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Illustrations by Kiki Metzler
Parasites are living organisms, usually either plants or animals that live on or in a host. A host can be another plant or animal. Parasites will consume the host’s nutrition and leave toxic waste within the host. The word “parasite” comes from the Greek word meaning “one who eats off the table of another”. Parasites to Ancient Greeks were those who sat at another’s table and paid for their meal with flattery.
Parasites include opportunistic organisms like fungus. Many of us have heard of candida being parasitical. Bacteria and viruses are also parasites, but are more studied as microbiology.
These scavengers can wreak much havoc on our system by robbing us of our needed nutrition, discarding waste within us and/or balling up blocking our ducts. Parasites may even cause severe mental and neurological damage or even blindness.
Consider how parasites cause disease in humans via the following:
- Mechanical effects like hydatid cysts.
- Invading and destroying cells of the host like in malaria.
- Causing allergic responses including inflammation.
- Competing with us for our nutrition.
- Sometimes parasites seem to live with us without causing disease as is observed with Taenia saginata in humans.
Parasites are not just a problem in third world countries as some may believe. Many parasites are found worldwide and some are found in schools, daycares and other crowded public institutions in the USA. The fact is, parasites do not discriminate between sex, race, age or class. These freeloading worms or microscopic invaders are present in unknown numbers worldwide, and are causing an epidemic that plagues a vast amount of people.
Hygiene may play a role in the transmission of parasitical infections; however, the parasitical permeation is a problem that cannot be blamed solely on poor hygiene. Many clean people will come in contact with and become hosts for parasites. There are many ways in which you may reduce your exposure and or prevent infestations as well as treat infections successfully if needed. Some experts advise periodic or annual parasite cleansing whether you believe you have been exposed to parasites or not.
Parasite infections are easily transmissible because they are often microscopic. Infection occurs when the parasites enter the body via ingestion, or penetration due to a cut or an insect vector.
A definitive host is defined as one in which sexual reproduction occurs. Comparatively, an intermediate host is defined as another animal essential to the completion of the life cycle.
Documentation shows that once worms or microscopic parasites are established in the body, the following harm may occur:
- Worms cause physical trauma to the body by perforation of the intestines,
the circulatory system, the lungs, the liver and wherever elsewhere
they travel. When chyme is released into the perforated intestines it
oozes into the lymph system and allergies are the first response by
- Worms can erode, damage, or block certain organs. They can lump together
and make a ball causing blockage. They can go into the brain, heart
and lungs and cause problems that are unbearable.
- Parasites rob us of our nutrients and take the best of our vitamins
and amino acids. Many people become anemic. Drowsiness after meals is
a sign that worms may be present.
- Lastly, these scavengers poison us with their toxic waste. This poisoning is a condition called, “verminous intoxication”. In this case, an already weakened body has difficulty disposing of the parasites’ metabolic waste. It can become very serious and difficult to diagnose.
There are over 100 different parasites that can live in a human host. We will discuss four different groups of parasitic invaders and some of the common parasites within those groups.
Single Cell Parasites
This classification of parasites has more types than any of the other three we will discuss here. These are the microscopic single celled life forms which contain a nucleus and functional organelles. These are not visible to the naked eye and are found all over the world, everywhere in our environment. These parasites reproduce very quickly and asexually in the host. Many have a sexual phase of their life cycle in another host or vector.
These parasites are passed easily from person to person in the unsanitary and often crowded conditions that we live. Individuals become vulnerable and create a habitable or welcoming environment for these unwanted visitors when one has a weakened immune system. A toxic condition and trauma or stress may also play a role in welcoming these invaders as these conditions create difficulty when fighting off parasites. The blood of a healthy person contains antibodies against opportunistic organisms or parasites; this is a function of a strong immune system.
A) Toxoplasmosis (Toxoplasma gondii) is a crescent shaped intracellular protozoan. It is very common, very contagious, and is found worldwide. Its source of infection is through eating raw or uncooked beef, mutton, pork or chicken that has been infected with the organism, or by ingesting the cysts after being in contact with contaminated areas such as cat litter boxes, soil, etc.
Pregnant women are often told to stay away from cat boxes and have someone else clean them as they are especially vulnerable. Use extreme caution when pregnant or if you have a newborn baby. These protozoa can be very serious for the fetus or newborn.
B) Amoeba, Amebiasis (Entameoba histolytica) is most common in warm moist climates but is found worldwide. These are a single celled, microscopic organism with an irregular shape. Its source of infection is through feces, contaminated food and water, or via the mouth. Poor sanitation is a major contributor to the perpetuation of these problematic parasites.
Common symptoms include intestinal discomfort, dysentery, amoebic abscess, weight loss and chronic fatigue. People that have immune system disorders or have been on steroids and other drugs may be more susceptible to these infections.
C) Giardia, Giardiasis (Giardia lamblia) has been known as the most common cause of “traveler’s diarrhea”. Again this protozoa is found worldwide and is very contagious. All stream and mountain water should be considered infected since many animals in addition to humans act as hosts. The source of infection is through food or water contaminated by feces.
Common symptoms with giardia are mucous, diarrhea, mal-absorption, light colored fatty stools, gas, abdominal cramps, lactose and meat intolerances, weight loss, and potentially fat soluble vitamin and/or folic acid deficiencies.
D) Crypto, Cryptosporidiosis (Cryptosporidium parvum) is a single celled parasite that is so small that over 10,000 would fit on the period at the end of this line.
In September 1994, the drinking water of many large US cities including Minneapolis, were infected with cryptosporidium. The parasite has become immune to chlorine and the eggs are so small, 33% will slip through the water testing process.
Its source of infection is through ingesting feces contaminated food, water, soil, or hand to mouth contact.
Common symptoms include flu-like symptoms, stomach cramps, diarrhea and slight fever. Crypto can be serious, long lasting and even fatal in persons whose immune system is weakened.
Invasion of the Flukes
Flukes are flat worms that have two ventral suckers that allow them to
attach to their hosts. The source of infection is often through ingestion
of raw or under cooked fish or crab, ingesting infected vegetation like
water chestnuts, caltop, watercress, or drinking or wading in infected
Once the fluke is inside the body they migrate to different areas causing inflammation and damage along the way. Each egg has tiny spines on the outside that can cause great damage. They also release toxic metabolic waste that may cause damage to tissue. They may end up in the lungs, the heart, the intestines, the brain, the bladder, the liver and the blood.
A) Hepatic Fluke (Fasciola hepatica) is found worldwide
in sheep raising areas but is not common in the USA. The source of infection
is said to be through the ingestion of watercress plant (Nasturtium officinale).
Common symptoms include cysts in the gall bladder and Hepatic colic.
B) Blood fluke (Schistosoma japonicum) is found in the
Blood fluke (Schistosoma mansoni) is found in Africa and in Latin America.
Blood fluke (Schistosoma Haimatobium) is found in Africa and the Near East.
Blood fluke (Schistosoma related spp) is found worldwide.
Blood flukes are tiny flat worms that undermine the health of the blood. These creatures have a hook with which they hook to the blood cells. These blood flukes can cause adults to have blood clots, sleep disturbances and eventually affect the bone marrow. The source of infection is through swimming in infected water. Simple contact with the skin of infected water is all it takes to transmit these unwelcome guests.
Common symptoms include dysentery, fibrosis of intestinal, bladder, or walls of the liver, and “swimmer’s ear”.
C) Pulminary (lung) fluke (Paragonimus westermani) is a tiny flat worm that undermines the health of the lungs. Lung flukes weaken the lungs, perforating the lung tissue and starving the entire blood of oxygen. These flukes are found in Africa, the Orient, Latin America and the USA. The source of infection is through the ingestion of contaminated crabs, and crayfish and in the USA only, wild mammals and hogs. Common symptoms include bronchial distress, repeated flu, pneumonia and fungus infections.
D) Intestinal Flukes (Fasciolopsis buski) are rare in the USA but more prevalent in the orient and the tropics. The source of infection is through ingesting contaminated vegetation. Common symptoms include abdominal pain, diarrhea and intestinal obstruction. It is common to experience not symptoms when infected with the intestinal fluke.
These are metazoan, larger, multi-cellular organisms which can normally be seen by the naked eye when in adult form. These parasites reproduce sexually, usually within the host, and have pre-adult stages including the ova or larvae stage, which occur and live externally or inside the host.
Roundworms are not to be confused with ring worm. I will never forget when my son told me his dad took him to the doctor for ring worm and I thought of all of the pictures of long fettuccini looking things making faces at me. Soon after it was explained to me that ring worm is actually a fungus that forms a ring on the skin. We applied a topical anti fungal and his ring went away for good. I had no need to panic and see images of actual worms. Roundworms, however, are exactly like the images in my mind.
A) Giant intestinal roundworms (Ascaris lumbricoides) are common around the world, especially in warm, moist climates. These worms are large, about the size of a pencil. The infection begins with the ingestion of eggs which are usually present in contaminated soil, or on fruits and vegetables grown in infected soil.
Infected individuals commonly experience abdominal pains, lung infections, eye infections, blood sugar imbalance, weight loss and fatigue.
Symptoms that may be present when round worms are involved include weight gain around the time of the full moon (sometimes up to 7 or 8 pounds)
- Grinding of the teeth at night and or snoring
- Intestinal gas and or other intestinal disturbances
In the book “Far From Pooping” by Loree Taylor Jordan, it is suggested that after consumption of garlic to the point of not being able to consume more, laxatives should be taken. After defecation one would sit in a tub of warmed honey milk to draw out the full worm as they smell the milk. It may take up to an hour to ensure all the worms are out. This unpleasant process is rewarding as you see the worms that you no longer house and feed outside of your body. It is then that you commit to ridding yourself of every last one of them once and for all.
B) Hookworm (Ancylostoma duodenale), who’s common name is “Old world hookworm” is found in temperate climates.
C) The “Tropical Hookworm” (Necator Americanus) is found in warm and humid regions.
The source of infection for both of these species is through fecal contamination of soil. We may get the infection from eating fruits, vegetables, or drinking water that is contaminated with the larval stage of this worm. Hook worms may also be transmitted from infected soil onto bare feet where they are then known to burrow into the skin causing an allergic reaction and eventually find their way into the circulatory system and make their way into the intestinal walls where they drink large amounts of blood. Hook worms are the only worms with teeth. Symptoms of the hook worm infestation include anemia, malnourishment, weakness, retarded growth, abdominal pains with nausea, indigestion, diarrhea and cardiac insufficiency.
D) Threadworms, Strongyloidiasis (Strongyloides stercoralis), is a round worm that is similar to the hookworm in some ways. It is found in the southern USA and the moist tropics. Its source of transmission or infection is the same as hookworms, through fecal contamination of soil and transmission to the host’s feet. People with suppressed immune systems can develop heavy infections. The common symptoms associated with threadworms are radiating pain in the pit of the stomach and diarrhea.
E) Whipworm, Trichuriasis (Trichuris trichiura): The source of infection from whipworm is through fecal contamination of soil entering via the mouth, through vegetables, fruits and water. The common symptoms with whipworm are diarrhea, abdominal pain, gas, anemia, weight loss, weakness, nervousness, insomnia and “verminous intoxication”. Heavy infections may produce dysentery, appendicitis, rectal prolapsus as well as damage to the intestinal wall.
F) Toxocara Worm (Toxocara Canis) and (Toxocara Cati):
This is the intestinal roundworm of dogs and cats. The source of infection is through the ingestion of eggs via dirty hands, handling pets, or eating fruits or vegetables with eggs on them. The worms wander through the body causing damage and a condition called “visceral larva migraines”. They have been known to lodge in the retina where they lead to inflammation and blindness. Common symptoms include fever, joint pains, vomiting, muscle pains, convulsions, rash, liver and lung problems.
G) Pinworm, Enerobiasis (Enterobius vermicularis):
This worm is found worldwide and is the most common roundworm in the USA.
Pinworms are common in both warm and cold climates and in all socioeconomic groups. Pinworms are found in crowded areas such as schools. Pinworms are highly contagious and pass between family members easily. These worms are small, only 2 to 13 millimeters, white, and can easily be seen by the naked eye with a flash light at night while they are laying eggs.
The source of infection for pinworms is from the anus where the pinworms lay eggs, to the fingers and finally ingestion through the mouth. The females will crawl from the cecum region of the colon all the way to the anal opening and lay around 11,000 eggs outside the anal area at night. That is why the most noticeable symptom is irritation and/or itching around the anus at night or sometimes early in the morning. Children who are infected may also have symptoms including digestive disturbances, nervousness, irritability and insomnia.
H) Trichinosis (Trichinella spiralis) is a tiny roundworm whose source of infection is through eating the larval cyst present in the muscle of an infected animal, most often a pig. These worms mature and mate in the intestinal area and release their young in huge numbers. These young then burrow out of the intestines wreaking havoc throughout the body. They may cause low grade infections, fever, diarrhea and intestinal pain. The wandering larva may also cause pneumonia, encephalitis, brain and eye damage, kidney damage and other diseases.
Tapeworms are flat and long ribbon like creatures which are common in all parts of the world. Tapeworms do not have a digestive system so they receive their food through their skin as they absorb our nutrients. They especially absorb folic acid and vitamin B-12. These parasites may cause what is referred to as “verminous intoxication” as they put out and leave dangerous waste products in our bodies. These tapeworms can roll themselves into a ball and can be felt on the right side of the abdomen under the liver.
Often tapeworms can cause infections that effect sugar metabolism causing sugar imbalances and people either loose or gain weight. Common symptoms that people experience with tapeworms include unclear thinking, a toxic feeling, dizziness, hunger pains, poor digestion, allergies, sensitivity to and finally pernicious anemia. Tapeworms may contribute to or create:
- Mineral imbalances
- Thyroid imbalances
- Intestinal gas
- Bloated feeling in the digestive tract
- High or low blood pressure
- Fluid build-up or retention during the time of the full moon
A) Dwarf tapeworms, (Hymenolepsis nana) are found around the world including in the southern USA. These may be the most common type of tapeworm. They are small, only a few centimeters long. The source of infection for dwarf tapeworms is through eggs that have contaminated our environment. This happens specifically through grain beetles that infect the grain that people ingest into their systems. Common symptoms may include diarrhea, abdominal discomfort or maybe symptomless.
B) Beef tapeworms (Taenia saginata) are found very commonly
in the USA and worldwide. Beef tapeworms are among the most common types
of tapeworms found in man. Beef tapeworms can grow becoming 4 to 8 feet
long. The source of infection is through ingestion of uncooked infected
It is common to have beef tapeworms and be symptom free or experience abdominal distress.
C) Pork tapeworms (Taenia solium) are common in Latin America, Asia, USSR and Eastern Europe. Thankfully they are rarer in the USA. Pork tapeworm adults may grow up to 10 feet long and live in the intestines. The source of infection as the name implies is from raw or undercooked pork. Ingestion of the tiny eggs on any contaminated food, water, or soil from hand to mouth is another source for infection of pork tapeworms. This source of infection may become more serious as the eggs hatch inside our bodies into the larva stage and migrate throughout the body. Various organs including the muscles, heart, eyes, liver, spine and brain can be affected. Individuals who have this problem may experience headaches, blindness, paralysis, epilepsy and more. There may be no symptoms associated with this parasite or abdominal distress may be common.
Broad Fish Tapeworm
D) Sparganosis tapeworms (Diphyllobotherium mansoni) are found worldwide, including in parts of the Southern USA. The source of infection is either through direct contact with the primary host (i.e., many non human animals), or through the mouth, skin, or contaminated water. Common symptoms with these tapeworms are inflamed subcutaneous tissue.
E) Broad Fish tapeworms (Diphyllobothrium latum) are found in just a couple of the states including Northern Minnesota and Michigan. These tapeworms are also found in Canada and worldwide. These are usually the largest of the human tapeworms, reaching lengths up to 30 feet long. The source of infection is through the ingestion of raw or under-cooked fish. The symptoms associated with these tapeworms are similar to that of other tapeworms.
F) Dog tapeworms (Dipylidium caninum) are common in both dogs and cats all around the world. These can also be very common amongst children as they are often in close proximity with the dogs and cats which harbor these tapeworms. The intermediate host of these worms is the louse or the flea. The source of infection then is direct ingestion of the louse or flea that contains the larva of the tapeworm. Common symptoms with this tapeworm are disturbed sleep, grinding of the teeth and intestinal disturbances.
Important Considerations Regarding Parasites
Parasites may be more welcome in our intestines when we have pre-disposing factors. These may include:
- Improperly washed raw food
- Improperly cooked fish, meat or poultry
- Frequent contact with a family member that is a carrier, household pets including birds, farm animals and others
- Consumption or contact with improperly purified or contaminated water
Any time there is the slightest suspicion of a family member, friend or household pet being a carrier, thorough testing should be complete. Proper support for these tests to be conducted accurately and the results subsequently interpreted with appropriate treatment counsel.
Diagnosis in parasitic diseases depends on many variables including:
- The clinical pattern of illness in the individual and a history of their exposure.
- Identification of the parasite itself through the stool, urine, blood or specific tissues.
- Indirect evidence of the parasites existence through testing the individuals’ blood for antibodies.
- A detection of antigens for the parasite through clinical specimens.
- Also through clinical specimens, a detection of the parasites DNA or RNA may be found.
Dietary support to minimize exposure is the first step to consider. The following guidelines should be carefully considered:
- Consume and use only purified water for drinking, cooking with and
when possible for bathing in also. I like to wash all my vegetables
and fruits in purified water. (I have an ultraviolet light sterilizer
as well as a micron filtration and ozone to ensure the purity of my
household water). Boiling water may kill many parasitic infections.
- Insure that you properly wash all raw foods for consumption. (This
may make eating out impossible)
- Insure that cooked foods are cooked thoroughly and properly prepared.
- Limit your consumption of mucous producing foods including dairy products, gluten containing grains and gelatin (this makes for a less sticky or habitable environment in the intestines).
We have learned that we can come in contact and become hosts for parasites in many ways including through ingestion of contaminated food. This can be almost anything like, water, fruits, vegetables, grains, poultry, fish or meat. We can also become infected from our skin by walking bare foot. I have even heard of ingesting pin worm eggs while shaking eggs of infected sheets and inhaling. The fact is our pets can be carriers. Parasitic infection is not a classist or regional issue, on the contrary it permeates all regions, races and classes and is a serious issue for the world-wide traveler. Humans have become hosts to a wide variety of scavengers that survive by thieving from us and relieving themselves of their own toxic burden directly into our systems.
We can all wash our hands more frequently, avoid barefoot walks outside and garden with gloves. Ensuring that our nails are kept cut short and cleaned underneath is advised when dealing with pinworms. Wearing “tighty whities” to keep the eggs from getting onto sheets has been mentioned. We can also manage our pets more carefully, minimizing their exposure and thereby minimizing human exposure. Cyclical testing for pets with any exposure to the outside world has been advised and appropriate treatment and care follows.
There are many ways in which we can be pro active with parasites. The first step is education. Acknowledging their existence and learning about their habitats are a good place to start. Your health care provider will provide you with proper testing and treatment. Be aware that testing is not always accurate and many laboratories do not have the means to detect the full gamut of potential parasites. You may also consider your local herbalist or nutritional counselor as they may have much knowledge in the treatment for these buggers. Always consider working with a professional to ensure that you enjoy the best possible support while regaining your health.
In a way, we as humans are parasites of the earth as we live and consume from her and leave her with our waste. Understanding this relationship may be an important step in living in harmony with all life.
Consider reading any of Dr. Sky Weintraub’s excellent books, especially
The Parasite Menace.
Also read by Louise Anne Gittleman
Guess who’s Coming to Dinner
For great pictures and more information check out:
Atlas of Medical Helminthology and Protozoology by P.L. Chiodini, A.H. Moody, and D.W. Manser
“Feed the worms”, that is the advice of a 7th grade girl
from Ridgeline Montessori in Eugene, Oregon. I am pretty sure she was
referring to the worms in our compost. Hee hee
Illustrations by Kiki Metzler
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