Intestinal parasites are micro-organisms that live in the intestines. Some cause problems while others can live for long periods in the bowel without causing symptoms or requiring treatment.
A parasite survives by hijacking another organism. It uses up the organisms nutrients and leaves behind toxic waste products. Obviously, we would be much happier without having these minuscule hangers-on around!
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Types of Parasite
There are four different groups of parasite: roundworms, single celled protozoa, tapeworms and flukes.
Roundworms – May affect up top 25% of the world’s population. They range from blood sucking hookworm that can grow to the size of a pencil to the highly contagious pinworms which are commonly picked up in crowded areas such as schools and day care centres.
Protozoa – Minuscule, single celled organisms. Protozoa form cysts, or a resting stage, where they become resistant to temperature extremes, chemicals and drying. Humans can easily ingest these small cysts and many of us have been exposed. Usually they’re kept in check by our immune systems, but if we become run down due to stress or illness an outbreak can occur.
Tapeworms – Common throughout the world, tapeworms are long and ribbon-like. Humans can ingest tapeworm larvae by eating raw or under cooked beef, pork and fish or from coming in contact with infected animals or contaminated grains. Tapeworms live in our intestines and absorb nutrients through their skin.
Flukes – These are tiny flat worms that look like odd-shaped pancakes. Humans can become infected by eating raw or under cooked seafood, eating infected vegetation like water chestnuts or watercress or drinking or wading in infected water. Once inside the body, flukes migrate to various organs and may cause liver swelling, jaundice, weakened lungs and blood clots.
There are over 100 different types of parasites that can live in human hosts and parasitic infections are on the rise. As populations merge and more people travel the chance of catching or passing on a parasitic infection rises.
Lifecycle of a Parasite
Most are transmitted through fecally contaminated food, water or other materials. Contaminated water supplies are a particular problem because many cysts are not killed by usual levels of chlorination – especially the common pathogens Giardia, which is relatively chlorine-resistant, and Cryptosporidium, which is >50-fold more resistant to chlorine than Giardia. Few water supplies are equipped with the sophisticated and expensive filtration systems necessary to effectively control these organisms
People become infected with intestinal worms through contact with soil that has been contaminated with faeces from an infected person. This can be through ingesting contaminated food or water.
People become infected with hookworm when the larvae burrow through the skin of bare feet.
Signs & Symptoms
The most common symptoms of intestinal parasitic infections are abdominal pain and moderate or severe diarrhea, but there is a wide range of both acute and chronic effects. These symptoms may last for weeks and return several times a year. Other parasites are nearly harmless (at least in small quantities) and often don’t cause symptoms.
But parasites can contribute to or cause many conditions including;
- Mucous in stools
- Abdominal cramps and gas
- Restlessness, especially at night
- Listlessness and generally feeling unwell.
- Hunger or loss of appetite
- Fuzzy thinking
- Hair loss
- Night time teeth grinding
- Vaginal irritation
- Joint pain
- Nervous diseases
- Immune dysfunction
- Chronic fatigue
Parasitic infections can trigger autoimmune reactivity. The parasite might cause tissue destruction, thus releasing high amounts of self antigens which stimulate the autoreactivity.
Testing for parasites
If you have been suffering from the symptoms above, or have recently been travelling you might like to consider having stool test for parasites you can buy a parasite test here
This is a thorough analysis to detect the presence of intestinal parasites, as well as detecting any imbalances in gut flora and presence of fungal pathogens. If a parasitic infection is found Smart Nutrition could then put together an effective diet and elimination protocol to help to remove the parasites and restore intestinal balance.
Nutrient Deficiencies – As parasite populations build up over time, many of the health problems they cause can become chronic. Worms in particular can cause malnutrition as they rob the body of food – either by reducing appetite, or by preventing food from being absorbed properly once it has been eaten. This can lead to nutrient deficiencies and may cause children to become stunted and underweight. If you have had a long term parasitic infection it is advisable to get you nutrient levels checked. A Vitamin and Mineral Screen gives a comprehensive overview and nutrient status and can be used to target any insufficiencies that may have developed.
Food allergies or intolerances – The long-term presence of parasites may contribute to the development of food Intolerances. A normal healthy gut lining allows certain molecules to pass across into the bloodstream such as vitamins, minerals and digested foods. It also acts as a barrier to prevent entry of larger damaging molecules. When there is damage to the intestinal lining by parasites, it can open up slightly and this allows larger particles, such as undigested or partially digested foods and bacteria, to enter into the bloodstream. The immune system is not used to these particles and reacts to them by launching an allergic response. If you are experiencing food sensitivity symptoms it may be that your immune system has started to become intolerant or allergic to a particular food. To find out what’s causing your symptoms why not consider A Food Allergy or Intolerance Test.
Poor digestion – One of the roles of stomach acid other than to break down protein in the stomach is to kill off any ingested bugs that may cause food poisoning and also parasites. If your digestion isn’t working optimally then these bugs will not be killed off effectively so if you suffer from other digestive problems then it may well be worth checking the efficiency of the whole digestive system and having A Comprehensive Digestive Stool Analysis Plus Parasitology.
Leaky gut -Parasites are known to cause or contribute towards A Leaky Gut. A normal healthy gut lining allows certain molecules to pass across into the bloodstream such as vitamins, minerals and digested foods. It also acts as a barrier to prevent entry of larger damaging molecules, foreign particles and bacteria. When there is damage to the intestinal lining it can open up slightly and this allows larger particles, such as undigested or partially digested foods and bacteria, to enter into the bloodstream. The immune system is not used to these particles and sees them as foreign and produces anti-bodies against them. This leads to inflammation, irritation and an allergic like reaction. To test for a leaky gut click here.