The Parasite Epidemic
It's a rather ugly topic. Parasites. Nobody
wants to talk about them and few of us do because mainstream medicine has led us to believe that parasites only afflict people living in third-world nations, or those who frequently travel there. The fact is that parasites are quite common and anyone is now susceptible. They can live within us without causing problems, or can create a huge variety of symptoms, including death.
What exactly is a parasite? There are two major categories. Protozoa are tiny, single-celled organisms. Helminths are multi-cellular worms that have a huge range of sizes, from microscopic to many feet long. Direct person-to-person transmission of worms is uncommon, unlike transmission of protozoa.
Protozoa act much like bacteria, traveling through the blood stream to any part of the body. They reproduce without laying eggs and act more like an infection than do the larger parasites, the helminths.
Helminths, or worms, reproduce by laying eggs, which are initially deposited in the gastrointestinal (GI) tract where they stick to the walls of the intestines. The eggs, in turn, hatch, producing larvae, which eventually grow into adult helminths. Helminths have a life cycle consisting of three stages. Some helminths have a fourth stage, namely cysts. Cysts are hardened coverings over thousands of eggs. Protozoa, on the other hand, only have one life form.
Some worms are invasive, moving past the lining of the GI tract into the bloodstream. This group includes Toxoplasma Gondii and Trichinella Spiralis (tapeworm).
A parasite lives off the host. It feeds on you and me, consuming our energy, our nutrients, and our food. Some parasites can live only in the GI tract, while others can settle virtually anywhere in the body. As an example, some that settle in joints gain their nutrition by eating the calcium of our bones. Others live off the myelin sheath that coats each nerve, causing dozens of neuro-cognitive symptoms.
Parasites are hardly rare. While it is extremely difficult to provide precise figures, it is estimated that 80 to 95% of people living in North America has at least one parasite living inside their body. By and large, we become infected by parasites through consumption of contaminated food or water, or by putting anything in the mouth that has come in contact with the stool (feces) of a person or animal infected with a parasite.
Prior to this generation, de-worming was a regular part of life. We should resume this practice, and make parasite testing part of basic health screening.
If you go to a conventional doctor, including a gastroenterologist, if he orders a stool test, the order will read, “Stool for ova and parasites.” A very tiny sample of stool is examined. The sample is checked for blood, and then examined for parasites. This testing is incredibly ineffective.
Six months ago I began using Diagnos-Techs Laboratory when looking for parasites. This lab's name had come up several times as the best, or one of the best, labs for identifying parasites. When I began testing my patients through Diagnos-Techs GI-2 test, what I found was startling. Eighty percent of my patients who have had the GI-2 test were positive for at least one parasite, and many carry two, three, or even four different kinds of parasites. Regardless of which laboratory is used, we need to realize where the state of the science is. There are as many as 5,000 parasites that can afflict us.
Why Get Tested?
Why would you consider having the GI-2 test? Here are the major clinical indications:
Inflammatory bowel disease
Post travel diarrhea
Chronic loose stool or constipation
Sudden change in bowel habits
Fat or grain intolerance
Multiple food allergies
Bloating, maldigestion, heartburn, excess gas
Chronic abdominal discomfort or pain
Chronic fatigue syndrome
Excessive eating patterns
Poor sleeping habits
Chronic skin conditions
These are the major symptoms and diagnoses that should get your attention, but later on we will see that parasites should be considered as potential causes of nearly every symptom.
Parasites are beginning to come into our awareness the way that viruses have over the last fifteen years. For example, we know that HHV6 (human herpes virus 6) is a major cause of chronic fatigue syndrome, fibromyalgia, and multiple sclerosis. As we become more knowledgeable about parasites, we will see that they are as ubiquitous as viruses, and need to be “hunted down” vigorously — and then killed off.
Diagnos-Tech's GI-2 tests for Blastocystis Hominis, Giardia, Ascaris Lumbricoides (roundworm), Toxoplasma Gondii, Cryptosporidium, Trichinella, Entamoeba Histolytica, and tapeworm (Taenia). There are a dozen other parameters that the GI-2 tests for, including H. Pylori and intestinal immunity markers, but those are not the focus of this article.
I think we ignore the topic of parasites because it is frankly — disgusting. Who wants to know if they have worms crawling around inside? But such ignorance is not bliss. The good news here is that helminths (worms) account for only 10% of parasites detected through lab testing.
Every parasite acts differently, has a unique life cycle, and causes symptoms in its own way. Because of the great variation in the behavior of each parasite, it won't serve the reader well to go into detail about each of the ones tested for. The information would go in one eye and out the other. Therefore, I am presenting a general introduction, elaborating on the problem and the commonalities among parasites…rather than the differences.
Those most at risk are Americans living in California , Texas , Florida , and the states where cattle is big business. Our proximity to Mexico does increase the risk of parasites in California , but the increased rate of parasitic infection over the last decade has other causes, including:
1. Immigration of large numbers of people from the Pacific Rim , Central America , and the Caribbean .
2. The AIDS epidemic.
3. The expansion of childcare services.
4. Enhanced techniques to detect parasites.
5. Lack of a public policy to screen public food handlers and preparers for parasitic infections.
What Parasites Do
Their life is not that interesting. They eat, lays eggs, and secrete. They eat a variety of things. Some love sugar. If you have blood sugar problems or crave sugar, you may harbor a parasite that also loves sugar. This kind of parasite will predispose to diabetes, insulin resistance, or hypoglycemia. They live mainly in the digestive tract, but can migrate to the liver and biliary tree quite easily.
Some parasites don't eat our food. They attach themselves anywhere and leach nutrition directly out of our cells. Parasites get to your nutrients, including nutritional supplements, before you do. And they can live in us for up to thirty years without our knowing about it.
How Parasites Make Us Sick
Some parasites provoke allergic reactions. Others directly invade the lining of the intestine, causing damage to the intestinal wall that results in increased “gut permeability.” Leaky gut syndrome allows fragments of bacteria, food, and anything else within the GI tract to leak into the bloodstream. These fragments of antigens in the blood cause an immune response. The over-stimulation of the immune system, caused by leaky gut syndrome, can produce allergy, autoimmune disease, and the formation of food-antibody complexes, which deposit in tissues and organs throughout the body.
Parasites Secrete Toxins
If you have ever gotten “turista” or one of the deadly parasites in the Far East , you know how toxic they are. Food poisoning can lead to dysentery, a massive infection of the GI tract that leaves you weak and delirious, and sometimes – dead. They affect us violently through the release of toxins. This is an example of a very toxic parasite.
A chronic parasitic infection can result in a low level secretion of toxins that stresses the immune system or nervous system.
With toxic bowel syndrome, the amount of intestinal toxins is so great that the bowel becomes clogged and the toxins flow to the liver. When the liver becomes overwhelmed, the toxins spill into the blood stream.
Our four major cleansing systems are the GI tract, kidneys, lungs, and skin. If the liver becomes overly taxed, the kidneys, lungs and skin have to come to the rescue to take over the task of cleansing, thereby producing a stress on all of our cleansing organs.
Parasites wreak part of their havoc by creating an imbalance of bacteria in the GI tract, called “dysbiosis.” This bacterial imbalance, combined with a weakened immune system and leaky gut, fosters yeast, or candida, infections. In fact, parasites and candida go hand-in-hand. Many people with treatment-resistant candida have untreated parasites. Their candida will never be cured until their parasites are dealt with. There are other reasons for treatment-resistant candida, including the presence of heavy metals, like mercury, within the body.
Symptoms of Intestinal Parasites
Now that you know something about how they do their damage, we can look at a more complete list of symptoms caused by intestinal parasites:
Asthma, bladder infections, bloating, burning eyes, constipation, sugar craving, depression, diabetes, diarrhea, dizzy spells, fatigue, fibromyalgia, migraine headaches, hyperactivity, irritable bowel syndrome, no sex drive, muscle aches, nausea, lower abdomen pain, joint pain, memory loss, rash on chest, back, or scalp; tongue coating, and yeast infections.
A quick review. These symptoms are caused by parasites attaching to and irritating the intestinal wall, toxins, creation of leaky gut syndrome, weakening of the immune system, and stress on the liver, kidneys, and skin in detoxifying and cleansing.
Diarrheal diseases, caused by parasites and bacteria, are the single greatest cause of death (mortality) and illness (morbidity) in the world.
Now that you have a basic understanding of parasites, let's take a quick look at the most common ones. I will not go into much detail because the volume of information is too great, and a technical explanation won't be that helpful.
This common intestinal illness is caused by Giardia Duodenalis, a one-celled protozoa. Giardia is the major cause of daycare diarrhea. Twenty to thirty per cent of workers in daycare centers carry Giardia, but most have no symptoms.
A 1990 research paper showed that Giardia infection was present in half of a group of two hundred patients with chronic diarrhea, constipation, abdominal pain and bloating.
Most of these people had been misdiagnosed as having irritable bowel syndrome. In general, the incidence of parasitic infection is quite high among people suffering from a variety of intestinal symptoms, and many different kinds of parasites can be the cause.
Most municipal water supplies in the U.S. contain protozoa like Giardia and Cryptosporidium and one in five Americans drinks water that violates federal health standards. Every year, nearly one million North Americans become sick from water-borne parasites and about one percent die.
Giardia causes more than diarrhea. In one study of 96 patients with chronic fatigue, 46% were infected with Giardia. Furthermore, 91% of those with Giardia also have Candida.
How Do You Catch It?
Those most at risk include:
1. People working in child daycare centers as well as the children attending those daycare centers.
2. International travelers.
3. Hikers, campers, or any other people who drink untreated water.
4. People with weakened immune systems including those with HIV/AIDS infection, organ transplant recipients, or individuals undergoing chemotherapy.
1. Wash your hands with hot, soapy water before handling foods and eating, and after using the toilet, diapering young children, and handling animals.
2. Infected individuals should wash their hands frequently.
3. Drink only water from treated municipal water supplies or drink bottled water.
4. When traveling to countries where the water supply may be unsafe to drink, either drink bottled water or boil tap water for at least one minute to kill parasites.
5. Do not swallow water while swimming.
6. Do not swim in community pools if you or your child has giardiasis.
7. Drink only pasteurized milk, juices, or cider.
8. Wash , peel, or cook raw fruits and vegetables before eating.
9. Only use treated manure to fertilize fruits and vegetables.
The principles I've outlined about catching and preventing Giardia apply to many other parasites, so this information should be understood as a general comment about hundreds of other parasites.
Roundworms live in the small intestine. A female may produce 200,000 eggs per day. After infective eggs are swallowed, the larvae hatch, invade the intestinal mucosa, and are carried to the liver, and then systemic blood circulation to the lungs. The larvae mature in the lungs, ascend the bronchial tree to the throat, and are swallowed. Gross! Yes. According to Dr. Larry Klapow 50% of people with chronic fatigue syndrome are infected with a kind of roundworm.
Taenia Saginata (beef tapeworm) and Taenia Solium (pork tapeworm) are parasitic worms (helminths). They attach themselves firmly to the intestinal wall and can remain there for as long as 30 years. In addition to causing numerous intestinal symptoms, tapeworms can create a vitamin B12 deficiency. People get taeniasis by eating infected beef or pork that is undercooked or raw. Most tapeworms are less than fifteen feet long, but some can be as long as 75 feet.
Most cases of infection with tapeworm don't cause obvious symptoms. A serious disease caused by tapeworm is “cysticercosis,” in which eggs hatch into larvae, which can migrate to almost any body tissue and form cysts. Cysticercosis can be serious or fatal if it involves the central nervous system, heart, or eyes. If the brain is involved, one can experience epileptic seizures, psychiatric illness, and numerous neurological symptoms. Death is not uncommon.
The single cell parasite, Entamoeba Histolytica, is the cause. It primarily infects the colon but can also infect the liver, lungs, and brain.
Caused by Toxoplasma Gondii, a single-celled parasite found throughout the world. The cat is the host or carrier. Because we are a cat-loving nation, just about everyone in America carries Toxoplasma, without having symptoms other than a flu-like syndrome. However, in people with weakened immune systems, toxo can damage the eyes and brain. Infants can be infected before birth, resulting in serious mental and physical problems. For this reason, pregnant women need to avoid anything having to do with the care of cats. They should not clean litter boxes. Husbands — that's your job!
It is not always easy to know if a carrier of toxo is having symptoms caused by that parasite. One has to look at the whole clinical picture, in the case of toxo. Nearly 100 percent of us carry toxoplasma, but only some of us develop serious illness.
Why do some people with parasitic infections get very sick while others have no symptoms at all? The severity of illness depends on the particular parasite, the susceptibility of the host (strong versus weak immune system), and the environment in which the parasite lives. If our gastrointestinal tract has a healthy amount of friendly bacteria, digestive enzymes, and the like, we are less prone to a serious parasitic infection. If, on the other hand, we have intestinal dysbiosis, an imbalance in friendly versus unfriendly bacteria, parasites are more likely to become a real problem.
Cryptosporidium is a protozoa found in 1.2 % of the population in routine screening, but 30.7% of medical personnel caring for patients with Cryptosporidium test positive for it.
In a recent study of six rivers in the western U.S. , all water samples contained Cryptosporidium. Once infected, it is transmitted very quickly within the household. Symptoms are often flu-like, but can be fatal in those who have compromised immune systems.
Trichinella Spiralis, the cause of trichinosis, is an intestinal roundworm whose larvae may migrate from the digestive tract into the liver and blood stream, forming cysts in various muscles of the body. Severe infections can cause nervous system symptoms, problems with coordination, heart, or breathing. Muscle pain, myalgia, and fibromyalgia are linked to trichinosis. Eating raw or undercooked pork or wild game is the cause of infection.
A Parasite's Longevity
This article intends to make it clear how common parasitic infection are, how vast the symptoms are, and how lab testing, especially by Diagnos-Techs Lab, can determine with ever-increasing accuracy whether or not you are carrying a parasite.
These creatures can live for an incredibly long time. In 1979, a British study of 600 former Pacific Front prisoners from World War II found that 15% were still infected with the parasite, Strongyloides. They contracted the parasite in the Far East and thirty years later, the parasite was still alive and well in 15% of these POWs.
As with all things, treatment is controversial. Some complementary and alternative healthcare practitioners rely on herbs and intestinal cleansing to remove parasites. While this is no doubt very helpful, I am of the school of just killing these critters outright with medications. Different parasites require different medications. Unlike treatment of bacteria, one has to be extra careful in using medications against parasites. Some parasites will simply re-locate to another part of the body during medication treatment. We also have to take into account that, while a bacterium is a bacterium, many parasites have a 3-stage life cycle. We can kill the parasite with medication, but not the eggs. So, after an initial treatment phase averaging two weeks, some parasites require us to take medication on days 30, 60, 90, and 180. With this practice, we are able to deal with the eggs that hatch into larvae and adults, and through periodic, single-day treatment we can eradicate the pathogen.
Finally, in order to restore health, one must look at healing the entire gastrointestinal tract, improving the balance of friendly bacteria, healing leaky gut syndrome, boosting the immune system, avoiding raw or undercooked beef, pork, game, and fish (sushi), and addressing nutritional deficiencies caused by parasites.
Disclaimer: Dr. Gersten has no vested or financial interest in Diagnos-Techs or any other laboratory.
Dennis Gersten, M.D. practices nutritional medicine, psychiatry, and psycho-spiritual counseling out of his Encinitas office and can be reached at 760-633-3063. Please feel free to sign up for Dr. G's Health Digest newsletter at www.aminoacidpower.com and access 1,000 on-line pages about holistic health, amino acids and nutritional therapy.
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Over the past few years, I seem to have become more self-conscious and anxious. I find that when I'm in quiet places where there are lots of other people, I become very aware of the silence, become anxious, and my stomach starts to rumble. I know this sounds crazy, but it really embarrasses me and makes me feel self-aware. I'm currently taking some classes, and find that sometimes I don't listen to the lecturer because I'm trying so hard to concentrate on my stomach being quiet. I don't know where this has come from, but it's really frustrating, and I'd really like it to stop. When my mind is focused on something else, it doesn't seem to happen.
Similarly, in the summer when it's very hot, I start to feel self-conscious that I'll sweat (because girls don't generally sweat much), but being anxious seems to make me sweat more, so it's like a vicious cycle. How do I overcome this anxiety and just live my life normally again?
K.S., Dublin, Ireland
Learn to breathe deeply and fully. Your breath is your connection to relaxation and inner peace. Practice doing this several times a day. Take a deep breath, and as you exhale, say to yourself, “I relax and let go.” Do this four or five times and watch how your body and mind relaxes.
You've been stressing yourself out so much so that every little thought becomes a mountain of problems. Please stop that. Do the above exercise several times a day and you'll find that you're much more at ease with living. Then, when a stressful situation arises, you'll already have tools to work with. Just breathing and relaxing will solve it all. It's also a perfect way to allow yourself to sleep easily.
I recently realized that I have conflicting values that are causing me confusion. Part of me feels that I have to work really hard to get anywhere in the world, but the other part believes that fun, love, and my relationships with family and friends are most important. I'm about to go into my fourth year at a university, but I've have been feeling as if it's going to be such a grind, stress, and work, work, work; and it's also not really my passion. But I feel that I should get this degree, as it gives me more options.
One part of me is saying that I need to go out and follow my real dream right now (as a singer/songwriter) because time is of the essence; the other part is saying, “You're only 20, you have plenty of time.” I feel like I'm dragging my heels, half of me trying to be sensible, the other pulling me to follow a dream. I'm afraid that I'm just going to end up in a dead end job to stay afloat. I feel like my values are in a muddle, and I don't know where to commit myself, or what's real. Maybe it's the idea that I have to specialize to master anything that's causing me confusion. It is pretty funny, isn't it? I think my greatest fear is that I'll wake up ten years later and still not have sailed to great heights, and I'll feel as if I've missed the boat. Do you have any advice?
M.A., Santa Fe, New Mexico
My advice to you is almost the same as I gave to the person in the previous letter. Relax and breathe. Do it often. Stop being so tense. Don't take life so seriously. Life is supposed to be fun. Don't try to sort out your entire life in this one moment. You'll change and grow as long as you're alive.
Having a balanced life is enjoying it all—the fun, games, study and the work. This is what makes life so interesting. Feel love for everything—for all the people in your world, for your passions, for the everyday things in your life—and most of all, for yourself. You have no idea of all the wonderful adventures that lie before you.
Affirm: I trust my inner wisdom to guide me and protect me at all times. All is well.
What if you want something in your life and you think about it every day. You only put positive energy in that thought, but you want it so bad. Is it possible that instead of attracting that goal, you will only make worse?
E.C., the Netherlands
You're worrying too much and therefore pushing your goal away. Anticipate it with joy and then release it to the Universe to take care of. If you truly believe that the Universe and all of Life is on your side, then you can stop thinking about it (or release it), and you will be provided for. Know that the Universe is in the process of taking care of your dream. It will arrive. Think of how you can have fun in the meantime. Remember this is only one of many, many goals you'll have in your lifetime. The Universe can provide them all if you will allow it.
Affirm: All is well. Everything comes to me in the right time and place. Life loves me, and I love Life!
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