Happy Monday everyone, let’s talk about parasites! Are intestinal parasites messing with your digestion? How would you even know? What could you do about it if they are?
I work with a lot of people who experience digestive difficulties. Sometimes they have been present for many years, other times they come on suddenly out of the blue. As part of my workup in these cases, I always test for intestinal parasites.
Parasites are very common, and not that hard to get. All it takes is to eat at a restaurant where someone who is also infected uses the bathroom, doesn’t wash their hands adequately, then goes about handling food. Gross I know, sorry, but it’s the truth.
What do parasitic infections look like?
Symptoms of parasite infection include nausea, excess hunger, gas, bloating, constipation and/ or diarrhea (often alternating). Some people see “things” in their stool, others do not. What I think is important to note is that some parasites that are considered non-pathogenic ie non-disease causing, can still cause problems. I had a patient with blastocystic hominis, for example. Her primary care doctor told her that blastocystis doesn’t cause problems and didn’t need to be treated. Thankfully she got a second opinion, we treated the blasto, and her digestive issues resolved. I have had similar experiences with dientamoeba too.
So how does one test for parasites?
You can go to labs such as Labcorp and get stool testing done through them, but as with many things, I have found more sensitive lab testing through private labs who specialize in certain areas. My favorites for parasite testing are BioHealth Diagnostics, who offer a great parasite test with H. pylori as an optional add on (read more about H. pylori here). I also use Diagnostechs comprehensive stool analysis, as their test also checks for worms as well as microscopic parasites. For kids, I’ll typically do the Great Plains Laboratory comprehensive stool analysis. GPL specializes in testing for autism, so if I’m ordering other tests through that lab, I’ll add the stool test on to the panel. Most of the tests require three or four days worth of samples, as that maximizes the chance of detecting them bearing in mind their life cycle.
What do you do if you test positive for intestinal parasites?
There are several different treatments for parasites, ranging from herbs to medications. Some of the common medications for parasites including cryptosporidium, blastocystis, giardia and entamoeba are metronidazole (Flagyl), tinidazole (Tindamax), iodoquinol (Yodoxin) and nitazoxonide (Alinia). For helminths (worms) like roundworm or threadworm, medications such as albenzadole, praziquantel and ivermectin are used.
There are also great herbs that have potent anti-parasitic activity. These include black walnut, wormwood, garlic, goldenseal, clove, pau d’arco, quassia and Oregon grape root. I have a blend that I put together that I use frequently with patients that you can find here.
Some people find that as they kill off parasites, they benefit from taking a mix of binders such as food-grade diatomaceous earth, bentonite clay and fibers. See here for a blog post I wrote about using binders for Candida, that contains a good recipe. The binders just help to sweep the residue out of the gut.
If you’ve been living with digestive issues that haven’t been adequately diagnosed, or if you’ve been diagnosed with Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS), then it is definitely worth being tested for parasites, as that is a very correctable and treatable underlying cause. I tend to choose a course of medication followed up by herbal anti-parasitics, always adding probiotics to keep gut flora balanced, but I have seen many people do well with herbs alone. Bear in mind that some people with severe intestinal infections, such as Giardia, may find themselves more sensitive to gluten afterwards. Whether the infection creates sufficient inflammation in the gut to create an intolerance through immune hyperactivation, or simply unmasks an intolerance that was already there, is not clear. But I’ve seen that happen time and time again.
No one loves doing poop tests or finding bugs in their digestive system, but it sure beats months to years of digestive discomfort!