Everyone is subject to parasite infection. The Centers for Disease Control released findings in 2014 that made national news. CBS reported, “Millions of Americans develop parasitic infections and symptoms often go unnoticed or are misdiagnosed.” Doctors who routinely use the newest lab technology (most doctors don’t, yet) estimate as much as 90% of the population has, or will have, a parasite infection during their lifetime.
Count me in the 90%. As I began to learn about symptoms of parasite infection earlier this year, I realized I was experiencing some of the symptoms. The end of the tale is that my symptoms are now either completely gone or greatly improved. What I did to get that result was a natural parasite cleanse protocol.
What is a parasite infection?
A parasite is an organism that lives off another organism. In this post, I’m referring to tiny critters, usually worms, that feed off of what you eat. Parasites are not just isolated to the digestive system, however. They can also live in muscle and joints, skin, your liver, chest, bladder, pancreas, spine, eyes and brain. It’s usually a bad deal for the host because they consume vital nutrients and excrete toxins.
There are many kinds of parasites and they vary in size from single cell protozoa to worms that can grow several feet in length and mooch off the host for decades.
There’s some controversy over whether all parasites are pathogenic (harmful). I’m going to bypass that discussion for now and just focus on parasites that produce unwanted symptoms.Parasites are not isolated to the digestive system. They can thrive in many parts of the body. Click To Tweet
How do you get parasites?
Dr. Amy Myers, M.D. is a physician and functional medicine practitioner in Austin, TX. She’s also a New York Times best selling author that specializes in autoimmune diseases. She says, “There are a number of ways to contract a parasite. It’s true that contaminated water from underdeveloped countries is a common source of parasites. However, they are also frequently found in undercooked meat, unclean or contaminated fruits and vegetables, and lakes, ponds or creeks. Some parasites can even enter the body by traveling through the bottom of your foot.
Some parasites are easy to pass along to others. Dr. Myers: “If you have a parasite and do not wash your hands after using the restroom, you can easily pass microscopic parasite eggs onto anything you touch – the door handle, the salt shaker, your phone, or other people. It is also very easy to contract a parasite when handling animals.”You can get parasites from water, undercooked meat, through your feet or from other people. Click To Tweet
Symptoms of Parasites
If you have already made all the nutrition and lifestyle adjustments in the Wellness Repair Plan, but still have unresolved symptoms, it’s possible a parasite could be the underlying cause.
Here are some symptoms associated with parasites.
- Abdominal pain (Giardia)
- Abscesses in the liver that may rupture into the pleural space, peritoneum, or pericardium (Amebas)
- Anemia (hookworms like A. duodenaleand and N. americanus)
- Bloating (Giardia)
- Blood loss (hookworms like A. duodenaleand and N. americanus)
- Bloody diarrhea (E. histolytica)
- Constipation – Dr. Myers says she notices parasites cause constipation more often than diarrhea in her patients.
- Coughing or wheezing
- Crawling skin irritation or rectal itching, especially at night
- Diarrhea (Giardia)
- Don’t feel full
- Enlargement of liver and spleen (hepatosplenomegaly)
- Eye inflammation (conjunctivitis and retinitis)
- Fever (E. histolytica)
- Gastrointestinal obstruction (E. histolytica)
- Grinding jaw at night
- History of parasite treatment that resulted in a Herxheimer (or “dieoff” effect)
- History of travel to foreign countries
- Hives (urticaria)
- Intestinal ulcerations (E. histolytica)
- Low blood amino acid assays – parasites can consume protein before their host
- Malaria – Claims more than 450,000 lives per year, predominantly among children in Latin America, Africa and Asia.
- Mast Cell Activation Disorder
- Memory trouble
- Mental or behavioral health disorders – bipolar disorder, depression, OCD, anxiety, ADHD – The more parasites you have the more they can effect attention and cognition.
- Nausea (Giardia)
- Nutritional deficiency – B12, folate, iron, anemia or low thyroid. Also selenium and zinc.
- Peritonitis (E. histolytica)
- Pica (hookworms like A. duodenaleand and N. americanus)
- Sleep disturbances (E. vermicularis or pinworm)
- Subcutaneous nodules
- Unexpected treatment outcome from a yeast or bacterial treatment (see link for list of conditions)
- Vomiting (Giardia)
- Wasting (hookworms like A. duodenaleand and N. americanus)
- Weight loss (Giardia, E. histolytica)
Abdominal pain, bloating, constipation or diarrhea go with parasite infection
(Just wrote that paragraph-heading in a cafe. I think it freaked the lady behind me out a little.)
Dr. Leo Galland, M.D. has plenty of experience helping patients get rid of digestive issues like abdominal pain, bloating, constipation or diarrhea. In 1990, he presented a paper before the American College of Gastroenterology, which showed a parasite infection in half a group of two hundred people with these symptoms. Most had been told they had irritable bowel syndrome (IBS).
Dr. Gallard highlights two conclusions from the study. “(1) Parasitic infection is a common event among patients with chronic gastrointestinal symptoms. (2) Many people are given a diagnosis of irritable bowel syndrome without a thorough evaluation.”
The presentation was picked up by national media and soon his office was flooded with hundreds of calls from people suffering with ongoing gastrointestinal complaints. Most had been diagnosed with IBS by their physicians.
Dr. Gallard reported, “The standard treatment for this syndrome had not helped them. All they had received was a label. Many had been told there was no cure. In evaluating these patients, I found that the majority had intestinal parasites, food intolerance or a lack of healthy intestinal bacteria. These conditions were not mutually exclusive. Many patients had more than one reason for chronic gastrointestinal problems. Treating these abnormalities as they occurred in various patients produced remarkably good therapeutic results. A year later, researchers in the Department of Family Medicine at Baylor University in Houston reported findings similar to mine.”Abdominal pain, bloating, constipation and diarrhea are common symptoms of parasite infection. Click To Tweet
Parasites cause chronic stress
I wanted to point this out because stress has so many ramifications on your health. But it doesn’t always arrive in the form of work deadlines or relationship struggles.
Dr. Justin Marchegiani, D.C. has been a functional medicine practitioner for about a decade. He explains how parasites can be an invisible source of stress. “The immune, lymphatic, and detoxification systems are put in overdrive when parasite infections are active. Our lymphatic system is busy trying to move toxins out of the tissues and commonly gets backed up and stagnant when inflammation is elevated. The detoxification system has to filter out the blood and run our cytochrome P450 oxidase enzymes (phase 1 and phase 2 detoxification pathways) so clean blood can then be recirculated. The Immune system is revved up and produces antibodies and specific white blood cells known as eosinophils to help attack the various critters. It also stimulates various cytokines and interleukins to mobilize the attack against these foreign invaders.”Parasites can overwhelm your body's detox systems and become a source of chronic stress. Click To Tweet
The most accurate test for parasites
Standard testing for parasites involves a lab technician viewing a stool sample through a microscope. It’s time consuming, expensive and, turns out, not very accurate. Many people only shed parasites in their stool intermittently, depending on where the critters are in your body and their stage of lifecycle. On top of those iffy odds, supplements and medications can cause a false negative.
Researchers documented a single stool sample to be only 58-72% effective in detecting parasites. Looking at three samples improved detection as much as 31.1%. That’s better, but there’s a newer detection technology called Polymerase Chain Reaction (or PCR) that looks at DNA. A PCR test is 18% more accurate than looking at 3 stool samples under a microscope. It’ll tell you what’s in there (parasites, bacteria, yeast) and what’s missing (HCL or stomach acid).
You can get an at-home DNA stool test. It only requires one sample and the kit is sent straight to your door.
- Order the GI-MAP Genetic Stool Test from Aura
- White paper about the test from Diagnostic Solutions Laboratory
- A sample of the GI MAP report
- Video training on the GI-MAP test
Dr. Tom Brady helped develop the GI-MAP test. He notes, “The pathogen targets include bacteria, parasites and another first for the market, viruses!”
A downside of the GI-MAP test is there’s little interpretation help on the report you get back. For a colorful interpretation guide, you may want to go with the more expensive Genova Diagnostics GI Effects 2200. You can order it yourself from Direct Labs. Look for it listed as: GI Effects Gastrointestinal Function Comprehensive Profile (Three Day Collection)-Genova Kit. This test looks for similar pathogens (minus viruses). Here’s a sample of the GI Effects 2200.
Genova Diagnostics has a parasite-only test, but since parasites often work in protective partnership with yeast or bacteria, testing for all the critters will give you a fuller picture of the task at hand.
It can also be productive to get an organic acids test. This is a urine test that looks at organic acids known to be byproducts of bacteria, poor absorption of amino acids or poor absorption of carbohydrates; still more clues to fine tune treatment. Here’s some good information on reading an organic acids test from a couple PhD’s. This is more advanced material that will help you appreciate the clinical interpretation experience a functional medicine practitioner can offer. And speaking of clinical experience, there’s another side to the testing story.Standard testing for parasites isn't very accurate. The most accurate test uses PCR technology. Click To Tweet
Is it okay to do a parasite cleanse without testing first?
I have observed that many people just do a parasite cleanse without getting tested. It’s reasonable to remember mankind has survived parasite invasion for millennia with nothing more than attention to what herbs and foods worked.
Relying on deductive reasoning instead of testing is not total wellness blasphemy. Dr. Charles Gant, M.D., PhD. writes, “If any of these [symptoms] are present to any degree and unfriendly flora such as yeast and bacteria have been ruled out as a cause of GI symptoms, however mild, parasites are the cause until proven otherwise. By Sherlock Holmes-style logic what else could it be? And since the exact parasite is often unknown, treatment must be presumptive with a broad range of anti-parasitic antibiotics, herbals and homeopathic remedies.” He adds, “Since parasites are notoriously a diagnostic enigma, I usually recommend prescribing as many simultaneous treatments as possible. In other words, due to the uncertainty as to exactly which parasite is causing symptoms, a clinician is justified in treating with a wide array of interventions. The other line of deductive logic that supports this “shotgun” approach is that a single parasite is rarely alone. Even if only one is found on stool testing, others probably accompany the one that was fortunately spotted.”
I also found a podcast where Dr. Michael Ruscio, D.C. expounded on the idea of doing “therapeutic trials”. That means trying a treatment without running test first. He says, “More testing doesn’t equal better results.” “…if a test is meant to lead … to a treatment, then why not just start with the treatment.” “…in functional medicine, many of the agents that we’re going to use have little to no risk of harm. And if the testing doesn’t show us how to maximize effect, then it’s not really needed. In fact, it may even be detrimental if that testing creates a financial burden for the patient.”
If you can afford the test and to work with a functional medicine practitioner, it may shortcut the process for you. If not, the DIY approach is not unprecedented.It is not unprecedented to skip parasite testing and go straight to the cleanse. Click To Tweet
Parasites can be eradicated with herbs
Dr. Justin: “Most infections can be eradicated with an herbal medicine protocol, but some may need antibiotics.”
Herbs, you say? You mean like witchdoctors use? I like how Dr. Charles Gant, M.D., PhD. addresses the perception that using herbs is somehow unscientific. “Let’s cut through the nonsense – herbs contain phytochemicals which are plant-evolved substances designed to fend off many of the same kinds of pathogens which infect humans. Such herbal phytochemicals are potentially more toxic to invasive pathogens than they are to human cells, so they have clinical utility.” He adds, “You can have as severe a reaction to herbs as you can to medications, but in general, herbs are very safe because the concentration of the toxins which kill the pathogens is usually very low and unlikely to harm the host (you).”You can kill off parasites with herbs. Here's how. Click To Tweet
Cautions when doing your own parasite cleanse
Dr. Myers cautions, “If you have a history of liver disease, heavy alcohol use or previous history of elevated liver enzymes, I recommend you consult your physician and have your liver enzymes checked before starting an anti-parasite herbal supplements.” Dr. Justin: “…higher doses of wormwood can be very effective but they can also raise liver enzymes so we may have to add in binding support and liver support.”
Most cleanse programs will also advise consulting with a physician if you are pregnant, think you might be pregnant, are considering getting pregnant, nursing or on prescription pharmaceuticals. It is also advised to stop immediately if you have any kind of allergic reaction to the herbs. As always, listen to your body and adjust accordingly.Don't do a parasite cleanse if you have high liver enzymes. Click To Tweet
Prerequisites to a natural parasite cleanse
There’s a reason functional medicine doctors often don’t work on eradicating infections until later steps. Getting rid of gut pathogens puts a lot of stress on your detoxification systems. For best results, it’s wise to fortify your body’s defenses for toxic bombardment.
The Wellness Repair Plan provides preparation steps in an order that comes from functional medicine. Here are some tips that are specifically helpful for correcting gut microbial imbalances (called dysbiosis).
- Reduce or eliminate FODMAPs during the cleanse. Regardless of what kind of critters you’re having trouble with, reducing or eliminating FODMAPs is likely to help.
- Reduce or eliminate fruit. The goal is to starve the bugs of sugar. In addition to improving digestion, another side effect many people appreciate is weight loss.
- Eliminate any probiotics that make you feel worse. Probiotics can exacerbate overgrowth of bacteria that assist parasites.
- Eliminate mycotoxins (fungal toxins), which are high in foods like peanuts, mushrooms or balsamic vinegar.
- Increase acids like apple cider vinegar and vitamin C (also an acid). You can also take Betaine HCl with each meal if tolerated. Dr. Marchegiani suggests as much a 3000mg.
Remember, you can’t effectively deal with parasites without also taking on yeast and bacterial overgrowth.There are prerequisites to a parasite cleanse. You'll want to get your body ready. Click To Tweet
A natural parasite cleanse protocol
I had hopes of finding the “best” protocol for parasites, but therapies vary depending on the exact kind of bugs, their location and how well the you tolerate the Herxheimer (die off) reaction. I found it rare for doctors to publish dosages. Instead, they typically recommend a specific product or kit of products. That makes it harder to point people to a single solution for parasites. Nevertheless, I was able to piece together patterns by cross referencing herb product labels with the few practitioner-published dosage recommendations. It is my opinion that Dr. Josh Axe offers a balanced representation of the herbs and foods functional medicine doctors recommend for broad spectrum treatment of parasites. These are his dosage recommendations.
#1 Black walnut (250 milligrams 3x daily)
Use in tincture form. Other experts advise taking the entire daily amount in one dose. Mix into half a cup of water and sip over about 15 minutes or less on an empty stomach. Don’t gulp. If the slight amount of alcohol in the tincture makes you woozy, just stay seated until you are comfortable again. The beneficial compound in black walnut is juglone.
#2 Sweet wormwood (200 milligrams 3x daily)
In 2015, Chinese scientist Youyou Tu, received a Nobel prize for discovering the active ingredient that makes sweet wormwood effective against parasites is artemisia annua, later called Artemisinin. You can get sweet wormwood in tincture or capsule form. It tastes nasty, so I went with capsules. Some experts go a little higher on dosage (200-300mg) and recommend taking the entire daily amount at once on an empty stomach before a meal (3 x 200-300mg = 600-900mg). Pregnant or breastfeeding women and infants should not take sweet wormwood.
#3 Cloves (500 mg 4x daily or 4 cups of tea)
#4 Oregano Oil (500 milligrams 4x daily)
This oil is documented to have antibacterial as well as anti-parasitic effects.
#5 Grapefruit seed extract (take as directed)
It’s also documented as anti-parasitic.Here are the herbs and dosages for a natural parasite cleanse. Click To Tweet
One round of a parasite cleanse takes about five weeks
Dr. Axe offers the exact timing. “I recommend you do about two weeks of a parasite cleanse, taking these supplements, then take a week off and jump back on for two more weeks. That protocol is as important as taking the supplements.”
Dr. Justin and Evan Brand have mentioned in numerous podcasts that parasites can usually be eradicated in one or two rounds. In other words, if you don’t get them all in the first five weeks, you can do a second five-week round.
Don’t get bummed if you don’t have an immediate health reversal after your parasite protocol. According to Dr. Leo Galland, M.D., intestinal damage and malabsorption can persist for months after successful treatment.The schedule of a parasite cleanse is as important as the herbs you select. Click To Tweet
For convenience, try a parasite cleanse kit
One of the most famous natural parasite cleanses comes from Dr. Huda Clark, PhD. She passed away in 2009, but her family offers a kit called ParaCleanse that contains black walnut, wormwood and cloves.
Other top anti-parasite foods and supplements
I came up with this list by reading functional medicine doctor blog posts and ingredient lists on the products they recommend. Go with recommendations on the bottle unless advised otherwise by a physician.
- Berberine – Dr. Axe says, “500 milligrams, three times per day for a total of 1,500 milligrams per day.” Take with a meal.
- Diatomaceous Earth – Make sure it’s food grade.
- Lacto fermented foods like sauerkraut and kimchi – But only if tolerated well
- Neem (Dr. Joseph Mercola advises not to take neem, “…if you are pregnant or planning to become pregnant, because it can work as a contraceptive.“)
- Marshmallow root (not the squishy white sugar bombs)
- Raw garlic – only if tolerated – Smash the cloves first to activate their beneficial properties
- Onions – only if tolerant
- Ginger – Aids motility (That means it keeps you regular.)
- Papaya juice
- Coconut oil
- Raw pumpkin seeds or pumpkin seed oil capsules. A meaningful amount is around 1/4 to half a cup. Pumpkin seeds are the #1 food to fight parasites with an efficacy rate of 89%. You can blend them into smoothies or just eat the seeds. I use raw pumpkin seeds as part of my ongoing prevention efforts.
- Thyme leaf and seed
- Vitamin C
- Extracts from tribulus
- Olive leaf
Top Foods to avoid during a parasite cleanse
- Sugar – Sugar is parasite food.
- Fruit – Fruit contains sugar, so needs to be limited.
- Processed food – will hinder immune health and always makes a withdrawal from your health bank account.
- Alcohol – hinders immune health and shrinks your hippocampus!
- Grains – break down into sugar quickly
- Pork – can be highly contaminated with parasites
How to reduce the Herxheimer Reaction (die-off effect)
According to Functional Medicine University, “The die-off reaction typically occurs when you’re killing off microorganisms (yeast, fungus, protozoa) at a pace quicker than the eliminative organs (the liver and the GI tract) can competently handle. This can occur when taking drugs or potent botanicals and can be disruptive to the entire body because the eliminative resources must be utilized to minimize the ill effects of the microbes. The toxic by-products of the microbes can circulate and recirculate through the blood and lymphatics, causing possible symptoms of die-off such as fatigue, achiness, fever, and difficulty with concentration, sometimes resembling a mild case of the flu.”
Dr. Justin mentions using “die-off binder support”. He stated in a podcast, “…we’ll typically add in side-by-side … some ginger tea, some activated charcoal, and/or bentonite clay or diatomaceous earth. I typically pick one. I’ve been going more with the charcoal … these days. We’ll even throw in some fiber. It just depends with patients.”
I use the coconut activated charcoal made my Bulletproof. Take a couple hours between meals since charcoal will also bind to food nutrients.You can diminish the parasite die-off effect with activated charcoal. Click To Tweet
Key parasite takeaways
- Parasites eat your nutrients and then excrete toxins. It’s a bad trade.
- The most common symptoms of parasites are abdominal pain, bloating, constipation and diarrhea. While parasitic infection is common among people with chronic gastrointestinal symptoms, but there are many more symptoms, including mental and mood abnormalities.
- The most accurate test for parasites uses Polymerase Chain Reaction (or PCR) technology that looks at DNA. However, since qualified physicians describe herbal treatment agents as having “little to no risk of harm”, it’s not unprecedented to just skip the test and go straight to the cleanse.
- Before you begin a parasite cleanse, follow the Wellness Repair Plan for a few weeks to relieve your detoxification and immune systems. You need to prepare for the toxic overload that occurs as parasites and other gut bugs die off and release toxins.
- It is often possible to zap parasites with herbs. The most recommended herbs for a parasite cleanse are black walnut, Sweet wormwood and ground cloves. See above for additional herbs and doctor-suggested dosage amounts. One ’round’ takes about 5 weeks total. A round is made up of two weeks on the herbs, a week off and then another two weeks on. Adhering to the schedule of weeks on and off is just as important as getting the right herbs.
- It’s a good idea to take a binding agent like activated charcoal during the cleanse to help diminish the die-off effect.
- During the cleanse, avoid sugar and foods that metabolize to sugar. This includes grains, alcohol and even fruit. As spinach is to Popeye, sugar is to bad gut bugs.
Dr. Justin Marchegiani – Do you have a parasite infection?
Dr. Amy Myers talking about PCR testing