Parasites are organisms that survive by feeding off hosts. While many people associate them with poor and developing countries, parasitic infections affect millions of Americans every year.
As symptoms can sometimes be mild, an infection could go unnoticed. Depending on the severity of the infection, parasites can cause serious problems or even result in death.
If you are infected with a parasite or just think you are, it’s important to do something about it. Left untreated, it could have serious implications for your health. If you want to know how to get rid of parasites, read on. We’ll take a look at the types and causes of parasite infections and explain what you can do if you’re infected.
What Are Parasites?
A parasite uses the host’s resources to live. While some don’t cause any noticeable issue for the host, others are able to reproduce and invade organs. Infections like malaria, trichomoniasis (or “trich”), and giardiasis are caused by parasites.
Ranging from microscopic organisms to tapeworms several feet long, parasites that infect humans can be organized into three main classes:
- Protozoa – Microscopic single-celled organisms, protozoa are able to multiply within humans and are often transmitted through contaminated food or water, or by insects like mosquitos.
- Helminths – Large multicelled organisms that are often visible to the naked eye. Commonly known as worms, helminths are not able to reproduce inside the body. Examples include tapeworms, flukes, thorny-headed worms, and roundworms.
- Ectoparasites – Multicelled organisms that live on the skin, ectoparasites include ticks, fleas, mites, and lice.
How Do They Spread?
There are many different ways in which parasites spread. Some are blood-borne and get passed from one host to another through blood contact. More commonly, parasites are transmitted through contaminated food and water, through sexual contact, or by insects.
Intestinal parasitic infections are typically the result of:
- Eating undercooked meat (especially pork)
- Drinking contaminated water
- Poor hygiene and sanitation habits
Other parasites can be passed from person to person or by coming in contact with contaminated bedding or clothing.
Caused by the protozoa parasite, malaria is the deadliest parasitic disease. Spread by mosquitos, malaria is estimated to be responsible for almost 700,000 deaths globally each year.
How Can You Tell If You Have a Parasite?
It can be difficult to know if you have a parasitic infection as the symptoms can resemble a number of other conditions. Symptoms also differ depending on the organism.
Common symptoms of intestinal parasites include:
- Abdominal pain, bloating, and diarrhea
- Weight loss
- Fatigue and weakness
A tapeworm infestation can also cause:
- Allergic reactions
Like flukes, hookworms cause fever and fatigue, but might also cause anemia, rashes, and itchy skin. As parasites can also pass on a number of conditions, symptoms can sometimes be hard to predict.
How to Get Rid of Parasites
Ridding the body of parasites is no easy task. They can live inside your body for years and the longer they’re feeding on your tissue, the harder it is to remove them.
The first thing to do if you think you’re infected is to speak with your doctor.
Seek Medical Help
By performing a blood test, fecal exam, or other analyses, your doctor will be able to diagnose a parasitic infection. Once diagnosed, medication can be prescribed and preventative measures can be recommended to treat the infection.
While seeking medical advice is the best course of action for diagnosis, there are other things you can do to assist with your treatment.
Change Your Diet
One of the most important things you can do to combat a parasite infection is to look at what you eat. Parasites thrive by absorbing simple carbohydrates like sugar, so it’s best to avoid processed grains and sugar for two weeks after diagnosis.
It should be noted that this includes sources of natural sugar, like honey and fruit. Eliminating their main food source can help remove parasite infections as quickly as possible.
There are a number of foods that can help fight parasites rather than nourish them. Try including some or all of the below in your daily diet for a natural defense against parasites:
- Thyme – With its antibacterial properties, thyme can kill intestinal microorganisms while enhancing the body’s defense system.
- Garlic – Shown to kill parasites like amoeba and hookworm in test tubes, garlic has been used for centuries to treat parasites.
- Pumpkin seeds – Used by Native Americans to treat intestinal infections, pumpkin seeds were once listed as the official medicine for parasitic elimination in the United States Pharmacopoeia.
- Papaya – The enzyme papain that’s found in the Papaya plant has been shown to kill worms. A 2007 study even found dried papaya seeds to be effective in treating intestinal parasites without significant side effects.
- Beta-carotene – Increasing your consumption of beta-carotene rich foods like carrots, sweet potatoes, and squash can help improve your resistance to certain parasites.
Fight fire with fire! Probiotics are living organisms that can help restore the balance of bacteria in your intestines. Found in foods like yogurt and also available as dietary supplements, probiotics flood the gut with beneficial bacteria, effectively eliminating the bad bacteria that parasites thrive on.
In fact, studies have shown that probiotics help reduce the risks of parasitic infestation and are an excellent complement to traditional treatments.
Prevention is always better than a cure. There are many steps you can take to help prevent a parasitic infection:
- Only eat food that is cooked all the way through.
- Use a condom and practice safe sex.
- Wash your hands regularly, especially after using a bathroom and before eating.
- Drink clean water and opt for bottled water when away from home.
- Avoid drinks with ice when traveling in high-risk areas. Chipped ice may have been made from contaminated water.
- Avoid animal feces.
Parasites and diseases caused by them are responsible for millions of deaths each year. Now that you know how to get rid of parasites, take preventive measures to ensure you don’t get infected. If you suspect that you have a parasite infection, don’t delay treatment. Contact your doctor immediately to avoid potentially passing on the infection to other people.