Introduction to Parasitology
Do You Have Worms?
How do you know if you should take a wormer? Signs of internal (often intestinal) worms include:
- Abdominal Cramping
- Anxiety and Nervousness
- Brain Fog
- Bruxism (Grinding the teeth—especially at night time)
- Clear Mucous Strands in the Stool (Yes you should be looking at it each time you go! And yes, I will ask you what it looks like when you consult with me.)
- Dark Circles Around and Under the Eyes
- Difficulty Sleeping
- Dry Lusterless Hair with Split Ends
- Frequent Infections such as Colds or Yeast
- Heart Palpitations
- Increased Cramping (Menstrual)
- Joint or Muscle Pain
- Pain in the Lower Right Quadrant that comes and goes (Spasms in the Ileocecal Valve)
- Pica Appetite (cravings—often for sugar or salt)
- Poor Coordination
- Big pot bellies due to the lack of intestinal tone
- Skin Conditions
- Stomach Problems
- Yeast Infections
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Here are the common worms humans are exposed to:
- Protozoal Parasites
- Loa loa
- Salmon Poisoning
- Diphyllobothrium latum
- Dipylidium caninum
- Taenia pisiformis
- Taenia saginata
- Taenia solium
The connection between parasites and health problems is very strong. This concept is very accepted in third world countries but ignored in developed countries. Why? And with as many outdated water-treatment systems, international travel, imported food and use of massive amounts of antibiotics, our bodies are very susceptible to parasites. I read one resource that stated that as many as 73% of people struggle with symptoms caused by parasites that lead to weight gain. As a veterinarian, I’ve found that parasites are very common and I recommend routine worming once or twice a year to keep my animal patients (and myself) healthy.
How do you get worms? We pick up worms from some of the things we eat, from the dirt, and from the dust we breathe in. Craving dirt and eating dirt it is a sign of iron deficiency. We should talk if you are doing that. . . I got pin worms when I was a little girl by eating a mud pie (my friend said she’d give me a nickel if I did it!)
More than 130 different species of parasites have been found in U.S. food, water, air and soil. Some of those can cause problems in humans.
Most adults (pets and people) have enough enzymes in their mouths to break down and kill off most of the eggs coming in through our mouth and nose. Our stomach acids break down even more. And then there are some eggs that get by both of those back-up systems. This is when problems can occur as the parasite eggs hatch, attach or inhabit somewhere in our bodies and then grow into adults. In the case of the roundworm, these adult parasites are producing more eggs within just 14 days—millions of them in their lifetime. Yuk!
The definition of a parasite is an organism which cannot live without a host organism. Parasites rely on the host to provide something they need, and in the process of taking what they need they can often cause the host harm, but it does its best not to kill the host or its home no longer exists!
Parasites which we are most familiar with are usually the multi-cellular kind, such as fleas, ticks, intestinal worms, lice and leeches. Parasites, which can often cause us even greater distress are the one-celled or unicellular organisms called protozoan parasites or protozoa.
Protozoa are microscopic unicellular organisms which are as complex, if not even more so, than our bodies cells. Like our cells, they have a nucleus and highly specialized organelles; however they also have a complex life cycle, which includes different stages of maturation such as eggs, oocysts, pre-adult and adult forms. As hosts we provide the specialized environment where these protozoa can live, grow, and reproduce!
We visually see worms most commonly in baby animals and human babies because their salivary enzymes are not as strong, their hydrochloric stomach acids have not been totally developed yet, and because they often put lots of things into their mouths. Babies just ingest more dirt than adults. Their immune systems cannot keep up with that. The “load” (number of worms) gets so great in the small intestine that the adult worms spill into the large intestine and into the stomach. This is why it is so common to see babies either vomit worms or poop them out.
Because adults have a better immune system, fewer worms survive so it’s harder to medically diagnose that you have them. Often it takes several samples over a lengthy time to actually be able to see evidence of parasites in a stool, skin or urine sample. Yet, the patient is still infected and experiencing the symptoms. This can be really annoying to everyone involved, including your doctors, because we really WANT to help you!
The most common parasites I see in both my veterinary and naturopathic practices are internal parasites.
One reason why I push so much for routine worming is that the medical field often misses this diagnosis—especially if you don’t have a history of traveling outside the United States where parasites are often a big issue. I love working in my garden and often I am an open-mouth breather when I’m working up the soil. We also live in a windy area and dirt from the wheat and grass fields is often in the air. I try to wash my hands frequently, but anyone who works in the dirt knows that it’s nearly impossible to keep from getting it on you.
Another reason why I stay on top of the worm situation is that worms carry viruses into our body. Some of these viruses can cause cancer, Parkinson’s, multiple sclerosis, and a host of other horrid diseases.
I’ve noticed that some medical doctors resist dispensing prescriptions for anthelmetics (wormers) and many ridicule the suggestion when a client asks for a wormer. . . Sad.
How to convince your doctor you need to be wormed:
- Copy off supporting data showing your symptoms are associated with worms. Merck Manuals (one book most doctors have on their bookshelves) are readily available at your local library.
- Write down some history as to when you think you might have been exposed to them.
- Ask the question, “We’ve tried everything else, doc. How could this hurt? I’ve read that most dewormers are cheap, easy, safe and effective.”
Most doctors respect your input and will put greater thought into prescribing medications when you’ve done your homework and ask intelligent questions.
Had your water tested lately? People can get lots of parasites from the water they drink and even the water used to clean salad greens (especially when you are visiting less developed countries.) And parasites can live in your gut for years after drinking out of that creek just once on a camping trip long, long ago. If you have a well, your water should be tested at least once a year for bacteria and protozoal parasites. To read more about that, go to our water section.
Did you know that worms can make you fat and give you “leaky gut”? Here’s how this happens:
1) Parasites block absorption of nutrients in the small intestine. Many parasites live in the small intestine where they absorb nutrients you take in. Some of them attach to the inside of the intestine with tiny little teeth while others just lie in a clump sometimes moving up and down the intestine depending on the foods you eat therefore causing gas, constipation and diarrhea. Worms cause the inside of your intestines to be irritated and inflamed so that they can’t function properly.
Because the intestines are irritated, they cannot efficiently absorb vitamins, minerals, fats and other nutrients that balance hormones, stabilize blood sugar and boost metabolism.
2) Parasites are often responsible for yeast overgrowth inside the body as they hinder the growth of beneficial bacteria in the gut. This causes gas, bloating and pain as the stretch receptors (called nociceptors) inside the gut are activated. A normal amount of yeast is always in the gut, but when the flora is imbalanced, these yeast get out of control and reproduce too quickly. (See my Yeast Tactics handouts for a list of yeast symptoms in each part of the body.)
3) Parasites cause the body to become acid and toxic. When this happens, excess fluid is retained inside and outside the cells making weight loss virtually impossible!
4) Parasites make your kidneys and liver work extra hard to clean up toxins produced by the parasites. This leads to increased fluid retention, fatigue, irritability and even more weight gain.
Natural Wormers: There are lots of natural wormers out there. Some are more effective than others. Some natural wormers I’ve used are: Garlic, Cloves, Cranberry, Black Walnut, Cilantro, Wormwood, Raw Hulled Pumpkin Seeds, Pomegranate, Diatomaceous Earth, Rascal, Zymex, Vermifuge, and homeopathics specific for each worm, but nothing at times, seems as effective as the correct pharmaceutical wormer—only these are harder to obtain without a doctor’s prescription.
Diatomaceous Earth: Only natural untreated Diatomaceous Earth should be used for insect, parasite or worm control. Diatomaceous Earth works by clogging the breathing apparatus of insects which suffocates the insect and by grinding away the outer coat called the cuticle of the intestinal parasites. Unfortunately DE may make asthma symptoms worse. Not all diatomaceous earth (DE) is alike. Stay away from filtration types. The DE used for filtration purposes (pools, spas, etc.) has undergone chemical and heat treatment. The heat treatment greatly increases the percentage of crystalline silica, which poses a serious inhalation risk. DE has high crystalline silica content and some DE has high levels of arsenic in it.
Note: When I had my practice in Oregon, there was a natural pest control agency in the area. They used Diatomaceous Earth in the carpets, let it sit overnight and had the owners vacuum it up the next day. The problem I saw with it was that the cats would get under the bed where the vacuum didn’t and they would come in with a bad case of asthma from breathing in all that silica dust.
If you don’t know which wormers to use or they are not available to you, you may want to schedule an appointment with me and we can discuss which would be the best to supplement your program with. We carry a wide variety of these herbs in bulk and you can get pumpkin seeds, garlic and pomegranate products from your local health food store. Links for diatomaceous earth can be found under the links and references section at the bottom of the handout.
I’ve also tried the Hulda Clarke “Zapper” (which does not work by the way, because the voltage of the thing is not strong enough to penetrate the fecal material within the bowels—save your money by not purchasing or building one!)
Tip: Parasites thrive on simple carbs such as white flour, sugar and rice. Eliminating these from your diet for a 2-month period or more while on natural wormers will help in their effectiveness. I would also recommend a 5-day water only fast where appropriate. You’ll want to work with a naturopath such as myself to get ready for a fast like that. And you’ll want daily support when you begin, so arrange that ahead of time.
I always ask my new clients if they have any food cravings. One sure sign they are “wormy” is when they tell me they crave cloves. Clove oil has been shown to penetrate the egg and kill it where the other herbs only kill the adults. Sometimes people who crave salt have tapeworms. Herbs that kill parasites are often found in herbal cancer formulas because parasites are often a core cause of that particular disease.
The Healing Crisis: When too many parasites die all at once in your body, they can release large doses of cellular waste and toxins. Please review my handout on The Healing Crisis, but for gas, bloating or intestinal discomfort you will want to add in FOS (Fructo Oligo Saccharide) to your supplement program along with a refrigerated form of probiotics. Eating a couple cups of yogurt daily for a few days may also help. Peppermint tea helps calm the stomach and cover up the bad breath from detoxification, and drinking lots of water during this time will help flush the toxins as well.
Usually one to three doses of the proper pharmaceutical wormer is all it takes if you are worming appropriately each year, but you may have to give a second dose 7-10 days after the first dose for the initial worming. I use a roundworm wormer once a year for myself as I have had a history of heart palpitations (another symptom associated with parasites.) The worms will be dead within 20 minutes using doctor or veterinarian-prescribed wormers. You won’t feel anything and should have no side-effects. Occasionally I see a pet get nauseated with an overdose, but in 30 years, I have never seen any other side-effect. No, you won’t likely see them pass in your stool. On the other hand, it will take up to several months using natural wormers to kill off those buggers and you may very well see worms pass in the toilet. If you have a question about what you see, and I know this is gross but, it’s really quite helpful to collect the specimen and put it into a jar then refrigerate it until you can have the worm identified by your doctor, a local university parasitologist or even your veterinarian.
Questions from my Clients:
Question: Are these worms in the toilet? Sending pictures!
Kara: NICE PICTURES! But these are not worms. They are intestinal shreds. Your intestine is shedding! The curls on the left are small intestinal shreds where the whole inside of your small intestine has sloughed off in a cord. The inside of the intestine has all those kinds of ripples and bumps normally. The one on the right looks like a fluke (which is actually part of the large intestine—maybe a pocket or diverticulum of some kind), but if you follow the shred to the right and downward, it’s attached to more intestinal shred.
Now, the question is why? And, by the way, it looks like you need to chew your food quite a bit more. Your digestive track is seemingly not being able to digest your raw veggies. The carrots are coming out in chunks in one of the photos that you sent.
Hey, I’ve seen this a few times. I’m glad you made and appointment. There IS something wrong. We just need to find the core cause and go from there. Now, I’m not saying you don’t need to be wormed again with something. You really can’t see protozoal organisms with the naked eye, but these are not worms. So, breathe, relax, and let’s get with what’s really going on. OK Kara? Denice
(See what fun I have here?)