After traveling in Costa Rica during the summer of 2008, I came home to find that despite being gluten-free for 4 full months, I felt horrible. I knew that I wasn’t getting glutened because I cooked everything at home and yet I was having horrible, unexplainable bouts of diarrhea, gas and bloating.
It was a frustrating incidence to say the least and I struggled for nearly a month afraid to be away from an easily accessible bathroom. I felt like I was back at square one and couldn’t get control over my gut. The much more peaceful months of a calmer gut felt like a dream from which I had awoken to my old digestive distress nightmares.
After coming up with no answers on my own, I went back to my nutritionist Samantha F. Grant, CN to get her take on what the heck was going on. She concluded that we really needed to check for parasites. Samantha pointed out that “excessive bloating (particularly after meals), increased or decreased appetite, anemia, and diarrhea” are all symptoms of parasites.
My story isn’t unique. If you’ve traveled outside of the country (say to Mexico or a Caribbean island for Spring Break or vacation), drinking contaminated food or water is pretty common. However, even your local water supply in the US can get contaminated when proper sanitation fails and that can make getting parasites easy as well.
My red flags?
- Random digestive distress that didn’t make any sense
- I felt like I was getting glutened or sickened from something else I was intolerant to, but I was 100% sure I wasn’t
- I already was diagnosed with leaky gut syndrome just 4 months prior
- I’d been out of the country (and walked in a river barefoot)
These guys (on your left) are gross, right? Just another reason you WANT to get tested and rid yourself of them.
The most comprehensive test that you’ll get through either a holistic or traditional practitioner is going to be a stool test (yep… a bit gross too, I know!). I’ve done this test twice in my life (both times after returning from foreign travel) and both times the results have been very helpful. The labs literally look at your stool for the organisms and their eggs.
Samantha uses stool tests by Genova or Metametrix in her practice. She ordered the Metametrix test for me and it arrived in the mail a day or so later. The package contained clear directions to follow in order to complete the test and a pre-paid envelop to return it to the lab. Super easy!
Dr. Jean Layton, a physician specializing in celiac & gluten intolerance, warns that when a patient is suspected of hosting parasites, “many physicians only run a one-time test, but the likelihood of getting a positive with just one sample is lower.” She suggests asking for “an ova and parasite (O&P) done three times over a day.”
Got Parasites? Now What?
You’ve got two options… either medication or the more natural route.
Dr. Layton advises that the “depending on the critter type, the medications could be an anti-helminth, stool bulking agents or both.” Though I’d love to tell you that the Western medicine route is full-proof, that wouldn’t be true. My husband ended up coming back from foreign travel with parasites and chose to take medication from a infectious disease specialist. After two rounds of heavy-duty meds, he STILL had parasites.
I always choose the more natural route. I took heavy-duty probiotics while simultaneously taking supplements considered to be natural anti-parasitic which included things like black walnut hulls, wormwood and colloidal silver. I also opted for foods which have anti-parasitic qualities like the chicory family (which includes Belgian endive and radicchio) and figs.
Samantha also recommends that her clients “stop eating sugar since parasites love to eat sugar. There are a number of astringent herbs that help. It’s a good idea to get a stool test to identify the type of parasite. Different parasites respond to different herbs. Allicillan (garlic), oregano, berberine, black walnut are just a few. I often use formulas that incorporate many herbs.” Even Dr. Layton concurs and “use[s] more natural products as well, ranging from garlic and berberine to black walnut.”
Though my regime took about six weeks to complete, I was successful in getting rid of the gross parasites wreaking havoc on my system.
Why are you more susceptible to parasites?
I could entirely blame my experiences with parasites on foreign travel, however I found out that the percentage of the general population with parasites is much higher than most of us would think. You probably have multiple opportunities in just a single day to get infected with parasites. Be mindful of walking barefoot outside.
If you’re an animal lover, then you also need to be careful. In 2007, the CDC presented findings that about 14% of folks with pets (specifically dogs and cats) were infected with roundworm. You might want to rethink those loving licks from your pets and even avoid walking barefoot in your home as animals can track parasites from their own feces or those in the ground they were nosing around in all over the house. The bottom of the foot is a common entry point for certain parasites.
And sadly, we could be more susceptible to parasites because of our digestive woes, leaky gut, celiac and compromised immune systems. Samantha states that we make easy targets because our “mucosal lining/barrier is damaged and unable to adequately protect [us] against foreign invaders like parasites.” Not everyone gets better after going gluten-free and ends up searching endlessly for some magic bullet. Why not check for parasites?
For chronic illness, parasite infections should be on the list of things to consider. Got chronic fatigue syndrome? Dr. Leo Galland presented a paper back in 1991 which demonstrated that out of 200 participants in his study who were diagnosed with chronic fatigue, 46% had an active Giardia infection. He also found in 1990 study of patients diagnosed with IBS that about 50% also had an active Giardia infection. Many of those who he treated after this study had been unresponsive to the traditional IBS therapies and also suffered with poor gut flora as well.
If you can’t seem to pinpoint where your symptoms are coming from, there is plenty of documentation to suggest that your chance of having a parasite could be pretty likely. Go get checked for parasites. At the least, you’ll be able to rule them out as a possible issue. The test is much less invasive and intensive than most others you’ve probably been through and may be covered by your insurance (or aren’t actually that expensive to have done if you opt to pay out-of-pocket).
Personally, it’s been highly beneficial when I couldn’t figure out where things were going wrong.
I’d love to hear your experience!
Have you ever ask or been checked for parasites? If you came back with a positive test for parasites, what were your symptoms? What measures and steps did you choose to take in order to get rid of them?
Hi, I am studying the way Costa Ricans think and am particularly interested in the frontal lobe. It turns out that someone has discovered gluten can cause cerebral hypoperfusion — the front lobe is starved for blood. I don’t think this is the answer to what I am looking for, because there’s not that much gluten in the diet here. What else besides parasites might mimic celiac disease? Got any ideas? James
James, there are certain blood pressure meds that can do that — here’s a post on my site about it: https://www.jenniferfugo.com/2013/07/11/gluten-free-school-podcast-episode-008/
I live in Canada. I came home from a trip to Mexico feeling great. One month later I had a gallbladder attacked that scared me as it felt like I was having a heart attack. One month later I had diahrea, every single day for 3 months. I then started to have an aversion to the smell of fish and meat, then could not eat it altogether. Symptoms progressed from there, ranging from extreme tiredness, headaches, heartburn, head Paresthesia,etc. every test I took came back”normal range”. I am continuing to experiencing bloating, tiredness, joint and tissue pain. This seems to happen mostly when I eat gluten and milk, although does not always happen. I believed I had parasites but with every stool sample, showed nothing. The more specialities I went to the more doctors thought it was in my head. My family doctor wanted to put me on anti-depression meds. I went to naturopath. It worked for awhile but stopped working when I stopped taking naturopathic remedies and thousands of dollars later. Plugging along. Any suggestions would be greatly appreciated.
I took anti inflammatory drugs after knee surgery, had all kinds of allergic reactions n switched 6 drugs to help pain. Ended up with 13-15 ulcers in stomach.. Monthly later ( 2-3 months) now I have inflamed colon! In burning pain n had cat scan n colonoscopy to show swollen n thick colon. Dr increased my Enctort meds n said let’s see what happens.. I’m not happy with the answer n looking for help. Google Google … Roselyn
This all reads to my experience. No meat, take zinc, iodine (they hate seaweed salad) coq10 loads of it and alpha lipic acid to synergize it with high quality b complex and C. Nac to cleanse the liver.
Sorry this is not about gluten. It is a cautionary tale.
I ate soup that contained pork at a Vietnamese restaurant (in NY state)- the next 4 days had awful cramping.
Now 6 weeks later I have two areas of my intestine that spasm and casings are coming
out in my stool.
This is most likely trichinosis. Pork tapeworm.
I tried strong herbs, but they had no effect.
I am on 2 strong pharmaceuticals now, but I’m getting worse.
If you are not sure that your pork dish is well done when you eat out – do not eat it.
I learned Vietnam is a parasite hot spot.
I don’ know How that transfers to a restaurant in the US.
If only I had known I never would have eaten pork in a Vietnamese restaurant.
I came back from Thailand with parasites and they seem to come back every six months. I’ve been taking the doctor prescribed meds and its only temporary. I think I’ll try doing what you do and see if that helps. Also, I don’t know if the lab I had my samples sent to was just plain dumb or what, but they told me I’m parasite free. I have pictures of my stool and it says an entirely different story! Doctors in the states are not required to take parasite classes, they don’t know very much and can be just plain stupid about it. I learned what I know from my Thai co-workers, parasites are very common in Asia!
Can you list exactly what you took and for how long? Probiotics/dosage of herbs etc. Having a similar issue and would like to go the natural route.
Hi Nicole, It was a long time ago… I couldn’t tell you now. If you believe you have a parasite, it’s best to work directly with a practitioner to determine what exactly it is and the best protocol for it. I can tell you that there are many anti-parasitic formulas on the market. Some have black walnut and artemisia.
About 30 yrs ago, when no one talked about gluten, I became extremely ill, severe malabsorption syndrome, severe diarrhea, fatigue, severe weight loss. Many tests later, an internist put me on different diets, eliminating different foods. I had a severe gluten intolerance. He said it is caused by celiac disease or parasites. No parasites were found. I followed a strict gluten-free diet – very difficult in the US at that time. But after a couple of years, still occasionally had problems and was still underweight. A gastroenterologist did a biopsy of my upper intestine, confirming that I did not have celiac disease. So, although parasites were never found in tests, I was treated for parasites. The treatment made me feel horrible, but a couple of weeks later I finally started to put on weight. Complete cure. No more gluten intolerance. And I have never had the problem again in over 30 yrs. So, I’ve often wondered why in recent years, with all the talk about gluten intoletance, there is little discussion about parasites being a cause.
The culprit for all disease is most definitely due to parasitic infection! Doctors don’t listen, don’t look for or can’t find, or deny there is a parasitic problem. Dr’s call each parasite symptom by a “disease” name, then prescribe pharmacy drugs freely… Narcocitcs, blood pressure Meds, cholesterol Meds, heart arythmia Meds, hormones, allergy Meds, etc. The whole experience is exasperating, and it can take years to figure it out by yourself and lots of $ spent on Dr’s opinions that are worthless and a waste of time, $, and most precious years of ones life. A big giant UGH!
Some help for this and info along with some good parasite and liver/gallbladder/organ flushes are described on the Internet. So thankful for all these wonderful people who have shared there experiences and “how tos” with all us who suffer from autoimmune and other diseases… Thank you!
No wonder the “higher powers” are trying to regulate the Internet :/
Your story is my story! I’ve been. Living hell on earth with Parasites! I have multiple , explicit and gross photos I’ve taken using my cell phone showing my nightmare! If I can be of any help to any of you, feel free to contact me!
About 3 years ago, when my daughter was 15 months old she had diarrhea for 2 months, we found out that she was gluten intolerant since a gluten free diet stoped the diarrhea. However she continued having stomach aches, flatulence and was bloated. After 2 years on a gluten free diet we went to a gastroentberologist for a proper diagnose, my daughter started a gluten challenge that was suposed to last 1 week, but just a few hours after she ate gluten she was vomiting and having serious diarrhea. She did not eat gluten again and got blood tests for celiac disease and a stool test. She was very sick for 2 weeks. The blood test was negative for celiac disease but the stool test was positive for giardia. She was treated with antibiotics for 1 week and the bloating, flatulence and stomach ache went away!
To me it seems like gluten activated an asymptomatic giardia.