Parasites and Their Dangers to Your Health

Blog Health Parasites and Their Dangers to Your Health

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12.21.2023 0 comments

Parasites can be a serious health concern—not only because they can lead to negative symptoms and side effects, but because they’ll typically do so unnoticed and undetected for a long time.

That’s right: parasites can live in your body for days, weeks, or even months without being detected. Because they rely on you, the host, for survival, they don’t kill you or even cause significant harm initially. However, the longer they persist, the more risk they pose to your health, with even the possibility of threatening your life in the long-run.

Below, we’ll take a deep dive into parasites, looking at what they are, what they do to your body, and the symptoms they can cause. We’ll also look at what you can do about them, how to detect them, and, most important of all, how to get rid of them.

The Dangers of Parasites

Parasites live inside another organism, typically feeding on their host in order to survive. They multiply as they feed, and as they multiply, cause larger and more widespread damage. Many also carry diseases that can pose a risk to the host’s health, even to the point of being life-threatening.

The Three Types of Parasites

There are three types of parasites [1]:

  1. Protozoans, single-celled organisms that tend to live in your tissue or blood. You may pick up these parasites through the bite of a vector animal, person-to-person contact, or contaminated water or food. Sporozoans, ameobas, ciliates, and flagellates are all protozoan parasites.

  2. Helminths, parasitic worms that take up residence in your GI tract. They can grow up to 1 meter long in some cases. Tapeworms, flukes, and roundworms are all helminth parasites.

  3. Ectoparasites, parasites that take up residence on the exterior of the host’s body, typically on the skin or in the hair. They typically feed on blood but also carry infections that spread through your bloodstream, even crossing the blood-brain barrier to directly infect and impact your brain. Ticks, head lice, fleas, public lice, and mites are all ectoparasites.

Symptoms of a Parasite Infection

Parasites can cause a number of symptoms in their hosts, though the symptoms will vary depending on both the type of parasite and the host’s health.

Some of the most common symptoms include:

  • Abdominal pain

  • Vomiting and nausea

  • Diarrhea

  • Increased appetite

  • Unexplained weight loss

  • Chills

  • Fever

  • Aching muscles

  • Teeth grinding

  • Skin rashes

  • Weakness and fatigue

  • Insomnia

Curiously, not all parasite infections will cause symptoms. Some people are asymptomatic but may still pass on a parasite infection.

On the other hand, the symptoms may actually be a precursor to something much more serious than just minor discomfort, a few muscle aches, or some nausea.

Our bodies will usually respond to the presence of parasites by triggering the immune response in an effort to get rid of them. However, parasites are clever and may actually attempt to evade your immune system by changing its antigenic surface [2]. If it can do so successfully, it may continue to live on in your body, with your immune system still trying to get rid of it but unable to find it.

And this is when it can cause long-term problems. Research suggests [3] that autoimmune diseases may be caused by “not a single infection but rather the ‘burden of infections’ from childhood”. Multiple infections straining the immune system or pushing the body into an overactive immune response can combine with genetic susceptibility to trigger autoimmune disease.

The parasite living in your body undetected may add to that “burden of infection” and increase the risk of developing or worsening some autoimmune condition. It may be far more serious a health concern to those with autoimmune risk than those who are otherwise “healthy”.

How to Safeguard Yourself Against Parasites

The good news is that parasites are fully detectable and can be treated and eliminated. Understanding where they come from or how they might have gotten into your body is the first step toward identifying the potential source of the problem.

Where You Might Get a Parasite

  • Undercooked or raw meat

  • Undercooked or raw fish

  • Unwashed and/or raw veggies and fruits

  • Unpasteurized juices and milk

  • Raw aquatic plants (for example, watercress or water spinach)

  • Swallowing contaminated water (for example, in a river or lake)

  • Sexual contact with someone that has a parasite (detected or undetected)

  • Contaminated bug bites

  • Contact with contaminated feces, blood, soil, water, or food

How to Detect Parasites

If you suspect that you’ve been exposed to any of the above possible sources of a parasite, it’s a smart idea to get yourself tested. There are a number of tests that can determine whether you are suffering from a parasite infection:

  • Physical exam. Typically, a doctor will conduct a physical examination to determine if there are any symptoms on your skin, such as bite marks, rashes, or severe itching. Some parasites, such as roundworm, ringworm, and lice, will be visible on your skin.

  • Stool culture. Doctors may request a fecal examination to analyze the contents of your stool for any sign of parasites, including adult parasites or parasite ova (eggs).

  • Blood tests. A blood smear or serology will let your doctor search for antigens or antibodies in your blood that could signal your immune system is fighting off a parasite.

  • Colonoscopy or enteroscopy. Inserting a long, thin tube with a camera attached to the end down your throat or up your rectum will allow the doctor to determine if there is a parasite living in your GI system.

  • Imaging tests. X-rays, MRI, or even a CT scan may help to identify a parasite. The scans won’t identify the parasite itself, but the damage or lesions caused to your intestinal tract by the parasites.

How to Treat and Eliminate Parasites

You’ll be glad to know there are A LOT of methods for treating and eradicating parasites, both naturally and via medication.

If you go to the doctor’s, typically, they’ll prescribe one of the following (based on your type of infection):

  • Ointment

  • Shampoo

  • Antibiotics

  • Antiparasitic medications

There are specific instructions provided for dealing with ectoparasites (such as fleas, ticks, and lice), including bathing more frequently, vacuuming your carpet thoroughly, and washing your bedding and all linens in hot water to kill off the parasites.

Certain foods—especially high-fiber foods like beets, carrots, and pumpkin seeds—may be recommended to help you purge the parasites from your intestinal tract.

Honey and raw garlic are both antibacterial and antiparasitic foods that may help to kill off parasites causing your infection.

Probiotics can fortify your intestinal bacteria so your body can eradicate the parasite all on its own.

Zinc is a natural immune-booster that can stimulate your immune response to fight the parasites more efficiently.

Vitamin C is another potent remedy for treating parasites. It has potent antioxidants that can fight the parasitic infection, but also make antiparasitic medications less toxic to your body [4].

It is possible that the parasites may go away on their own simply by improving your hygiene and using the natural treatments listed above. However, if symptoms persist, it’s always a good idea to seek medical help from a doctor.

Parasite Prevention 101

It’s a lot easier to prevent exposure to parasites than you might expect:

  • Cook meat thoroughly to its recommended internal temperature to kill off pathogens and parasites.

  • Drink clean purified water

  • Avoid drinking river, lake, or any outdoor water that hasn’t been treated for contaminants.

  • Wash your hands with hot water and soap, and bathe frequently.

  • Wash thoroughly the raw veggies and fruits you consume, especially lettuce.

  • Use insect repellent to keep bug bites away, and wear long sleeves when camping, hiking, hunting, or spending time out in nature.

  • Check yourself and your family for bug bites after spending any significant amount of time outdoors.

  • Regularly wash your sheets, pillowcases, and linens.

  • Check your pets and children frequently for parasites, including fleas, ticks, and lice.

Parasites are a problem that can cause serious harm to your body, but only if they’re left undetected and untreated.

Thanks to the information above, you now know what parasites are, how they might infect you, and what the symptoms of an infection are. You’re also armed with plenty of information on how to detect, treat, eliminate, and even prevent future infections.

The danger of parasites is out there, but you’re ready to deal with any problems as they arise!

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