Parasites evade detection and diagnosis better than most human pathogens, explaining why some healthcare professionals deny their existence or clinical relevancy. Since diagnostic tests are often falsely negative or not reliable, astute clinicians must deduce the presence of parasites.
In other words – once the more common causes of GI problems, such as bacterial or yeast overgrowth have been eliminated, a possible cause of the symptoms must be parasitic. I performed a study on 195 serial stool tests (CDSA) performed by Genova Diagnostics and found that parasites were detected on 17.9% of the samples. Now that a DNA analysis is offered by Metametrix Labs, I have found a much higher detection level. The conclusion is that parasites are a very common cause of gastrointestinal symptoms and when indicated, part of a functional medicine work up.
Complaints of chronic GI symptoms such as diarrhea, constipation, nausea, abdominal pain, bloating and gas are common. Occasionally all tests in such patients for GI functioning are normal, suggesting that something other than unfriendly flora is causing the symptoms. This used to perplex me – but not any more. Now I know that the hard-to-detect parasites are quietly skulking behind the scenes.
Parasites do not seek to damage the host unnecessarily; they only want a comfortable home. Parasites often do not cause many symptoms, unlike unfriendly yeast or bacteria. But on the other hand, parasites secrete toxins, some of which are toxic to the brain and may cause psychiatric and neurological symptoms.
Parasite Symptoms and Clues to Infection
Since diagnostic tests are not perfect and are still relatively unreliable in the determination of parasites, and since GI symptoms may be present we must proceed to look for additional clues to implicate the unlikely culprit. Typical telltale findings indicative of parasitic infection include:
- Vague symptoms of “creepy crawling” skin irritations and itching, especially at night.
- A disparity of lactobacillus (low) to bifidus (high) on stool testing and cultures – parasites seem to compete more with acidophilus.
- Blood in stool
- Unexplained anemia
- Low blood amino acid assays (blood) and low protein overall – parasites basically consume protein before you can benefit from it.
- Unexplained deficiencies in other nutrients such as minerals (e.g., selenium, zinc).
- A history of anti-parasitic treatment (herbs, homepathics, medication) that improved symptoms or may have immediately worsened symptoms when they were first used. Such “die-off” symptoms with homeopathic remedies implies a clear and obvious presence of parasites.
- A history of foreign travel or drinking water from an unusual source that preceded symptoms.
- Anal or rectal itching
- An unsatisfactory and unexpected negative treatment outcome with a comprehensive yeast treatment program.
Not Just a Third World Problem
Most people also believe that parasites are only a problem in undeveloped countries and the third world. Parasites have always been a problem and will continue to infest the modern world. Much of the food we eat no longer comes from nearby farms – it can come from the other side of the world. And the natural foods that tend to inhibit the overgrowth of parasites, such as very hot and spicy foods typically served in warmer climates (where parasites are not killed by seasonal cold spells), may not be regularly included in the diet of those living in cooler regions.Multi-faceted Integrative Treatment for Parasites
Generally, there are three kinds of treatments for parasites that correspond to the three Eras of modern medicine:
1. Disease Era (Era I) Medicine provides us with antibiotic drugs to kill parasites;
2. Mind/Body Era Medicine (Era II) provides interventions such as herbal treatments and immune strengthening mental exercises like meditation; and
3. Spiritual or Energy Era Medicine (Era III) provides many types of treatment including biofeedback, homeopathy, parasite “zappers” (introduces electrical frequencies into the body) and acupuncture.
Since parasites are such a diagnostic enigma, I usually recommend prescribing as many simultaneous treatments as possible. In other words, due to the uncertainty as to exactly which parasite is causing symptoms, a clinician is justified in treating with a wide array of interventions. The other line of deductive logic that supports this “shotgun” approach is that a single parasite is rarely alone. Even if only one is found on stool testing, others probably accompany the one that was fortunately spotted.
The progression of treatment starts with the homeopathic remedies (the safest and most gentle) and then herbal treatments are phased in. When these are tolerated without any adverse symptom, medication is then added. The medication is phased in, one medication at a time. There may be unexpected reactions or side-effects. Some die-off symptoms (gas, loose stools, mild cramping) can be expected with any phase of treatment and usually indicates that it is working well. The whole treatment for parasites should take about six to eight weeks.
Charles Gant MD, PhD, was a valued physician, author and teacher and practiced Integrative and Functional Medicine for over three decades. He was a valued member of NIHA's team and cherished by his colleagues and patients. Dr. Charles Gant, JR. Obituary