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?