Have you ever watched the show Monsters Inside Me? I absolutely love that show! When I was teaching microbiology one of my students had told me about it and I always wanted to be able to incorporate one of their episodes into my lectures, but I was never able to obtain copies of any of the episodes to do so. In my teaching days, my favorite portion of the semester was always when we got to the part where we talked about parasites. People would cringe and make crazy faces, but I would be smiling big! To be quite honest with you I love parasites. They are always so fascinating to me and it’s the one portion of microbiology that you can turn on a microscope and really see something amazing. Of course looking at parasites and diagnosing them in patients is one thing, having one of these little life suckers is another!
First off, I don’t want you to get the wrong idea. Parasites are absolutely necessary for life! As a Christian I believe that everything serves a purpose. Just because we don’t understand that purpose doesn’t mean that we should automatically think that something is bad. I have heard one practitioner state that if you give a person with Celiac’s a hookworm they will no longer have reactions to gluten. I have not read the study that substantiated this statement, but I have read other studies where parasitic worms were given to people with autoimmune diseases and those people no longer had symptoms of their autoimmune disease. When you look at cultures who live in areas that haven’t been touched by indistrialization you will find people with microbes and parasites in thier gut that would kill the modern American. Dont be mistaken, these indiginous people are actually super healthy. It’s because of thier microbial diveristy that they are able to maintain health and have these parasites and pathogens present without causing disease. Thier immune systems are functioning appropriately and thier commensal (good bacteria that live in your gut and help you) microbes are in high numbers, keeping the pathogens in check. Let’s be real we are not in the Amazon and we do not have that type of microbial diversity. Therefore, in my opinion, it is not good for us to have parasites in our systems.
Okay so here is the real deal, we all have parasites! Yes you heard me right we all have parasites. There’s not a single person who can be excluded from this. There are innocuous parasites called skin mites that feed on your dead skin on your face and your eyelashes. Then there are the scary parasites such as a intestinal worms. The ones we should really be concerned about are going to be protozoan infections as well as a few of the worms. Now there are too many different types of protozoa as well as too many different types of helminths for me to talk about in one blog post. So I will just focus on the most common one.
The number one parasitic infection that you can get in the United States is going to be Giardia. Most people don’t even have symptoms when they get Giardia. If you do have symptoms some of the main ones are profuse watery diarrhea followed by bouts of constipation, rotten sulfur burps as well as extremely foul flatulence, greasy stools, extreme bloating, there may or may not be vomiting, and rarely a low-grade fever. I have read a scientific study showing that Giardia causes leaky gut and overtime you can have malabsorptive issues, chronic inflammation, and chronic fatigue. I have also read a study talking about food allergies and intolerances associated with Gairdiasis as well as other parasitic infections. This parasite is insidious and can be very difficult to diagnose. You can test for them by doing a specific test called an O & P (ova and parasite). In order for this test to be effective you need to collect a minimum of three separate samples from separate days, but I have read that up to 8 to 10 samples was necessary. Another test that can be done is a Giardia stool antigen test. This is a little more of a sensitive test than the O&P. However, if there are only small numbers of Giardia in the body then the test will be negative. You need at least two of these tests on seperate stools or aspirates to be negative. There is also a blood test that you can have done that is an antibody test that is extremely accurate. The only problem with this test is that once you have a positive you will always be positive. So it can initially diagnose,however, you cannot use this test for follow-up to see if you have cleared the infection. The best method of testing for follow up would be PCR. In this test they multiply DNA or RNA of a sample and match genes to a database of known organisms, in this case Giardia. There are many ways you can aquire this infection. The most common are daycares, public pools, hottubs, contaminated food, and drinking from streams or rivers. I have read one statistic that estimated up to 3% of ready-made salads have Giardia cysts. If I remember correctly you only need 7 cysts to establish infection. This is the parasite that I battled and has caused me many problems. It was also a battle for me to get diagnosed, but luckily because of my background and experience I was able to advocate for myself and demand the appropriate tests. I was asymptomatic until I ate a costco sized bag of dried figs and had every textbook symptom. Although I will never know exactly when I aquired this parasite the Dr and I both believe it has contributed to both of my childrens’ FPIES. One thing for certain is that after elliminating this infection I was able to heal my leaky gut, then my current nursling’s leaky gut, and now my little one is passing foods left and right 😀.
There are some common signs and symptoms if you have parasites . Some the common symptoms you might have are bloating, fat malabsorbtion, fatigue, digestive disturbances, brain fog, anxiety or depression, and/or eczema. The best way to diagnose for parasites when you arent certain would be to get a comprehensive stool panel. You can order one on your own through Great Plains Laboratories if you cant get your Dr. to order testing. Please keep in mind if you go to a conventional Dr the most they will probably do is a series of O&Ps which are not sensitive tests and are limited to the quality of the lab scientist performing the test as well as the quality of the sample. It is very important for you to diagnose and treat these infections because over time they can tax your immune system as well as your adrenals. Some of these parasites are even able to reside in the gallbladder causing your gallbladder to back up or not function properly. Your liver also takes a toll from parasites and eventually you will not be able to detox properly. Over time all of these things can have detrimental results to your body. If you have parasites and you would like to treat them naturally there are several herbal remedies that are very successful at curing parasites. Berberine containing substances are excellent anti-parasitics, oil of oregano, extract of garlic, and olive leaf extract. All of these require specific dosing and most are contrindicative to breastfeeding and pregnancy so it is very important to work with a really good functional practitioner for best results and safety.
If you are on a TED it is important to know if you have a parasitic infection because this could be the source of your leaky gut. While breastfeeding, treatment for infections is difficult because your options are limited. Some natural antiparasitic herbs you can take safely are tumeric, cinnamon, clove, ginger, food grade diatomaceous earth, and raw garlic. Please do not take any of these in essential oil forms and consult with your practitioner for advice and dosing. I personally took all of these herbs along with a tincture of olive leaf extract and a round of metronidazole (which failed). The tincture of olive leaf was the most effective for me, but it is not recommended while breastfeeding according to some resources.
DISCLAIMER: I am not a physician and cannot diagnose or treat patients. The information provided comes from scientific articles, my education from WSU, functional practitioners,and my own personal research and experience. Any advice taken will be at your own discretion.