By Rae Hadley
Hey! Hang on a minute! Don’t go! Before you turn away in disgust and horror at the thought of parasites living in, on, and off us, let’s acknowledge that it is far better to have the knowledge and be prepared than to be ambushed and to find oneself in an unpleasant situation–with a dodgy gut.
So take a moment, take a breath. Let’s be brave and discuss, quickly and with focused intent, the issue of these nasty critters, their unpleasant effect on our bodies, and more importantly, what we can all do to keep them at bay or to evict these unwanted, uninvited gatecrashers.
WHAT ARE PARASITES?
So what is a parasite? The most comprehensive definition is that of an organism that is dependent upon its host for its survival. A parasite derives its nourishment from the host it lives in, or on, and during this process can inflict varying levels of damage on the host. There are–I’m sorry, this is a tough one to hear–scores of different types of parasites, all of which have various ways of life and modes of survival.
Protozoa are single-celled organisms that live inside, feed off the host, and depend on it for survival. Ectoparasites live on the surface of the host’s body; on skin, or scale, or fur depending on its preferred habitat. Helminths are particularly famous in human lore as the all-too disgusting ‘worms’ which can inhabit our digestive tract. Epiparasites are ‘twice removed’, initially living in another organism before reaching us. The protozoa, Plasmodium, responsible for malaria is one such case. It lives, in an undeveloped form, in the mosquito before the mosquito (un)helpfully ‘introduces’ it to us.
In short, parasitic beasties can populate your guts, blood, skin, and hair. They will try to adapt to any situation where there is a suitable fuel supply for their reproductive life cycle. And they are tenacious, determined creatures, ready to do battle for their survival. Uggggh!
HOW DO PARASITES GET INSIDE ME?
I know! It’s hideous but, to be honest, you have to marvel at parasites! They are amazingly adaptable and creative creatures. For this reason, the various different species have evolved into every facet of life. It is possible for humans to acquire one or more parasitic organisms through our skin, the food and water we consume, by being bitten by another organism, and in the case of the teeny, tiny pinworm, even through air-born infection.
HOW PARASITES AFFECT YOUR BODY
The symptoms of a parasitic infection in your body might be very obvious, such as nausea, vomiting, a bloated stomach, stomach pain or tenderness, gas, diarrhea, an actual, visible worm, or a nasty skin complaint. However, without any visual cues, these symptoms can be mistaken for any number of other bacterial or viral infections. Determining the cause of the problem and identifying the culprit will help you organise a concerted assault and eradicate your enemy.
Other symptoms can include fatigue, muscle weakness or pain, unexplained anxiety, feeling unusually hungry after eating, and even grinding your teeth in your sleep. There are many symptoms and diagnosis can be difficult because not everyone will present the same condition in the same way.
HOW TO RECOGNISE WHEN YOU HAVE PARASITES
A doctor will usually take a blood or stool sample to see what is the cause of your symptoms, and maybe even request that you have an internal endoscopy or colonoscopy–a tiny camera inserted into your either your mouth or rectum – to look for signs of parasitic infestation.
The ongoing effects of parasitic infection can be determined by the speed at which you get help, your level of health pre-infection, your age, and any other underlying health conditions you might have. Don’t wait too long for treatment. Catch the critters early, before they have set up camp and are unwilling to leave.
GETTING RID IOF PARASITES
There are multiple ways and means to get rid of unwanted parasitic freeloaders; however, as is often the case, not all ways are equal. A course of antibiotics might appear to be a quick fix. In certain countries, you can get these “over-the-counter.” However, without being certain of the problem, you may be causing more harm than good.
Antibiotics have saved many millions of lives, but they can be indiscriminate in their approach and often kill off the positive bacteria which inhabit our bodies, leaving us open to further infection and with an even more unbalanced microbiome. You need to know what you’re dealing with before you go treating it with antibiotics.
Apple cider vinegar has shown it has the capacity to disrupt certain pathogens by breaking down their structural proteins. Clove and cinnamon are spices considered to have antimicrobial properties which damage the cell walls of the pathogens tested, and disrupt the synthesis of DNA and their reproductive capacity. Neither results have been specifically related to parasitic infections; however, future tests may validate the anecdotal weight they have carried for several thousand years. In addition, a health or medical practitioner may advise you of additional essential oils and extracts to eradicate your parasite.
A consideration with regard to our eating habits is that when we consume sugar and carbohydrates, we are providing lots of lovely fuel for these lousy beasts to keep leaching our energy supplies and building their empires. For this reason, different types of fasting have become popular to ‘flush out the fiends’.
The Jarisch-Herxheimer reaction is, interestingly, the set of symptoms of toxicity from the chemicals produced by the parasites or bacteria as they die off. It is an additional side-effect of parasitic infection. The bi-product of the death of your nemesis is still further dis-ease. It can manifest as a continuation of the symptoms which you already had, or become a case of getting worse before you get better. Parasites just don’t want to give you up.
MAINTAINING A HEALTHY GUT
Gut health affects your entire system so, in order to manage your health, you must look at every part of you. This will give you the best chance both pre- and post-infection. You are more likely to be able to shrug off the unwanted intruder or bounce back from the symptoms if you are fit, healthy, and your gut is at its optimum. Consider your emotional and physical health for full-body, holistic-impact solutions.
Pre and probiotics, fibre, and a varied diet will all contribute to your gut health and the repopulation and replenishing of your good gut flora. There are also numerous health food supplements to decrease gut permeability and increase health following a parasite infection, a course of antibiotics, or both.
Bone broth with collagen is a popular option for its high levels of amino acids; however, if you are vegan or vegetarian you can concentrate on the plant-based foods which may support gut health. Perhaps try pickled foods, or ‘yogurt’. You might also feel it necessary to take some additional vitamin and mineral supplements.
STAYING ON TOP
Maintaining solid, personal health and top-notch hygiene are the main ways to ensure that you don’t encounter these unwanted passengers in the first place. A fit body, healthy mind, and strong will are all key to setting up an ‘almost’ unbreachable defense.
A good personal hygiene routine with regular showering, not sharing towels or washcloths, and regular laundering of bed linen is important. Scrupulous handwashing before eating, and of course, after any outside activities and using the toilet is essential to good health. Ensuring that children, especially, maintain this will stop the chance of constant cross-contamination and reinfection. Truly, prevention is better than cure.
At home and abroad, it is equally important to be conscious of the food and drink you consume. Assess the quality, where it comes from, how it is transported, and how it is washed and prepared before you eat it. All these factors are potential routes for parasites to enter your system.
Finally, to end on a less anti-parasite note because where there’s bad there’s always good, new therapies are being tested utilising specific parasites to treat conditions like colitis, Crohn’s disease, type 1 diabetes, and even asthma. So, perhaps these pesky parasites are a blessing waiting to be discovered!
Note – Self-diagnosis may halt the spread of a parasite in a family and in your body; therefore it is important to be aware of any signs and symptoms which give cause for concern. Consider prophylactic treatment. However, this is no substitute for visiting a knowledgeable, qualified medical or health practitioner for a full diagnosis and treatment plan, to alleviate the symptoms and address the root cause.
Taking a more natural approach to managing parasites is important to consider. However, always engage with a clear understanding that it might alleviate some symptoms but may not be able to give a complete cure. Should symptoms persist, then it is important to seek qualified advice before your system has reached a point too low and is less able to fight back.