By Mila McManus, M.D.
While traditionally parasitic infections have been associated with tropical, subtropical, and under-developed countries, there are increasing numbers of them occurring in developed countries, including the United States. A parasite is an organism that lives on or in a host organism and gets its food from, or at the expense of, its host.¹[i]
There are three classes of parasites that can cause disease in humans¹:
- Protozoa – One celled organisms which can multiply in humans making them able to survive and cause serious infections from just one organism. Included in this class are amoebas such as Entamoeba, flagellates such as Giardia and Leishmania, ciliates such as Balantidium, and sporozoa which are organisms whose adult stage is not motile such as Plasmodium, and Cryptosporidium.
- Helminths – Large multicellular organisms that are normally visible to the human eye in adult stages. In their adult forms, they do not multiply in humans. The three groups found in humans include Flatworms (including flukes and tapeworms), Thorny-headed worms (residing in the gastrointestinal tract), and Roundworms (residing in the gastrointestinal tract, blood, lymphatic system, or subcutaneous tissues).
- Ectoparasites – Includes the blood-sucking arthropods such as mosquitoes, but more narrowly refers to organisms such as ticks, fleas, lice, and mites that attach to, or burrow into, the skin and remain there for relatively long periods of time. They are disease causing in and of themselves, but also are transmitters of many different pathogens that can result in deadly disease.
There are several reasons to keep parasites on the radar as a potential root cause of some otherwise undiagnosed chronic issues:
*There are at least four types of T-Helper cells that are participants in the body’s immune response to different threats. TH2 cells are activated to address parasites but are also responsible for the development of asthma and other allergic inflammatory diseases[ii]. When TH2 dominates the immune system as a result of a parasite, it may also predispose a patient to worsened symptoms of allergies, asthma, eczema, hives, autoimmune disease, and viral infections.
*Parasites are known to absorb heavy metals and harbor mold spores[iii]. Therefore, addressing parasites first as a root cause of heavy metal and mold issues helps to resolve these toxicities.
*Parasites have also been known to harbor smaller microbes such as viruses (e.g. Epstein Barr) and bacteria (e.g. Lyme/borrelia)[iv]. Addressing the parasite first may give way to much more effective and timely elimination of the smaller critters!
Parasitic testing presents obstacles for a number of reasons. First, at the time of stool collection, the parasite may not be shedding eggs, which is what the test is verifying. Second, a very small sample is taken from the stool, from which the lab extracts its sample from which the tiny specimen is taken to examine under a microscope. It is entirely possible the microscopic sample does not contain the parasite. Third, some tests look for DNA of the parasite, however this can result in a misleading positive test if the DNA was from a dead parasite recently consumed in, for example, sushi or pork.
There are several protocols available for parasite cleansing, from prescriptions to proven natural approaches. If a patient is in really good health and has no real complaints, a parasite cleanse may not be necessary or be a suitable recommendation. However, for the chronically ill with lingering symptoms and no obvious diagnosis, or people with nagging gastrointestinal symptoms where a stool test is not helpful, the right parasite cleanse can be a potential game changer and harmless protocol in the treatment of undiagnosed chronic illness. See our Supplement of the Month for one such parasite cleanse.