10 Signs You May Have A Parasite
February 24th, 2020
Having a parasite can be a scary thought. However, you are not alone! You might be shocked at how often intestinal parasites are to blame for ongoing health issues. These can range from digestive symptoms to insomnia, skin issues, and more.
The idea that parasites only exist outside the United States in underdeveloped countries is a myth. Truth be told, I saw them in the majority of the patients in my clinic, particularly my thyroid and autoimmune patients.
Often these patients tested negative for parasites using standard testing, yet came up positive on functional medicine tests. In this article, I’ll share ten signs that indicate you might have a parasite. Then I’ll discuss how to get the proper testing and treatment.
What is a Parasite?
A parasite is any organism that lives and feeds off of another organism. Intestinal parasites are tiny organisms, usually worms that feed off the material in your body.
Some examples of parasites include tapeworms, roundworms, pinworms, whipworms, hookworms, and more. Because parasites come in so many different shapes and sizes, they can cause a wide range of problems.
Some consume your food, leaving you hungry after every meal and unable to gain weight. Others feed off of your red blood cells, causing anemia. Some lay eggs that can cause itching, irritability, and even insomnia.
If you have tried to repair your gut and relieve your symptoms without any success, a parasite could be the underlying cause.
How Do You Get Parasites?
There are a number of ways to contract a parasite. It’s true that contaminated food or water in underdeveloped countries is a common source of parasites. However, they are also frequently found in undercooked meat and raw fish, contaminated fruits and vegetables (especially those you usually eat raw), and in lakes, ponds, or creeks. Some parasites can even enter the body by tunneling through the bottoms of your feet.
Once a person is infected with a parasite, it is very easy to pass it along. If you have a parasite and do not 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 other people. It is also very easy to contract a parasite when handling animals.
10 Signs You May Have a Parasite
The signs of a parasite can often appear unrelated and unexplained. Some of the symptoms include:
- Unexplained constipation, diarrhea, gas, or other symptoms of IBS
- Trouble falling asleep or waking up multiple times during the night
- Skin irritation or unexplained rash, hives, rosacea, or eczema
- Grinding your teeth in your sleep
- Pain or aching in your muscles or joints
- Fatigue, exhaustion, depression, or frequent feeling of apathy
- Never feeling satisfied or full after your meals, especially combined with weight loss
- Diagnosis of iron-deficiency anemia
- Traveling internationally and getting traveler’s diarrhea while abroad
- History of food poisoning and “your digestion just hasn’t been the same since”
As I mentioned previously, there are MANY different types of parasites. I typically saw parasites causing more constipation in patients than diarrhea. However, some parasites are capable of changing the fluid balance in your gut and causing diarrhea. Either can result in abdominal pain.
Sleeping, skin irritations, mood changes, and muscle pain can all be caused by the toxins that parasites release into the bloodstream. Often, these toxins cause anxiety, which can manifest itself in different ways. For instance, waking up in the middle of the night or grinding your teeth are signs that you are experiencing anxiety. When these toxins interact with your neurotransmitters or blood cells, they can cause mood swings or skin irritation.
Parasites as a Root Cause for Hashimoto’s and Graves’
As I mentioned, I often saw parasites in my patients with thyroid dysfunction, particularly Hashimoto’s and Graves’. And this is no coincidence, as infections are one of the five potential root causes of all autoimmune diseases.
A potential trigger for both Hashimoto’s and Graves’ is toxoplasmosis. This is a disease caused by a parasite found in undercooked pork and infected cat feces. If you’ve been infected, you might not have any symptoms, or you may experience mild flu-like symptoms.
Toxoplasmosis poses a risk to fetuses, which is why expectant mothers are advised to stay away from cat litter. In most people, the parasite passes. However, sometimes it can linger in your system, triggering Hashimoto’s or Graves.
Blastocystis hominis is another parasite that has been linked to Hashimoto’s. It is common in developing countries, so if you’ve traveled to the developing world, you may well have picked it up.
The Centers for Disease Control says that this parasite doesn’t cause any harm. However, I’ve seen reports in which people are treated for this parasite, and then their Hashimoto’s resolves. Because of this, I always recommended testing for (and if necessary, treating) parasites in my autoimmune thyroid patients.
The theories behind how infections trigger autoimmunity are complex, and researchers are still trying to figure out the exact mechanisms. For a more in-depth look at the connection between infections and thyroid dysfunction, check out my book, The Thyroid Connection.
Special Cases: When Parasites Are Helpful in Autoimmunity
While parasites are often a root cause of autoimmune disease, there are certain instances in which parasites are helpful for treating autoimmunity.
In fact, Crohn’s treatment may involve the introduction of parasitic worms called helminths into the gastrointestinal tract to reduce symptoms. Helminths, such as hookworms and whipworms, have anti-inflammatory and immune-modulating effects that reduce symptoms of Crohn’s.
Researchers have a “hygiene hypothesis.” The idea is that the industrialized world is too clean! We are no longer exposed to the common pathogens that our immune systems regularly encountered generations ago.
There is a lot of exciting research emerging in this field. It is something I have been digging into quite a bit (including trying helminth therapy myself!) I will be covering this in a future article. If you haven’t already, be sure to subscribe to my weekly newsletter so you don’t miss it.
Although parasites can be helpful for autoimmunity, they are typically harmful to your gut health. They are often a trigger for autoimmunity, so I always recommend testing to determine which type of parasite you have.
How to Test for Parasites
Many people are surprised to learn that the best way to test for a parasite is a stool test, not a blood test. Most doctors will run a conventional stool test if they suspect a parasite. However, these are not as accurate as the comprehensive stool tests used in functional medicine.
Conventional Ova (Egg) and Parasite Stool Test
Conventional stool tests can identify parasites or parasite eggs in your stool. Yet this test comes with many limitations. It requires three separate stool samples that must be sent to a lab for a medical technician to view under a microscope. Parasites have a unique life cycle, during which they can rotate between dormant and active.
To identify parasites in this conventional test, a stool sample must contain a live parasite, the parasite must remain alive in transit to the lab, and the technician must be able to see the live parasite moving. While this can certainly be a useful test for some people, it doesn’t identify dormant parasites. Therefore, I often saw a high number of false-negative tests with this type of stool test.
Functional Medicine Comprehensive Stool Test
In my practice, I used a comprehensive stool test on all of my patients which is much more sensitive than the conventional stool test. It uses Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR) technology to amplify the DNA of the parasite if there is one. This means that the parasite can be dead or in its dormant phase, and it will be detected on this test. Because this test utilizes PCR technology, it doesn’t rely on a pathologist seeing a live parasite swimming on the slide.
How to Treat Parasites
The comprehensive stool test can identify seventeen different parasites. When I knew which parasite a patient had, I used prescription medications that attacked the central nervous system of that species.
Sometimes, however, the parasite could not be identified. In that case, I used Microb-Clear™, a blend of herbs, including magnesium caprylate, berberine, and extracts from Tribulus, sweet wormwood, grapefruit, barberry, bearberry, and black walnut. This is the exact treatment you can use at home. Microb-Clear™ provides a broad spectrum of activity against the most common pathogens present in the human GI tract while sparing the beneficial gut bacteria.
While treating with Microb-Clear™, I also recommend taking 100 Billion Unit Probiotics to restore and maintain healthy levels of the good bacteria that keep infections in check, support a healthy immune system, and repair your gut.
If you have a history of liver disease, heavy alcohol use, or previous history of elevated liver enzymes, I recommend you consult your physician and have your liver enzymes checked before starting herbal supplements to eliminate parasites.
The Myers Way® Parasite Control Program outlines my method for overcoming parasites to repair your leaky gut and achieve optimal health. My objective is to empower you to discover the root cause of your symptoms. From there, you can care for yourself at home with healthy food and supportive supplements.
Remember: the gut is the gateway to health! Maintaining a healthy gut is the first step in preventing and reversing chronic illness.