By Dr. Skye Weintraub

Parasites should be an important part of every medical evaluation in cases of illness, especially digestive problems. Many parasites go undetected because they are not producing serious symptoms, or only produce symptoms at one stage in their lives. It is easy to attribute feeling ill to other causes because parasitic infections can look like a hundred other conditions.

Whether you are currently feeling sick or not, you may be harboring parasites. Most people are unaware that these organisms are living inside them.

How do we get parasites?

Parasites live everywhere and are commonly transmitted to humans in diverse ways. These include through insect bites, drinking contaminated water, and eating undercooked meats and fish.

Eating raw foods always increases the risk for parasites. Although we see the value in raw fruits and vegetables, they can harbor parasites. In our global world, it is not always possible to control the "quality assurance" of imported foods, and this may be one of the greatest factors in the spread of parasites.

Parasites can also get into the body by unwashed hands being put into the mouth after being in contact with something that has the parasite in or on it. This could be by shaking hands, sharing drinks, kissing, and even inhaling dust that contains the eggs or cysts of these organisms. Close contact with companion pets and other animals is another way to acquire parasites.

What does a parasite eat?

Some organisms just love sugar or other simple carbohydrates. If you also love sugar, then it would stand to reason that this is the kind of parasite you would attract. Parasites often eat the nutrients supplied to your body before you use them.

Commonly found parasites

The size of parasites range from very small microscopic amebas to very large intestinal worms that can grow to several feet long. Over 100 common types of human parasites are known, and humans can host more than one kind at a time.

In the United States, the most common are the microscopic protozoan varieties such as Giardia lamblia and Blastocystis hominis. They are often waterborne. Then there are the parasitic worms, including pinworms, roundworms, and tapeworms. These are usually acquired from eating contaminated meat that is not cooked sufficiently.

Where do parasites live?

Any part of the body can be visited by some type of parasite. About one-third of the parasites in humans live in the digestive tract, with the other two-thirds living elsewhere. Sometimes, the same parasite can move to many different parts of the body.

What are some of the symptoms?

It is amazing that so many people think that having diarrhea, gas, constipation, bloating, stomach pain, or other digestive problems, as well as skin rashes, fatigue, and other vague symptoms are just things to live with. Symptoms can come from anywhere in the body because parasites can occur anywhere.

Parasites may be involved in Crohn’s disease, ulcerative colitis, and arthritis symptoms. They could also be linked to food or environmental allergies that develop for no apparent reason.

What to do

Although natural and herbal remedies abounded in earlier times, drugs are now generally prescribed for parasites. Unfortunately, many drugs are not as effective as they once were. According to Louis Parrish, M.D., Flagyl, a first-line killer of protozoa, is only 5 percent effective. Most drugs also come with a long list of side effects.

Many health practitioners now recommend herbal remedies. These remedies use a number of herbs with antiparasitic properties.

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