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Parasites: Symbiotic or Pathologic?

Not too long ago, the germ theory was the prominent mindset of medicine and today we pay big bucks for the most diverse #probiotics with the highest colony count while recognizing that dishwashers and hand sanitizers have wiped out healthy, normal bacterias that once protected our guts and immune systems. Experts are recommending that we get in the dirt and even eat high quality soil. Thoughts on parasites are also starting to evolve.


A few years ago I attended a functional medicine talk with a pediatric neurologist who compared countries with higher levels of parasite infections with their rates of auto-immune diseases interestingly, there was an opposing relationship. Countries like the U.S. with the lower rates of parasitic infections also had the highest rates of #diabetes. Certainly we can relate this to a number of causes, such as improved water sanitation in industrialized countries minimizing parasitic infections while wealth also offers greater access to processed foods which relate to higher rates of diabetes, yet, the neurologist's data was intriguing and certainly caused me to think. Mammals throughout nature have had symbiotic relationships with parasites. We all have parasites at some point. Like all things, there is most likely a perfect balance.



Hookworms, tapeworms, pinworms, roundworms, and threadworms are the most common parasitic infections in the United States. If you eat #organic, you certainly may be ingesting little parasites that weren't previously washed away. Sushi certainly offers a little more life, on occasion, than you were bargaining for, and even playing with your dog or hiking the woods may invite parasites into your life, and body. Avoiding them is nearly impossible.


Many cultures around the world traditionally and routinely de-worm, but Americans seem to believe they are the most #sanitary of societies so we lack this need. This would be wrong. Parasitic infections are prevalent in the United States but very few have knowledge about either their symptoms or how to treat these scenarios when the balance becomes pathologic. As always, I enjoy #empowering parents through #education, so let's talk about parasites.


Should I Test Myself?


Parasites can create havoc in the gut and cause a number of symptoms, including repeated diarrhea or constipation. Chronic, unexplained nausea, often accompanied by vomiting is another ominous sign. One of the more classic signs that I pick up on is teeth clenching or grinding. Fatigue and weakness are other causes, swelling around the eyes, multiple food allergies, intestinal cramping and/or bloating, dizziness, foul-smelling gas, heart flutters, loss of appetite, itching around the anus or vulva (especially at night), itchy feet, tingling sensations on the scalp, difficulty sleeping, difficulty maintaining a healthy weight, strong sugar or carb cravings, or headaches.


If left untreated, parasitic infections can cause more than just unpleasant bloating. Parasites quite literally feed on you and when they do, it can be difficult for your gut to acquire all the nourishment from your food that is available. Parasites can also travel from your gut to your heart, brain, reproductive organs, lungs, and skin. They can live virtually anywhere and cause serious problems.


Parasite Testing


If you don't test, you won't really know if you are infected. However, feeling better after a cleanse may help you surmise that potentially, you were infected with parasites. Regardless of how frequently you are having bowel movements, the food you eat should be exiting your body in twelve-to-twenty-four hours after consuming it. If you want to evaluate your bowel transit time, eat something like beets or corn that you typically can identify in your stool and watch how long it takes to move through. Fun, right?!


You may be familiar with the more common stool and blood test to screen for specific types of parasitic infections available through most all conventional labs; however, they don't necessarily offer more broad-spectrum parasitic test panels. GI Map is one of the more superior labs you'll attain to identify parasitic infection. Functional medicine testing is more advanced and not because conventional medicine hasn't the capability, but because they serve the need that third-party-payers will support. If BCBS doesn't think vitamin D is necessary to evaluate, then there really isn't any value in creating a lab to test this hormone (it really isn't a vitamin) so until the profession could convince payers to reimburse, it went untested. Even today, many providers won't pay so a large number of providers simply don't think of evaluating this important health indicator. Functional labs however, are largely cash-based and serve a population willing to invest in optimal health. This isn't to say that third-party-payers never pay, but I would consider this a nice surprise if they do.


Functional labs, in my experience, identify parasitic infections that conventional labs have missed multiple times, but even with good testing, parasitic infections can be exceedingly hard to find. Stool and blood tests are limited to only showing eggs/larvae/worms in those locations at that specific time. For example, the parasites may be well bound to your intestinal wall and therefore, not present in the stool.


De-Worm Protocol


If you've never done a parasite #cleanse, you may consider this if you are feeling un-well or are looking for a new approach to your detox cleanse this spring or fall. Certainly I offer functional medicine consults in clinic or via phone and testing kits can be mailed to you, if you desire. However, you can utilize anti-parasitic herbs for a minimum of 2 weeks. It is best to repeat the process again within the next three months to kill any parasites who survived the first round. Most practitioners seem to agree that about once a year, it's smart to commit to a parasite cleanse.



Consider using Diatomaceous Earth, black walnut hulls, wormwood, cloves, pumpkin seeds, papaya seeds, pineapple, coconut oil, garlic, marshmallow root, or thyme. It's likely most effective if the entire de-worms at the same time, including pets. Parasites can be passed back and forth between members of the family and dogs can take them into your beds and onto your furniture. Pets can take many of the same herbs as humans, but check with your veterinarian. We did crush pumpkin seeds for our older dog when he got worms.


Prescription medications for parasites are quite toxic. Avoiding these unless absolutely necessary is probably wise, so cleansing may be a wise self-care routine. If you do find yourself in need of pharmaceutical-grade anti-parasitics, then work to support your body and gut health during and after this treatment. Keep in mind, these medications are generally specific to only one or two parasites as well. This may leave you infested even after enduring a fairly tough treatment. If you are pregnant or nursing, anti-parasitics are not recommended.


During the cleanse, you may feel really run down and exhausted. Other complaints have been sharp abdominal cramps, headaches, brain fog, loss of appetite, fatigue, and itching.As the parasites are killed, they release ammonia. This reaction is a full body inflammatory response to the endotoxins released into your blood stream. Bacteria, yeast, mold, and viruses will all cause this. You may have heard this referred to as the "die-off reaction." Joint or muscle pain, change in bowel habits, anxiety, depression, irritability, acne, nausea, cognitive impairment, poor coordination, and a racing heart can all be part of this response.


Slowing down treatment may be beneficial for some, or taking a few days off to let your body's liver and kidneys flush out the endotoxin build up. Dry brushing may assist in your body's detox efforts, as well as lymphatic massage, epsom salt baths, jumping rope, time in an infrared sauna, exercise, or even gentle enemas. Certainly one is encouraged to increase their water intake to help the body flush any impurities and equally important is the body's need for additional sleep to support the body's effort to restore and recover. Eating clean, including sufficient green leafy vegetables and colorful foods for the antioxidants would also support the body through detoxing. Limit sugars, caffeine, grains, and processed foods. Supplementing with arginine (500mg capsule) may help you detox the ammonia, and glutathione can support gut healing.


Be Warned!


If you've googled "parasite cleanse," then you've seen images of potential surprises in your stool. This may be very validating, but it can also be somewhat traumatizing. I also can not stress enough that you may experience bold mood changes, even depression. Parasites influence serotonin, acetylcholine, GABA, and dopamine. They can not only alter your neurotransmitters but they can utilize these hormones to ensure their own survival.


Your neurotransmitters may impact the muscular coordination of parasites and their ability to attach themselves to you, even impact their feeding and reduce their reproduction; therefore, parasites residing within you may attempt to decrease your neurotransmitters. Acetylcholine for example, known as your rest and digest hormone, is a significant source of nourishment for parasites. As their feast on your acetylcholine supply which only helps preserve their longevity. Lower acetylcholine can cause brain fog and memory issues, and less REM sleep, increased inflammation, and muscle weakness.


Gamma-aminobutyric acid (GAMA) is another neurotransmitter the parasites impact. #GAMA relaxes your mind and reduces anxiety. It also promotes good digestion, speeds up gut motility, and reduces brain inflammation. Because GABA can sedate or paralyze parasites so research has found that parasites target the GABA receptors with chemical byproducts or eat them up to prevent them from retarding their efforts. Low GABA sets you up for anxiety and depression, panic attacks, ADHD, headaches, lack of empathy, and addictive behaviors.


The gut produces more than 90% of your serotonin, or your happy hormone. It also helps regulate sleep, controls your appetite, and promotes good intestinal flow. Serotonin is also important for optimizing learning and memory. Parasites also have serotonin receptors so they seek out your serotonin to improve their own efforts. Interestingly, as they steal from you and your body recognizes this deficit, you'll want to eat more so you can create more neurotransmitters. Sugar and other high-carbohydrate items are typically the replacement and hence, a potential underlying cause of your cravings. A big dip in your #serotonin can make you feel like there is something wrong with you, or that your emotions are out of control. You may feel intense anger and aggression, pessimism, or low self-esteem.


Dopamine, yet another neurotransmitter, affects your motivation level and reward-seeking behavior. It also slows your intestines and tells your lymphocytes to reduce their activity. When dopamine is elevated, your immune system goes on vacation so the parasites can hijack your immune cells and travel undetected. This is how they enter your brain. Elevated dopamine impacts you differently depending on where in your brain it is elevated. In some areas, for example, an excess of #dopamine may lead to depression, while other parts may cause agitation. Elevated dopamine may even lead to bipolar or schizophrenia in genetically vulnerable people.


Wash your hands more! Soap, water, and vigorous scrubbing. Wash raw produce thoroughly. Cook meat and seafood thoroughly. Wash all surfaces when cooking. Consider gloves while gardening, particularly if you have stray cats in the area. Use protection during sex or ask your partner to join you in your parasitic cleanse. Avoid swallowing water from lakes. Do not initiate a cleanse if your bowels are backed up. Get things moving so you can move the parasites out! You will also want to support your liver during this process. As always, I am available for consultation if you'd like to evaluate your potential for parasites or discuss a treatment plan.


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