Affecting over 3.5 billion people worldwide each year, parasites are a leading cause of infections. With symptoms ranging from none, or mild to serious illness and death, parasites can be notoriously difficult to diagnose and are becoming increasingly resistant to conventional treatment.
Parasitic infections can come in many forms, from lice of the hair and skin or common intestinal worms like threadworm through to the waterborne giardia or blastocystis hominis.
Intestinal parasites live in the gastrointestinal tract and feed off nutrients in the body before they can be metabolised. Symptoms result due to malabsorption of nutrients, and the inflammation caused by the parasite’s presence. Symptoms vary depending on the type of parasite, but the most frequently reported symptoms of intestinal parasites include:
If you think you have a parasite, you’ll likely be experiencing symptoms that might be wide ranging in their presentation, such as the ones listed above. Different parasites tend to cause different symptoms, with some causing more obvious symptoms than others.
Parasites are living organisms that feed off the body of their host, anywhere from the skin and hair to the gut. The most common intestinal parasites in Australia are generally in one of two groups: Helminths (worms) or protozoan parasites.
Intestinal helminths (worms)
Helminths tend to not cause overt digestive symptoms, hence why they can live in the digestive tract for long periods of time. Because of their ability to consume nutrients, they typically contribute to severe chronic health issues which don’t seem related to having a parasite. It is often only through an astute practitioner who decides to test for parasites that the cause of health issues is revealed.
Most people would be familiar with treating this type of parasitic worm with an over the counter ‘worming medication’. Parasitic worms and their eggs can vary in size from microscopic to more than three feet long and include:
In contrast, protozoan parasites tend to cause acute gastrointestinal symptoms like vomiting, bloating, cramps, abdominal pain, and diarrhoea, and are therefore more obvious to detect. They include:
Roundworms are often found in warmer climates, as well as where sanitation and hygiene are poor. Infection often occurs when a person comes into contact with soil or food that’s contaminated, or from faecal matter of people infected with nematodes. Nematodes include a range of organisms such as Strongyloides stercoralis, Trichuris trichiura, Capillaria philippinensis (found on fish), and Ascaris lumbricoides. Symptoms can vary, although typically include diarrhoea, nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain, and fatigue.
Research has found people with the ‘atopic triad’ have a defective barrier of the skin and upper and lower respiratory tracts.
These genetic alterations cause a loss of function of filaggrin (filament aggregating protein), which is a protein in the skin that normally breaks down to create natural moisturisation and protect the skin from penetration by pathogens and allergens.
Filaggrin mutations are found in approximately 30 percent of people with atopic dermatitis, and also predispose people to asthma, allergic rhinitis (hayfever), keratosis pilaris (dry rough patches and bumps on the skin), and ichthyosis vulgaris (a chronic condition which causes thick, dry, scaly skin.)If one parent carries this genetic alteration, there is a 50 percent chance their child will develop atopic symptoms. And that risk increases to 80 percent if both parents are affected.
The connection between the gut microbiome and skin health is complex, however, research has found the microbiota contributes to the development, persistence, and severity of atopic dermatitis through immunologic, metabolic and neuroendocrine pathways.
Deficiency of Omega-6 essential fatty acids (EFA) has been linked with the increased incidence of atopic dermatitis, along with the inability for the body to efficiently metabolise EFA’s to gamma linoleic acids (GLA) and arachidonic acids (AA).
Changing weather conditions can certainly aggravate eczema symptoms, but the triggers are subject to change among individuals.
Mould exposure and susceptibility to mould can cause Chronic Inflammatory Response Syndrome (CIRS), of which dermatitis is a manifestation.
Generally, infections occur via direct or indirect contact with infected faecal matter, the ingestion of eggs, or sometimes the parasites themselves via trace amounts of faecal matter on surfaces, through consumption of contaminated foods and drinks, and swimming in infected waters.
Some of the risk factors that can increase exposure to intestinal parasites include:
Parasites can live in human hosts without symptoms, or detection, for months or even years. When symptoms do arise, people will often turn to a pharmacist or GP for conventional medicines. The most common treatments for intestinal parasites include:
As well as failing to eradicate parasites and cysts, these medications can contribute to further dysbiosis of the intestinal microbiome, making the host even more susceptible to reinfection and inflammation.
This is why more people are seeking natural remedies and a functional medicine approach to eradicating intestinal worms and parasites.
Our functional medicine parasites specialists in Melbourne help patients test for and treat the parasitic infection, using natural treatment for intestinal parasites while improving the resilience of each person to help prevent further reinfection.
This journey begins with a parasite specialist identifying the parasite present through testing, while assessing your overall health and addressing any underlying imbalances that might be contributing to poor health. Your personalised plan may include:
Our goal is to get you in the best shape possible, so treatment will include optimising your immune health and gut microbiome so that you can become more resilient to future infections, and feel happy and healthy in your body. You also get the ongoing support of a health coach, who will guide you through the steps to take, so you don’t have to do it alone.
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You may have just returned from a holiday, where you had gastrointestinal symptoms and suspect you’ve brought something home with you. Intestinal worms can often make their presence known by causing anal itching at night time, and sometimes during the day. Parasite symptoms can include:
Testing can identify if a parasite is present and identify what type of parasite that is. It is important to rule out other causes of these symptoms, to avoid more serious health concerns. Our functional medicine parasites specialists can help.
Parasites have evolved alongside us for as long as we’ve been on the earth, so they’ve learned to evade our immune system to some degree. Some may be detected by the immune system and some not, and a robust immune system may be effective at eliminating a parasite or may just keep it in check.
A healthy, diverse microbiome is part of a healthy immune system, and eating a diet rich in whole, unprocessed plant foods and reducing foods that parasites love such as sugar, processed foods, and alcohol can all help.
Taking Vitamin C and zinc can help to support the immune system to improve resilience to infection.
An effective colon cleanse might include specific herbal treatments, designed to treat a specific parasite.
Taking the wrong herb or product may result in creating dysbiosis of the microbiome, which can allow parasites to multiply, and may cause other digestive issues.
Our functional medicine parasites specialists can help identify the parasite and provide a treatment program to eradicate the parasite, and also treat any health issues it may have caused.
Some parasites such as H.pylori are associated with reflux, gastritis and gastric ulcers.
Functional testing by our functional medicine naturopath parasites specialists can help identify parasites and provide effective treatment solutions.
Identifying the parasite responsible is essential to proper treatment, and naturopathic parasite treatments would also include natural treatment for reflux. See our acid reflux page for more information.
Firstly, it is important to identify the parasite. Some are harder to identify and eradicate than others, and the right strategy is important to avoid disruptions to the digestive system, in particular the microbiome.
Therefore, functional testing will identify what parasite/s are causing the infection, and the right treatment can target them effectively and efficiently, without causing collateral damage to your microbiome. A disrupted microbiome will only allow parasites to multiply more effectively, worsening symptoms and health.
Other than the resolution of any symptoms, testing again at the end of treatment and possibly again much later, can confirm the success of the treatment and ensure the infection is completely resolved.
It depends on which parasite you are treating, and treatments must be targeted specifically for each parasite.
Some herbal treatments that are broad and reasonably gentle are garlic and ginger, dried papaya seeds, zinc, vitamin A and some probiotics.
The most effective and natural treatment can be determined by a functional medicine naturopath parasite specialist, like Melbourne Functional Medicine’s naturopathic parasite treatment. This treatment may include specific testing, and a natural parasite cleanse with targeted herbal treatments, diet and lifestyle changes and treatment of other associated conditions such as digestive conditions.
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