Parasites: The Elephant In the Room


I know, it's a little creepy to think that you may be hosting a parasite, but these kinds of infections are very common.

To me they are the "elephant in the room" when it comes to health problems like fatigue, anxiety, brain fog, joint pain, skin problems, frequent colds and flus, insomnia, autoimmune conditions and digestive troubles. If you are suffering from any of these symptoms and feel confused about what might be triggering them, a parasite may be to blame!

It's strange, because you'd think a parasitic infection in the gut would simply cause digestive symptoms like gas, bloating, constipation or diarrhea, but in fact, you can have a parasite and have little to no gut problems! 

However, because that infection is hanging out in the gut and acting as an underlying stressor on your system, it drives cycles of inflammation in the body.

Since we know that inflammation contributes significantly to most common, chronic health conditions, clearing out a parasite is key in taking back your energy, immune system, mental clarity and great health!  

Functional Medicine: A Different Approach

Functional medicine is a practice that looks to discover root cause imbalances in the body, with an emphasis in whole food nutrition as a way to resolve chronic conditions and help you to thrive.

When talking about parasites, it's important to know that within the world of functional medicine, we approach things differently than conventional doctors do–and we test for them differently as well.

A traditional GI doc will typically run a stool test looking for acute infection... the kind of illness that would have you running to the bathroom and feeling really sick. But in functional medicine, we look for the subclinical infection. This is the kind of low level infection that a person can kind of "live with" but all the while it is acting as a continuous stressor on the body.

A conventional doctor normally wouldn't look for this kind of parasite, and if it did show up on a lab, it would be seen as "normal" and left untreated.

A functional practitioner though, sees that underlying parasitic infection as something that adds to the stress load on the body, and understands that it can cause imbalances in a variety of ways, starting with immune system dysregulation.

An Immune System On Overdrive

See, the immune system looks at that parasite as a foreign invader, so it goes on the attack. If the parasite is never killed and cleared out though, this continuous immune activation creates a state of chronic inflammation in the gut and elsewhere.

This inflammation and infection in the gut triggers a stress response in the brain and the adrenals, which produce some of our key stress hormones like cortisol.

If the parasite persists, over time, the cortisol levels get out of whack, in a condition commonly known as adrenal fatigue (also known as HPA axis disfunction). Typical symptoms of adrenal fatigue are exhaustion, feelings of burn out, anxiety, depression, brain fog and sleep problems. Cortisol also regulates inflammation, so when its levels are out of balance, chronic inflammation can be worsened along with that caused by the parasite itself. No fun! 

And in a classic chicken/egg scenario, adrenal imbalance can cause lowered immune cells in the gut, which then make you less able to fight off the parasite and more likely to pick up new ones. Oh, the irony.

Simply put, parasites are stressful on the body. They live off of the nutrients you eat and emit a lot of their own waste products (eew, gross!) which are toxins that your system then wants to detoxify. 

In this way, the detox pathways in the liver and gallbladder can become overwhelmed when you have a parasite.

Brain and Mood Health

When there is too much burden on the liver and the body isn't detoxifying efficiently, those toxins build up in the blood and can affect the brain. Symptoms like brain fog, memory issues, or mood imbalances like anxiety, depression, mood swings and fatigue, can ensue.

Skin and Joints

Detoxification is also the reason that skin conditions like eczema, psoriasis or acne can be related to parasites. The skin is one of the ways your body can detox, mainly through sweating. When your detox pathways are overburdened the skin can react. And remember how we discussed that the parasite causes the immune system to be over activated? That plays a role in these skin issues as well.

Similarly, this state of overactivity and inflammation in the immune system, along with toxin build up, affects the joints and muscles as well. These kinds of aches and pains can be debilitating. If you have them, and don't know why, addressing parasites could help.

Autoimmune Disease and Parasites

How can a parasite act as a trigger for autoimmune conditions? An autoimmune disease is one where your immune cells erroneously attack your own human tissue. In multiple sclerosis, they attack nerve cells, in rheumatoid arthritis they attack joint tissue, in Hashimoto's thyroiditis they attack thyroid cells and in Crohn's disease they attack the digestive tract.

As we have discussed, the continuous presence of a parasite in the gut, gets the immune cells into a state of overdrive as they repeatedly try to kill that foreign invader in the body. These hyperactive, over zealous immune cells are more prone to error. In this way, they can, as they go on the attack, mistakenly destroy your own human cells. And, because the immune system has a memory, they will do it over and over again, causing autoimmune illness.

Killing parasites is a key step in recovering from, or even reversing, autoimmune disease. It's also important for the prevention of them! And with autoimmune disease rates on a steep rise parasite testing is a wise preventative health step. For resolving autoimmune issues, if that root cause/trigger is not eliminated, the immune system will persist in this state of hyperactivity and confusion, attacking its own cells.

By clearing the parasite you remove that autoimmune trigger.

Testing for Parasites: A Different Kind of Test

The first step in addressing parasites is, of course, testing for them! I'm so passionate about the gastrointestinal lab that I run because it is remarkable thorough.

It's just the best test out there, for finding infections.

It uses DNA technology to test the actual DNA of the microbes. It can detect them even if the parasite is dead, or if there is just a particle of it. This is a major step up in accuracy from "ova and parasite testing" which requires finding the egg or the parasite, live, swimming around on the microscope's lens. False negative are common with this more typical type of testing.

Also good to know, this DNA based test shows a detailed picture of the overall health of the microbiome, your inner ecosystem.

It looks for parasites but also for levels of good bacteria, bad bacteria, plus yeasts and fungal growth. This way, you can then restore your inner ecosystem in a very targeted way, using food and probiotics.

This test is different from what your primary care doctor or gastroenterologist would likely run. If you have IBS, your doctor may have run a stool test on you, and you may have come up as negative for parasites.

The DNA test takes a deeper look.

As we discussed earlier, it searches for those subclinical infections, those low-lying infections that can cause you to feel physically unwell and out of balance mentally and emotionally. In my clinic, when clients come to me complaining of any of the following symptoms, I think, "parasites!" and recommend testing:

  • Anxiety
  • Exhaustion
  • Brain fog
  • Depression
  • Sleep issues
  • IBS and other digestive problems
  • Frequent infections like colds or flus
  • Skin issues
  • Joint pain
  • Autoimmune conditions

If you are dealing with any of these issues and would like to run the parasite test, learn more in a free consultation with me.

How Do You Get Rid of A Parasite? 

Well, of course the process starts with running the lab test. It's an easy take home kit and requires one stool sample. It's not difficult... you just have to be willing to scoop your poop!

If you do test positive for a parasite, we address it with antimicrobial herbal supplements. It takes some time, usually sixty days on the herbs, to really clear things out. Which herbs we use depends on which parasite is present. There are different herbal protocols for the different bugs–it's not a one size fits all approach–so that's why accurate testing is so important!

After the course of herbs, there is a gut repair process, which is usually thirty days. Using different herbs and other nutrients, we soothe and repair the gut lining, restoring good bacteria and the health of the microbiome.

This way, the digestive system is no longer susceptible to infection. Inflammation is lowered and nutrient absorption is improved–helping you to thrive in body and mind.

Because digestive health acts as a foundation for the health of the brain and all systems in the body... clearing parasites is a revolutionary step for long lasting wellness!

If you're curious to learn more about parasite testing, please book a free Discovery Session with me.

And I'm curious, what are your thoughts, questions or experiences with parasites? Leave your comments!


Sarah CottenComment