parasite takes, but gives nothing. The host gives, but receives nothing.”
Growing up in the countryside, I remember those little white pills that we received as children once or twice a year, along with the dog, to “kill the little worms,” they said! Back before my generation, the kids that were being decontaminated had fun peeing blue after taking purple gentian, which—along with worm moss (or coralline)—was part of every medicine cabinet of yesteryear. These health habits have disappeared, and it’s not for the better. Indeed, awareness of the pervasiveness of parasites in the population today seems little present, so care for parasitic illnesses is probably not suitable for real needs.
A Borderless, Forgotten Impact
Parasites are not limited to tropical and developing countries. Globalized transportation, migration, an increasing immunocompromised population, drug resistance, etc. have all caused a spike in infections, even in western countries which have witnessed an explosion in the impact of parasites. For example, between 2004 and 2010, aquatic protozoan infections grew by 50% in Australia, 30% in North America, and 15% in Europe. The presence of these bugs (there are over 3,000 known parasites) is indeed a reality even in our northern regions.
The rest of this article will focus solely on internal parasites, and we’ll leave bacteria, viruses, and fungi aside, as well as ectoparasites (lice, fleas, bedbugs, mites [scabies], ticks, etc.).
What Is a Parasite?
A parasite is an organism that takes substances it needs from another organism, called the host. It can enter the body or live on its surface. The ultimate goal of a parasite is simple, even legitimate: to perpetuate itself, as Murakami would say, a bit like we do with our own genes, as Murakami would say…
Parasites are classified into two main categories:
- Unicellular protozoa that can replicate in the host. They can migrate into our organs and tissues such as the liver (amebic abscess, hydatid cyst), joints, muscles (trichinosis), lymph (filariasis), skin (hookworm), brain (strongyloidiasis), lungs (paragonimosis), etc. They can stay there for years and cause symptoms as varied as nervous disorder, a skin disease, or arthritis.
- Larger metazoans (helminth worms…), most of which do not replicate in the host. They mainly reside in the gastrointestinal tract, which is the main road of contamination, especially pinworm, tapeworm, and roundworm larvae or embryos, mostly from poor hygiene or through contact with contaminated water or food.
What Is the Medical Diagnosis for a Parasitic Disease?
Your doctor will do a complete medical history; examine the clinical signs and the biological and blood troubles; request samples of stool, urine, blood, or even vaginal secretions, etc.; and if needed, ask for an immunological diagnosis through detection of antibodies. Note that stool cultures are not always indicative of the presence of parasites, because the egg-laying periods (sought in the analysis) may not coincide with tests (often repeated three times to cover the parasite’s life cycle).
A Wide Variety of Clinical Presentations
Gastrointestinal (e.g. diarrhea, abdominal pain, bloating, flatulence, constipation, etc.), dermatological (e.g. itching, eczema, rashes, etc.), and respiratory (e.g. coughing, asthma, etc.) disorders are the most common symptoms of parasites. However, because of the affinity of parasites in various specific organs or systems, a wide range of symptoms can sometimes render medical diagnoses very delicate. For example, irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), anemia, autoimmunity, allergy, metabolic syndrome, and asthma can all be clinical signs of parasites.
Also note that hypochlorhydria; inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) and inflammation in general; various pains such as those in the shoulders or thighs; weight loss; deficiencies of certain micronutrients or, conversely, excess appetite; nervous tics and slowed reflexes; irritability; headaches; bruxism and night drooling; convulsions; loss of libido; a strong, dry cough in children that worsens at night; etc. can all indicate a parasitic disease.
Common Parasite Infections
Three of the most common infections include oxyurosis (caused by small white grubs), ascaridiosis (caused by long white grubs), and giardiasis (caused by protozoa). These parasites are benign in most cases, which does not at all mean to not get rid of them. Many other parasites exist, but have more limited epidemiological characteristics, however with pathogenicities and more serious toxicities (echinococcosis, trichinosis, strongyloidiasis…).
About 30% of parasites live in our intestines and, if they remain under control, the body more or less adapts to these worms, tapeworms, hookworms, or other protozoa, while eliminating what it can to keep its homeostasis. Unfortunately, troubles sometimes occur when the immune system’s resilience loses the fight against an overaggressive infection. Among pathogenicities, the intestinal wall function is compromised by parasites that contribute to the mucosa’s hyperpermeability, leaving the field open to immune reactions and chronic inflammation. The question is not whether parasites harm us, but how?
Eliminating Parasites Intelligently
If parasitic disease is present, be sure to follow medical recommendations first, and then consider a naturopathic aid, as complement or alternative. If there is a medical emergency that requires an allopathic treatment, optimize it with probiotics, electrolytes if diarrhea is common, and a formula of hepatic and draining plants (always upon approval from your health-care practitioner).
If the naturopathic way is possible, follow a preliminary deworming phase, which will drain and detoxify the intestines, liver, lymph, and extracellular matrix. There are complete packages of herbal detox medicine for this purpose. Then, throughout the antiparasitic treatment, you should drink more water to support the liver, and take fibre and probiotics to ensure proper disposal.
For parasite treatment, aromatherapy is particularly recommended, thanks to the antiparasitic and fungicidal properties of essential oils, similar to those of synthetic drugs, but without causing parasite resistance or side effects. Essential oils from clove buds, Ceylonese cinnamon, or linalool or thymol from thyme, mountain savory, or goosefoot are the most potent. However, many other essential oils—such as noble chamomile, Australian tea tree, or Canadian black spruce—contain molecules that are effective against most parasites (roundworms, pinworms, Giardia lamblia, hookworms, nematodes).
Traditional herbal medicine also has useful bitter principles (sesquiterpene lactones), mainly from plants of the Asteraceae family. Antiparasitic compounds include artemisinin (from mugwort) or ambrosine (from ragweed). Tinctures or dried-plant extracts from wormwood (the “green fairy” of yesteryear poets), gentian, black walnut, of thuja, etc., as well as grapefruit seed extract, bring the desired effect. Ginger, sage, aloe, and berberine are also among plants you find in synergistic antiparasite formulas.
Other naturopathic tools to be considered among your procedures include colon hydrotherapy and enemas, which can help remove residues from the colon where parasites dwell. Finally, l-glutamine and vitamin D help rebuild the mucosa after the treatment.
Getting rid of parasites may take time with naturopathy, due to the preparation and repetition of procedures necessary to eliminate different generations (larvae and adults) of parasites. Sometimes, as for the highly contagious pinworms, the entire family must be treated, at full moon (as pinworms lay eggs during this period), and you will have to do multiple loads of laundry for the entire family’s clothes! Either way, with parasites, you have your work cut out for you…
As a general preventative rule, avoid sugars, refined foods, milk, alcohol, and low-fibre foods, as they are the parasites’ favourite treats. Wash your conventional and organic fruits and vegetables, and be careful with raw or undercooked meat and fish. Wash your hands regularly, including under the fingernails. Before, during, and after a trip, take good bacteria and digestive enzymes to help resist invaders. Generously add pumpkin seeds (80% effectiveness against tænia with its cucurbitin!), flax seeds, spices, and herbs to your meals. Finally, be sure to perform an intestinal cleansing and antiparasite treatment annually. We do it for our teeth, so why not for our intestines!
For expert advice on nutrition, lifestyle, and the use of natural remedies (whether to supplement allopathic treatment or not) against parasites, which require some caution, consult a licensed health-care practitioner or naturopath. The health advice given in this article does not in any way substitute a prescription.
Guillaume Landry, MSc, Naturopath
A native of the Jura mountains of eastern France, he shares
his passion for the wonders of nature and natural medicine.