Having a parasite can be a scary thought. However, you are not alone — you’d be shocked at how often intestinal parasites are to blame for ongoing health issues, from digestive symptoms, to insomnia, to skin issues, and more.
The idea that parasites only exist in underdeveloped countries is a myth. Truth be told, many family physicians see them in the majority of their patients, particularly thyroid and autoimmune patients.
And all too often these patients have tested negative for parasites using standard testing, yet come up positive on functional medicine tests. In this article we’ll share 10 signs that indicate you might have a parasite, and 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. When we refer to intestinal parasites, we are referring to tiny organisms, usually worms, that feed off of your nutrition.
Some examples of parasites include: roundworms, tapeworms, pinworms, whipworms, hookworms, and more. Because parasites come in so many different shapes and sizes, they can cause a very 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 countless approaches to heal your gut and relieve your symptoms without any success, a parasite could be the underlying cause for many of your unexplained and unresolved symptoms.
How do you get parasites?
There are a number of ways to contract a parasite. It’s true that contaminated water from underdeveloped countries is a common source of parasites. However, they are also frequently found in undercooked meat, unclean or contaminated fruits and vegetables, and lakes, ponds or creeks. Some parasites can even enter the body by traveling through the bottom of your foot.
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, a serving spoon, your mobile device, or other people. It is also very easy to contract a parasite when handling animals.
10 Signs You May Have a Parasite
Unexplained constipation, diarrhea, gas, or other symptoms of IBS
Trouble falling asleep or wake 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
Diagnosis of iron-deficiency anemia
Traveled internationally and remember getting traveler’s diarrhea while abroad
History of food poisoning and ‘your digestion has not been the same since’
The signs of a parasite can often appear unrelated and unexplained. As mentioned previously, there are MANY different types of parasites that we are exposed to in our environments. Typically parasites are known to cause more constipation than diarrhea, but some parasites are capable of changing the fluid balance in your gut, which causes diarrhea.
Trouble sleeping, skin irritations, mood changes, and muscle pain can all be caused by the toxins that parasites release into the bloodstream. Often times, 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 in your sleep are signs that your body is experiencing anxiety while you rest. When these toxins interact with your neurotransmitters or blood cells, they can cause mood swings or skin irritations.
Parasites as a Root Cause for Hashimoto’s, and Graves’
As mentioned early, medical professionals often see parasites in patients with thyroid dysfunction, particularly the two autoimmune thyroid conditions, Hashimoto’s and Graves. And this is no coincidence, as parasite infestations (infections) are one of the five potential root causes of all autoimmune disease.
A potential trigger for both Hashimoto’s and Graves’ is toxoplasmosis, 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. For pregnant women, toxoplasmosis poses a risk to the fetus (which is why expecting mothers are advised to stay away from kitty litter). In most people, the parasite passes, but 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 (CDC) says that this parasite doesn’t really cause any harm. However, there have been reports of medical cases in which people are treated for this parasite and then their Hashimoto’s resolves. Because of this, testing is recommended for (and if necessary, treating) parasites in all 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 the book, The Thyroid Connection by Dr. Amy Meyers.
How to Test for Parasites
The best way to test for a parasite is to get a stool 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 commonly used in Functional Medicine.
Conventional Ova and Parasite Stool Test
Conventional stool tests can identify parasites or parasite eggs in your stool, yet this test comes with many limitations. The problem with this test is that it is only conditionally successful. This test requires three separate stool samples that must be sent to the lab for a medical technologist to view under a microscope. Parasites have a very unique life cycle, where they can rotate between dormant and alive. In order to identify them in this conventional test, the stool sample must contain a live parasite, the parasite must remain alive as the sample ships to the lab, and the medical technologist must be able to see the live parasite swimming across the slide. While these can certainly be useful tests for some people, they are unable to identify dormant parasites and therefore a high number of false negative tests with this type of stool test are common.
Functional Medicine Comprehensive Stool Test
In functional medicine, many medical professionals use a comprehensive stool test. The comprehensive test is much more sensitive than the conventional stool test because it uses Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR) technology to amplify the DNA of the parasite, if there is one. This means that the parasite can actually be dead or in its dormant phase and it will be detected on this test. Because this test utilizes PCR technology it is not reliant on a pathologist seeing a live parasite swimming on the slide. This test has allowed functional medical professionals to frequently diagnose parasites in their patients that were missed on conventional stool tests.
There are multiple parasitic cleanses available. Our suggestion is to find one that uses only CERTIFIED organic ingredients (don’t take their “word” for it, ensure the ingredients are certified organic) and has a well-balanced food plan. Discuss the cleanse with your medical professional to see if it is a good fit for you.