There are over 130 parasites found in humans, linked to over 385 diseases. As many as 8 out of 10 people may be having their health impacted by internal parasites – infection rates have doubled since 1978.
Parasites are most common in rural or developing areas, or conditions of overcrowding and poverty, and less so in urban areas. We are somewhat less at risk in a big city like Hong Kong, but parasitic disease (parasitosis) is still a concern each of us faces.
Causes of Exposure To Parasites
- Drinking water contamination
- Raw, undercooked or poorly washed foods
- International travel
- Daycare centres
- Military service
- Imported foods
- Sexual contact (certain STDs (sexually transmitted diseases) involve parasites)
- Swimming in pools that have not been adequately disinfected, or in lakes or parts of the ocean that are contaminated with sewage.
What Are The Most Common Parasites Found In Humans?
- Protozoa, including Blastocystis, Crytosporidium, Cyclospora, Girardia and Amoebas.
- Nematodes, including Roundworms, Hookworms and Pinworms.
- Cestodes, which are tapeworms from beef, pork and fish. There are more than 5,000 different known species of tapeworm. Some can grow to lengths of 60’ in the human intestines. Cestodes are a type of Helminths, or tapeworm parasites (see image above).
- Trematodes, which are flukes.
Consequences of Parasitic Infection
If your immune system is healthy, you may “fight off” a parasite, or even harbour some parasites within your body without immediate consequence. Symptoms can be much more severe if your immune system is weak or becomes compromised.
Parasite infections confuse diagnoses. Many people are treated for conditions such as autoimmune disease (arthritis and irritable bowel syndrome are examples), chronic fatigue, migraines, asthma, allergies, or even depression and other mental illnesses, when parasites are a key contributing factor to their symptoms. Parasites are common causes of intestinal issues, of course. In fact, in many cases, clearing up the parasites can resolve the issue completely.
Even weight gain (or loss) can be the result of parasites, and they can definitely be a factor in leaky gut syndrome.
A 2009 -2010 study by Dixon et al at Health Canada sampled 544 packages of pre-cut ready-to-eat salad greens purchased from Ontario grocery stores and found protozoan parasites in 9%, nearly one in ten.
How To Avoid Parasites
- Install a quality water filter at home, and carry one to use when traveling. Any exposure to dubious water can be high risk for parasites.
- Avoid salad bars and raw foods you don’t prepare yourself.
- Clean your produce of soil which can contain parasites. A scrub brush can be helpful. Then soak it for at least 15 minutes in a mixture of water and vinegar. Use 1/8 to ½ cup of vinegar in a bowl or sink of water. This will also help remove pesticides and wax. A salt water mixture can also work. Some people use hydrogen peroxide and baking soda with grapefruit seed extract in their soaking water. You can search the internet for suggestions. Whatever you use, rinse well after the soaking phase. Even organic foods need to be cleaned.
- Don’t eat raw, rare, or undercooked meat and fish.
- Keep your hands meticulously clean. Develop the habit of thorough hand-washing every time you re-enter your house. Scrub under your fingernails with a brush, too. Also wash your hands after handling pets.
- Eliminate sugar consumption as much as possible. Many parasites seem to love high-sugar diets.
- Cook with onions, garlic, fennel or cloves. These seem to repel many parasites.
- Undertake an annual or bi-annual parasite cleanse.
Treatment For Parasites
Approach a holistic doctor if you are experiencing health issues, so that parasites will be considered as a potential contributing cause. Your doctor may order a complete parasitic panel, including a stool study, particularly if you have symptoms of chronic inflammation or digestive issues.
In some cases antibiotics will be used to treat parasites, but care needs to be taken to follow your doctor’s recommended procedures, including dietary changes, so that a new generation won’t grow back from eggs. There are other antiparasitic drugs that may be prescribed, depending on the specific diagnosis. There is no single drug that is effective for all parasites, and for a few, there is no treatment available (although symptoms can be treated).
If you think that a parasitic infection could be at the root of a persistent health issue, call us today at (+852) 2523 8044 to make an appointment. Our Hong Kong Gut Health Centre is skilled in diagnosing and treating parasites.