Having a parasite can be a scary thought, but parasites are far more common than you think. Parasites can cause a myriad of symptoms, only a few of which are actually digestive in nature.
Frequently Asked Questions
A parasite is any organism that lives and feeds off of another organism. When we refer to intestinal parasites, we are referring to tiny organisms, usually, worms that feed off your nutrition.
Some examples of parasites include roundworms, tapeworms, pinworms, whipworms, hookworms, and more. Because parasites come in so many different shapes and sizes, they can cause a very wide range of problems. Some consume your food, leaving you hungry after every meal and unable to gain weight. Others feed on your red blood cells, causing anaemia. Some lay eggs that can cause itching, irritability, and even insomnia. If you have tried countless approaches to healing your gut and relieve your symptoms without any success, a parasite could be the underlying cause for many of your unexplained and unresolved symptoms.
First, parasites can enter your body through contaminated food and water. Undercooked meat is a common place for parasites to hide, as well as contaminated water from underdeveloped countries, lakes, ponds, or creeks. However, meat is the not the only culprit. Unclean or contaminated fruits and vegetables can also harbour parasites. Some parasites can even enter the body by travelling through the bottom of your foot.
Once a person is infected with a parasite, it's very easy to pass it along. If you have a parasite and don't 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 anyone you touch. It's also very easy to contract a parasite when handling animals. Hand washing is a major opportunity to prevent parasite contamination and transmission. Travelling overseas is another way that foreign parasites can be introduced to your system. If you consumed any contaminated water during your travels, you may have acquired a parasite of some kind.
- You have unexplained constipation, diarrhoea, gas, or other symptoms of IBS
- You travelled internationally and remember getting traveller’s diarrhoea while abroad
- You have a history of food poisoning and your digestion has not been the same since.
- You have trouble falling asleep, or you wake up multiple times during the night.
- You get skin irritations or unexplained rashes, hives, rosacea or eczema.
- You grind your teeth in your sleep.
- You have pain or aching in your muscles or joints.
- You experience fatigue, exhaustion, depression, or frequent feelings of apathy.
- You never feel satisfied or full after your meals.
- You've been diagnosed with iron-deficiency anemia.
The signs of a parasite can often appear unrelated and unexplained. There are MANY different types of parasites that we are exposed to in our environments.
The best way to test for a parasite is to get a stool test. At Health Renewal we do a comprehensive stool test for this purpose.
Conventional Ova and Parasite Stool Test
Most doctors will only perform conventional stool tests which can identify parasites or parasite eggs in your stool, yet this test comes with many limitations. The problem with this test is that it is only conditionally successful. This test requires three separate stool samples that must be sent to the lab for a pathologist to view under a microscope. Parasites have a unique life cycle that allows them to rotate between dormant and alive. In order to identify them in this conventional test, the stool sample must contain a live parasite, the parasite must remain alive as the sample ships to the lab, and the pathologist must be able to see the live parasite swimming across the slide. While these can certainly be useful tests for some people, they are unable to identify dormant parasites, and therefore I often see a high number of false negatives with this type of stool test.
Functional Medicine Comprehensive Stool Test
At Health Renewal, our Integrative doctors use a comprehensive stool test on our patients. The comprehensive test is much more sensitive than the conventional stool test because it uses Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR) technology to amplify the DNA of the parasite if there is one. This means that the parasite can actually be dead or in its dormant phase and it will be detected on this test. Because this test utilises PCR technology, it isn't reliant on a pathologist seeing a live parasite swimming on the slide. We frequently diagnose parasites in our patients that were missed on conventional stool tests.
The comprehensive stool test is able to identify 17 different parasites, so when we know which parasite our patient has, we use prescription medications that target specific species of parasites. If, however, the parasite cannot be identified, we usually use a blend of herbs, including magnesium caprylate, berberine, and extracts from tribulus, sweet wormwood, grapefruit , barberry, bearberry, and black walnut. We can also compound a combination for you at the compounded pharmacy we are using. In general, these herbal formulas provide a broad spectrum of activity against the most common pathogens present in the human GI tract, while sparing the beneficial gut bacteria. We also recommend you to have your liver enzymes checked if you have a history of liver disease, heavy alcohol use or previous history of elevated liver enzymes.
If you think you might have a parasite, we encourage you to book an appointment with one of our Health Renewal integrative doctors.