An overview of parasites
A parasite is ‘an organism that lives on or in a host organism and gets its food from or at the expense of its host,’ hence causing harm to the host. With respect to human disease, there are three main categories of parasites:
These are one-celled organisms that are able to multiply within the host, thus creating a parasitic infection. Although they can reside in different tissue types within humans, gastro-intestinal protozoa infect the host using faecal-oral transmission. Examples of this type of transmission include drinking contaminated water, improper handwashing after using the toilet or before preparing food.
Protozoa that cause human disease are divided into four groups based on their movement.
This is the term used to describe parasite worms. These multicellular organisms can be divided into three groups: flatworms, thorny-headed worms and roundworms.
This term describes parasites that tend to burrow themselves into the skin of the host, such as fleas and mites. It also tends to describe arthropods such as mosquitos, although they do not tend to cause disease themselves and instead are vectors.
Given that ectoparasites remain exterior to the host, a parasite cleanse would not be relevant to them hence this article will focus primarily on the former two groups of parasites.1
What is a parasitic infection?
These parasites deplete the host organism of its nutrients and lead to the characteristic symptoms of parasite infections. Their presence disrupts the natural gut microbiome, creating an imbalance.2
Causes of parasitic infection
Although parasitic infections tend to be endemic to regions in the developing world, they are also very prevalent in developed countries.
Gastro-intestinal parasitic infections enter via the faecal-oral route, hence are usually transmitted via poor sanitation and hygiene:
- Lack of clean drinking water
- Improper hand washing or improper washing of fruit or vegetables
- Contaminated soils in agriculture
The risk of parasite infection also increases for immunocompromised people as well as those people who travel internationally, in particular to endemic regions.3
Common parasitic infections
Some examples of common parasitic infections include4:
- Giardia lamblia
- Cryptosporidium species
- Cyclospora cayetanensis
- New world hookworms
Symptoms of parasitic infections
The symptoms of parasitic infections tend to vary depending on the type of parasite. However, the most common signs and symptoms of parasitic infection in the gut include:
- Abdominal pain and tenderness
- Nausea and/or vomiting
- Loose stools - sometimes containing blood or mucus
- Weight loss
- Passing of worms in stool
Diagnosis and treatment
Following symptoms, doctors may choose to test for parasites via stool and blood samples. Positive results will often result in prescription medications against the parasite identified. The medication tends to be oral pesticides therefore only prescribed for a short period of time to avoid harm. There is also a chance they may not work due to resistance from the parasites: similarly to antibiotic resistance, these parasites may develop resistance to pesticides if they or their ancestors have previously been exposed .5
However, many individuals also choose to treat parasite infections with at-home solutions, following a parasite cleanse and using natural ingredients.
What is a parasite cleanse?
A parasite cleanse is a method to detox the gastrointestinal tract from parasites, as well as promote a healthy gut microbiome. It involves following a balanced, healthy diet and can also include the use of supplements such as those listed below.
What to do in a parasite cleanse?
Parasite cleanse protocol
In order to gain the most out of a parasite cleanse and receive results, it’s important to fuel the body correctly for the duration of the cleanse. This means avoiding processed foods and refined sugars. Instead, it is important to ensure a high fibre diet; ensuring lots of fruit and vegetables.4
Uses of parasite cleanse
Parasite cleanses are not only good for detoxing the gut from parasites but can also result in promoting a healthy gut:
- Can aid in improving digestion
- Promotes a healthy gut microbiome
- Can reduce bloating and tiredness
Ways to do a parasite cleanse
Prescription medications can be given by your doctor to eliminate the parasite much quicker. This is due to them being more specific to the particular parasite that has invaded your gut, therefore has specific mechanisms of action in order to destroy it.
Prescription medications will only be for a short course also; they can contain stronger and potentially more toxic chemicals to counter the parasite, so long-term use may cause harm. Their stronger composition can also result in some side effects.
Parasite cleanse diet
Parasite cleanse diets are not an overnight solution to removing parasites and instead require perseverance and determination.
As mentioned above, it involves avoiding processed foods and refined sugars, which ensures there is a high fibre intake within the balanced diet. Processed foods and sugars promote an environment that can facilitate the parasite, hence it is important to cut these out during the cleanse.
The majority of home remedies explore the use of natural ingredients which have been used in homoeopathic and traditional medicine. For many of the ingredients in traditional medicine, although they have been used for hundreds of years, there tends to be a lack of research supporting their efficacy as a treatment option. One of the main reasons is because of the difficulty in regulating the presence of chemicals in these natural remedies.
Despite this, homoeopathy and traditional medicine is still widely used and continue to benefit many people.
This plant is native to Europe, North Africa and Western Asia, where it has traditionally been used to treat IBS, improve digestion as well as treat GI parasites.6 Oil from this plant is usually found in conjunction with black walnut extract, to create a liquid supplement to treat parasites.
Cloves are another natural ingredient with many health benefits. Being known for its antimicrobial properties, there is less known about cloves for treating parasites.
Eugenol is found in cloves, which has been explored as an anti-parasitic. There are a couple of studies exploring this but not enough to create a solid conclusion about clove oil as an antiparasitic.7
This tree has been used in traditional medicine for a variety of purposes, although the efficacy is relatively unknown.
Typically black walnut is available as an extract, which also contains wormwood extract. This concentrated liquid is only suitable for short-term use, and should not exceed the stated dose on the bottle.
Black walnut is a tree nut, therefore unsuitable for those with nut allergies. It is also unsuitable for pregnant and breastfeeding women as well as children.8
This home remedy gained recent popularity thanks to the social media app ‘TikTok.’ It saw individuals eating a spoonful of papaya seeds in order to detox the parasites.
Papaya seeds have been proven to have anthelmintic properties based on human studies: consumption of papaya seeds over seven days showed clearance of parasites in stool samples by 71.4-100%, in comparison to 0-15.4% in a control group.9
However, it is important to note that this study was done on a small population size, hence there is a lack of significant research into the efficacy and safety of papaya seeds.
The anthelmintic properties are attributed to the chemical benzyl isothiocyanate, which has been suggested to be toxic in large concentrations.10
Majority of people opt for fresh papaya seeds straight from the fruit and will either swallow whole or blend into a powder to add to a drink, such as a smoothie. It is also available as a supplement in the form of an oil as well as powder.
Pumpkin seeds are another superfood that are thought to have anthelmintic properties. However, there are few studies exploring the efficacy of pumpkin seeds to kill parasites.
They contain a chemical known as cucurbitacin which is linked to killing parasites although this evidence is very weak.
Coconut oil is another natural ingredient that has been used widely for health benefits as well as good hair.
It contains a type of fatty acid known as medium-chain triglycerides which boost the immune system. It also contains anti-parasitic, antifungal and antimicrobial properties which make it an ideal at-home solution for a parasite cleanse. But similarly to the majority of most of these at-home remedies, there is a lack of evidence for it.
Probiotics have also gained popularity in recent years following the idea that they promote a healthy gut microbiome. Probiotics are live organisms which benefit the host and create a ‘healthy’ environment, allowing positive gut bacteria to flourish.
Animal studies have been conducted looking into the use of probiotics as an anti-parasitic, showing some evidence for this treatment option.11
Probiotics can be found in the form of tablet supplements as well as some dairy products being enhanced with them, such as live probiotic yoghurts.
Possible side effects and safety
Given that these home remedies consist of all-natural ingredients, they are considered quite safe and low risk for side effects, with the exception of allergies. However, it is important to check for any contraindications on any at-home remedies that you purchase.
Preventing parasitic infection in future
In order to prevent future parasite infections, it is important to ensure good hygiene and sanitation: correct handwashing after using the toilet and before preparing food, washing all fruit and vegetables carefully. During international travel, it is advised to drink from bottled water instead of tap water.
As well as taking the above measures to avoid parasitic infections, looking after the gut microbiome is also a key factor in preventing future parasitic infections. Ensuring a well-balanced diet which encompasses high fibre and low refined sugars, promotes a healthy gut microbiome.
Gastro-intestinal parasites are much more common than we think, even in the developed world. They disrupt our gut microbiome and create infections, leading to a whole range of symptoms. If you suspect parasite infection, it is recommended to see a GP in order to confirm this and in order to discuss treatment options which includes a parasite cleanse or the use of medicines or in cases maybe both!
- Parasites [Internet]. CDC. 2022 [cited 5 July 2022]. Available from: https://www.cdc.gov/parasites/about.html
- Naveed A, Abdullah S. Impact of parasitic infection on human gut ecology and immune regulations. Translational Medicine Communications [Internet]. 2021 [cited 7 July 2022];6(1). Available from: https://transmedcomms.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/s41231-021-00091-4
- Intestinal parasites | Complementary and Alternative Medicine | St. Luke's Hospital [Internet]. Stlukes-stl.com. 2022 [cited 8 July 2022]. Available from: https://www.stlukes-stl.com/health-content/medicine/33/000097.htm
- Parasite Cleanse - Healthpath [Internet]. Healthpath. 2022 [cited 6 July 2022]. Available from: https://healthpath.com/gut-health/parasite-cleanse/
- Dr. Clark Store | The Leader In Pure Vitamins and Supplements [Internet]. Dr. Clark Store. 2022 [cited 6 July 2022]. Available from: https://drclarkstore.com/blogs/news/parasites-the-invisible-enemy
- Wormwood [Internet]. Wa.kaiserpermanente.org. 2022 [cited 8 July 2022]. Available from: https://wa.kaiserpermanente.org/kbase/topic.jhtml?docId=hn-2187003#hn-2187003-how-it-works
- Facko S. Dr. Clark Store | The Leader In Pure Vitamins and Supplements [Internet]. Dr. Clark Store. 2020 [cited 9 July 2022]. Available from: https://drclarkstore.com/blogs/news/why-cloves-wormwood-black-walnut-hull-are-the-best-herbs-to-kill-parasites
- Black Walnut & Wormwood 30ml - Healthpath [Internet]. My.healthpath.com. 2022 [cited 7 July 2022]. Available from: https://my.healthpath.com/products/black-walnut-wormwood-30ml/3815?utm_term=&utm_campaign=Shopping+-+Smart+NEW&utm_source=adwords&utm_medium=ppc&hsa_acc=5004928523&hsa_cam=13716790281&hsa_grp=123030459814&hsa_ad=530879805508&hsa_src=u&hsa_tgt=pla-294682000766&hsa_kw=&hsa_mt=&hsa_net=adwords&hsa_ver=3&gclid=CjwKCAjwiJqWBhBdEiwAtESPaExwd1pj0peNGjw_z5LALwk5vPivy2S-Zz-ltvXk4ioUn_m30zzn0RoCVicQAvD_BwE
- Okeniyi J, Ogunlesi T, Oyelami O, Adeyemi L. Effectiveness of dried Carica papaya seeds against human intestinal parasitosis: a pilot study. Journal of Medical Food. 2022;10(1):194-6.
- Kermanshai R, McCarry B, Rosenfeld J, Summers P, Weretilnyk E, Sorger G. Benzyl isothiocyanate is the chief or sole anthelmintic in papaya seed extracts. Phytochemistry. 2001;57(3):427-435.
- Travers M, Florent I, Kohl L, Grellier P. Probiotics for the Control of Parasites: An Overview. Journal of Parasitology Research. 2011;2011:1-11.
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