Whether we like to think about it or not, we are surrounded by bacteria and other bugs. We pick up our first dose of good bacteria on our way through the birth canal, and from that point forward there is a battle for balance happening in our intestines.
A lot of critters help us out. We have a symbiotic relationship with intestinal flora. It lives rent-free in exchange for some of the byproducts of metabolism. They produce enzymes and vitamins and other useful nutrients, plus they keep invaders — from harmful bacteria to yeast overgrowth — at bay.
When there is too little good bacteria and too much bad we experience health problems. There’s a sizeable industry around keeping our gut flora in balance, with some products being of real benefit and others having dubious value at best. What we often do not consider, however, is another type of critter than can live in our intestines: parasites.
A parasite is any creature that lives on or in a host creature for its own benefit and at the expense of the host. Gut flora benefits from us, but we benefit from them. Parasitic protazoa, such as the amoeba Entamoeba histolytica, benefits from us, but we suffer thanks to them.
There are two groups of parasites: protazoa and worms. Protazoa are single-celled organisms, such as, the above-mentioned amoeba, malaria, and giardiasis (known as beaver fever). Worms are multi-cellular organisms, such as hookworms, pinworms, and tapeworms. Developing nations have serious, widespread, and deadly problems with parasites. In our part of the world the risks and consequences are not usually so severe, but both isolated cases and outbreaks do occur.
Whatever the parasite, they enter the body through contaminated soil, water, or food. Once ingested, they colonize the intestine and start to do what every living being does: survive and reproduce. At best the parasites compete with the body’s cells and symbiotic microorganisms for resources, literally stealing our fuel and nutrients and potentially causing deficiencies that result in a variety of potential problems. At worst they damage the lining of the intestine and enter the blood, eventually attacking other organs and causing more direct, systemic problems. Wherever they are, they feed off of us and deposit waste in our systems.
Common symptoms of infection are abdominal pain, diarrhea, and vomiting, as well as persistent fatigue, bloating, rash, otherwise unexplained weight loss, anal itching, and abnormal change in stool. If you experience sudden onset of these symptoms and have traveled to a foreign country — especially a high-risk developing one — or suspect you have come into contact with contaminated animals or substances it is time to narrow down what is going on.
Getting the details of your symptoms and history will allow our naturopathic doctors to get a good idea if parasitic infection is likely or not. If it is, a comprehensive stool analysis will give a clear idea of not only parasite problems, but also the aforementioned bacterial balance and the presence of other detrimental organisms, plus markers such as specific enzymes and food fibers to check digestion and absorption.
If the results come back positive for parasites your doctor will tailor treatment to your specific needs, and may include dietary change, IV therapy, colonic, supplements, and anything else required to help you rid yourself of parasites and get back into balance.
The first step is to contact us. The second is a consultation with one of our naturopathic doctors to determine an appropriate plan for you.