Parasites are linked to a host of health problems—even cancer, says Dr Leigh Erin Connealy. Here’s how to spot the symptoms and what to do if you’re infected
When it comes to cancer, people don’t often think of the role of parasites—those organisms that live on or in another species, usually at the expense of the host. But there is certainly a connection.
Any infection in the body, be it bacterial, viral, fungal or parasitic, can create an imbalance. This disruption in the homeostatic environment can lead to immune system malfunction, increased inflammation and other serious health concerns. Chronic inflammation and long-term, often-overlooked infections can also create a breeding ground for malignant cells.
A landmark study published in Medical Sciences noted that more than 20 percent of cancers have infectious origins. In some cases, parasites “induce host cell transformation,” while research examining other widespread cases has traced them back to parasitic infections for decades.
According to the study’s authors, these single-celled parasites take over cellular pathways and force host cells to function for their benefit instead of the host’s. “In doing so,” the researchers say, “they tinker with the same pathways as those deregulated during cancer onset.”1
Even the American Cancer Society states outright that “certain parasitic worms that can live inside the human body can also raise the risk of developing some kinds of cancer.”2
Cancer aside, parasitic infections come with a laundry list of other health concerns. These easily contracted infections are hard to detect and more prevalent than you might imagine. Even if you live in an industrialized nation, parasites are still a genuine risk.
Researchers estimate that globally, roughly 3.5 billion people are affected by parasites. Of those, 450 million people are symptomatic, and 200,000-plus deaths from these infections are reported annually.3
Parasites can enter the body in several ways, including exposure to contaminated food, water or soil; bites by infected mosquitos, flies, ticks or other bugs; unprotected sex; and consumption of undercooked meat.
One reason parasitic infections are so baffling is that the list of health concerns and symptoms stemming from them is long and varied. Common symptoms include fever, muscle aches, abdominal bloating, fatigue, nausea, vomiting and diarrhea. Unexplained skin rashes or other irritations, inexplicable hunger after meals, rapid weight loss, and anemia are other problems that parasites can cause.
In addition to stealing vital nutrients from the host, untreated or improperly treated parasites can cause cellular damage, take a significant toll on the immune system, carry transmittable pathogens and diseases, and seriously affect overall health.
The three most common parasites that cause significant problems in humans are protozoa, helminths and ectoparasites.4
Protozoa are microscopic, single-celled parasites that can exist inside and outside the host. Examples of protozoa are amoebas, plasmodium, giardia and cryptosporidium. Symptoms of protozoan infections vary.
Infections that spread through contaminated food or water typically affect the gastrointestinal (GI) tract because protozoa live and multiply in the intestines; however, other organs can be affected as the parasite spreads. If the protozoan infection is transmitted via insect bite, fevers and inflammation are more commonly reported in addition to other physical complaints.
Like protozoa, helminths can live inside or outside the body. The difference is they are much larger, multi-celled parasitic worms. There are three main types.
These multi-celled organisms live on or feed on the skin and blood of the host. Fleas, ticks, mites, mosquitoes, lice, bedbugs and scabies are all examples of ectoparasites. These parasites are problematic as they can harbor and transmit harmful pathogens and diseases.
If you think you have parasites, testing is a must to determine the type of parasite and the correct treatment protocol. These are some of the most helpful tests.5
In preparation for treatment, you will want to prime your body’s defenses to help you fight the infection. If you have underlying medical conditions already taxing the immune system, such as heavy metal toxicity or a yeast overgrowth issue (Candida), it’s best to address those before starting antiparasitic protocols.
I often recommend patients undergo a detoxification or cleanse before treatment to give them the best chance of getting rid of parasites for good. Working with an integrative physician is crucial here, as they will use a multipronged approach that considers all aspects of health and well-being.
One system we have found to work exceptionally well is Cellcore’s Para Kit (cellcore.com). Also known as the Full Moon Kit, this parasite cleanse must be performed during the full moon for optimal results. Why is the timing so crucial? Everything in nature and life has a cycle, from the seasons to the months to the moon. The lunar cycle influences overall health because it affects the body’s neurotransmitters, chief among them melatonin and serotonin.
During a full moon, melatonin levels are low, serotonin levels are high and parasites are more mobile. The Full Moon Kit takes advantage of this and cleanses the body of these invaders when they are most active.
This four-part system uses natural supplements and ingredients that work synergistically and on a specific timeline to purge parasites from the body effectively. Again, working with a physician skilled in these natural cleanses who knows which treatment option is right for you is essential.
You can find a physician near you by checking with the American College for Advancement in Medicine at acam.org or with the Institute for Functional Medicine at ifm.org. If you’d like to learn more about becoming a patient at the Center for New Medicine, call (949) 680-1880 or visit cfnmedicine.com.
Several supplements and herbal extracts have proven to have antiparasitic activity. Here are some of the most promising.
Garlic. Since ancient times, people have used garlic as a natural antimicrobial and antifungal agent. Its active compound, allicin, is released when garlic is freshly crushed. Garlic has also been shown in studies to have antiparasitic properties.6 It’s a natural immune booster as well, and it’s a great idea to incorporate fresh garlic into your antiparasitic protocol.
Suggested dosage: 500 mg three times daily
Clove and clove oil. This spice and its essential oil also have powerful medicinal properties, making them an excellent addition to any antiparasitic treatment regimen. Antimicrobial, antiviral and antibacterial cloves also boast antioxidant power.7
Cloves can be eaten whole, steeped in a tea or taken in capsules. The essential oil must be food-grade and taken in small doses for no longer than 10 days. Do not take cloves if you are pregnant, have a bleeding disorder or are on blood-thinning medication.
Suggested dosage: Chew two or three whole cloves on an empty stomach daily; steep 1–2 teaspoons ground cloves in hot water and strain twice daily; or dilute one drop clove oil in 4 oz (125 mL) of liquid daily
Essential oils. Continually studied for their health benefits, basil, oregano and thyme essential oils appear to have some degree of antimicrobial potential, with oregano being the standout.8
Suggested dosage: 500 mg or 30 drops three times daily
Berberine. Best known for its role in naturally treating diabetes, high cholesterol and high blood pressure, berberine is also an excellent plant-based parasite treatment that you should strongly consider.
An article published in Alternative Medical Review stated, “Berberine extracts and decoctions have demonstrated significant antimicrobial activity against a variety of organisms, including bacteria, viruses, fungi, protozoans, helminths and chlamydia.”9
Suggested dosage: 500 mg three times daily
Probiotics. Whatever protocols you and your doctor decide on, restoring your gut health is essential. A high-quality probiotic supplement is in order because many parasites live in and negatively affect the GI tract. Research continues to pour in about the vital role of the GI tract in immunity and overall health, so getting your gut microbiome in smooth working order should be a top priority—whether you have parasites or not.
Suggested dosage: Try MegaSporeBiotic by Microbiome Labs, 2 capsules daily, or another spore-based probiotic
LED lights have been used since the 1960s for conditions related to chronic pain. And now, the latest in multi-spectrum LED light treatments—Firefly light therapy—has evolved and branched out into other areas, including fighting pathogens such as parasites. Once an F-scan reveals the parasites’ location, this painless, targeted light therapy can be employed.
Utilizing powerful wavelengths of light, Firefly light therapy works in multiple ways: it decreases inflammation, increases ATP, boosts vascular activity, improves lymphatic drainage, promotes faster healing, and stimulates nerve function.
In addition to treating pathogenic infections (including parasites), this remarkable therapy is helpful for neuropathy and other pain syndromes, autoimmune disorders, and more. Don’t just take my word for it; you can view patient testimonials at cfnmedicine.com/patient-testimonials.
Natural substances and alternative therapies are excellent for treating most parasitic infections; however, in some cases, more potent prescription medications may be warranted. Though several types of antiparasitic drugs are available, they can be grouped into three categories based on the types of infections they treat.10
Some parasitic infections are extremely difficult to treat, so it may be necessary to cycle through several antiparasitic medications. Work closely with your integrative physician to ensure the proper protocols are used, and make sure you have your liver function tested throughout the process.
If these ailments sound familiar or you have any of the following unexplained symptoms, you may have parasites.11
If any of these symptoms are present, you should talk to your integrative physician about getting tested for parasites.
As is the case with most health concerns, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Here are a few guidelines for reducing your risk of parasite infection.12
Wash your hands frequently. Always wash before and after preparing food (especially raw meat), before eating, after using the restroom and after changing diapers.
Skip the pool if you have diarrhea. Wait at least two weeks to visit a public pool to avoid spreading a potential infection.
Be mindful of safe food habits. Store food properly, cook meat and poultry to the recommended minimum temperatures, and peel or wash your vegetables and fruit well before consuming.
Practice safe sex. Use condoms and dental dams for any sexual acts.
Avoid bug bites. Use bug spray (choose a DEET-free, natural option such as Incognito Insect Repellent), sleep with a mosquito net if you are in an area known to be problematic, wear protective clothing, and check your body for fleas and ticks when spending time in the woods or tall, grassy areas.
Know the risks of traveling before you go. Do your homework and see if you need to take additional steps before arriving.