Parasites - Their Biological Effects
by: Andrea Maxim, ND
Healing Journey Naturopathic Clinic
25 Caithness St W
According to the World Health Organization, 3.5 billion people currently suffer from some form of parasitic infection. In undeveloped countries, one may consider parasite infections to be common. Parasites are not solely a “Third World Problem”. Yes parasitic infections have decreased due to improved hygiene practice, but the rapid urbanization of cities around the world, global warming, international travelling, immigration and the increasing numbers of immunocompromised individuals is increasing the vulnerability of the developed world to parasitic diseases . Parasites by definition cannot live independently. They are dependent on a host for survival, which means it will gain strength and multiply and the expense of the host. This rarely becomes a fatal relationship, but is possible.
Now the idea of having parasites, undiagnosed, to most leaves a feeling of uneasiness. It does not mean that you have poor hygiene. It does not mean that you are “infested”. What we are mostly going to discuss is how natural, environmental, be them microscopic, are naturally occurring everywhere. If your animals can pick them up from food, water, interacting with other animals, then we certainly can. Parasites are everywhere. In each one of our bodies we have good and bad bugs. Good bugs being things like our microflora, the reason we take probiotics, or bad bugs, like parasites. Approximately 30% of parasites naturally live within our digestive systems already.
On earth, there are over 3000 parasites that exist, all grouped into 2 categories:
Larger ones like Helminths (worms). Typically you can see these with the naked eye. They predominantly exist in the liver and intestine. Examples that fall under this category are pinworms, typically the size of a grain of rice, or tapeworm, that can grow as long as several feet long.
Microscopic ones like Protozoa (including Amoebas) The tiny protozoa or amoebas can travel from the intestines to the blood, muscles and organs. The longer they stay, the more damage they can cause. These can easily get into the joints, eating away at the calcium lining of the bone, which can cause symptoms like arthritis or the nerves disrupting signals to the brain.
The problem is when the body loses control over the parasites and allows them to start causing problems. Triggers like damage of your digestive barriers is just a start. Conditions like low stomach acid (hypochlorhydria) or any diseases that trigger inflammation of the gut (food sensitivities, IBS or IBD) are included in this list.
Most parasitic overgrowths can be classified as mild, but some much more severe. It is believed that a high percentage of conditions today (an estimated 85-95%) involve some form of parasitic infestation. The reason why could be that most parasites can go undetected in the body very easily. They can move from organ system to organ system. When in the blood stream, they have full access to body. Each parasite can have a different affinity for different organ systems. Liver flukes likes the liver, some like the small intestine, some like the brain, some like the eyes. Once this becomes an overgrowth, or an infection, it can be pretty serious, depending on the strain.
Parasite Infections can cause the following conditions . Digestive disturbances and skin conditions are the most common symptoms. But research is now looking into parasites as the underlying cause or at least an attributing factor to the following:
Persistent Anemia: Parasitic infections are associated with blood loss and decreased supply of nutrients. They will feed on the blood causing further bleeding and release anticoagulant compounds which often results in iron deficiency anemia . Not only is iron deficiency a concern, so is folate, vitamin B12 and other nutrient deficiencies . This in and of itself can cause symptoms of Chronic fatigue.
Weakened immune system: Anytime the body has a chronic infection, it will render the entire immune system weak. Some people can have undiagnosed parasite infections for years. For instance, Entamoeba histolytica is the most common pathogenic amoeba for humans. This protozoa will invade the intestinal tract and enter the blood stream. Once in the blood stream it can affect the immune system systemically .
Arthritis:Rheumatologic syndromes like rheumatic arthritis and vasculitis have been thought to be the clinical presentation of some parasite overgrowths
Allergies:One study shows that there are some proteins in parasitic worms that trigger the immune system to something similar to an allergic reaction in humans. In fact, the protein discovered very closely mimics the common proteins found in pollen 
Asthma:Helminths can affect the airways as both larvae and adults. The larvae can cause airway inflammation whereas the adults can cause obstruction of the airways 
Autoimmune diseases:Parasites have been implicated as major players in this category (9). They do so with molecular mimicry, alteration of host antigens and manipulation of the human’s immune system 
These symptoms overlap with so many other symptoms, that its common to think of other treatments before searching for parasites.
Treating Parasite Overgrowth
It is always in your best interest to align with a health care practitioner verse is treating parasite overgrowth. Do not purchase a “parasite-cleanse-in-a-box” and expect significant results. There is a step-wise approach that must be take to eradicate these parasites properly. The cleanses from the health food stores often drive parasites to scatter to other areas of the body, or do not penetrate them at all. Here’s why:
- Your detoxification processes are weak
- You have not freed up the Extra Cellular Matrix (ECM)
- You have not cleared the pathway of elimination (constipation)
Before even attempting a parasite cleanse, you need to make sure that your health processes are in place. That the liver can clear toxins, that the bowels are moving, that your ECM is full of gunk. Let me elaborate a little more on the ECM. The ECM is a relatively stable structure that just like below the epithelia and surrounds the connective tissue. In order for a pathogen, like a parasite, penetrates the tissue of a host is must travel through the ECM. What most parasites seem to do is release certain chemicals to allow them to adhere to the ECM where they cannot be detected as easily by antifungal medications or anti-parasitic herbs (11). By clearing these bonds and treating the ECM, you will have better results with your treatment overall. Some people need to work on this for months, before the body can start to control and eliminate parasite overgrowth.
Once this is taken care of, which can be done in conjunction with anti-parasitic treatments, the best treatment source are herbal extracts and tinctures. These include Black Walnut (juglans regia), Wormwood (Artemesia absinthium), Thuja (Thuja occidentalis), Tumeric (Curcuma longa) (12) and Garlic (Allium sativum). Among herbal, dietary restrictions are a must. Elimination of all sugars and refined carbohydrates, alcohol, and processed foods is required as the parasites live off of these foods.
Once the parasite infection is resolved (please see the section below for testing), then you can start to heal and re-inoculate the gut. Using high doses of L-glutamine and probiotics. As an aside, do not forget the importance of treating the adrenal glands as well. Depending on how long the parasite infection has been present, the chronicity of the infection can really wear on the adrenal glands, also contributing to chronic fatigue and weakened immune system symptoms.
The Problem with Routine Parasite Testing
Most people will go to their family doctors and test the stool for parasites. More often than not, these stool tests come back negative as they are not including the sensitive markers necessary to detect most of the parasites human’s are exposed to. When the test results comes back negative, do not let this discourage you. It does not mean that you do not have a parasite overgrowth, it just means that you did not use the right test to investigate the cause. The other things you need to remember is that, like mentioned earlier, not all parasites will live in the digestive tract. Some are in the organs and some are in the blood. It can sometimes take several different tests to discover the exact strain or parasites your body is trying to fight.
There exists many stool, urine and breath tests you can use to diagnose the strain and the extent of your overgrowth. I encourage you to discuss this with your health care practitioner. Once diagnosed, be prepared for the treatment to last up to 12-months to fully eradicate some parasite overgrowths, depending on how long the imbalance has been present. Do not rush this process. Your health care practitioner will help you with this the entire time.