- We often think that we don’t have a parasite problem in the U.S., but the reality is that parasitic infection is extremely common, and can cause all kinds of different symptoms that may overlap with Lyme symptoms.
- “Kissing bugs” called triatomines that like to bite people on and around the mouth and eyes are spreading “silent killer” Chagas disease throughout the US.
- Chagas can live quietly in the body for decades, eventually leading to digestive issues and heart disease.
- Climate change is increasing the spread of parasites throughout the United States.
- Toxocara parasites, primarily found on cats and dogs, are infecting millions of children throughout the US who are coming into contact with their eggs in parks and playgrounds.
- Toxocara infection can lead to cognitive impairment in children and adults and frequently goes undetected.
- Two parasitic worms recently came back to life and started moving and eating again after being frozen in Siberian permafrost for more than 30,000 years.
- Parasites found in infected, undercooked pork are causing seizures and neurological symptoms in patients across the U.S. as larvae travel to the brain and forms cysts.
- Parasites are much more common than we think. They come in many different shapes and sizes and cause different kinds of symptoms, making it difficult to pinpoint infection.
- Many experts believe that most of us do have parasites.
- Symptoms of Lyme and symptoms of parasites often overlap, and recovery from Lyme is impossible without addressing parasites.
- Parasites are spread in a number of different ways including in the food we eat, the water we drink, and even the air we breathe. Having a weakened immune system makes us more susceptible to parasitic infection.
- Parasites can cause many different kinds of symptoms that are often similar to the symptoms caused by other chronic illnesses and infections. Difficulty sleeping is a common symptom as parasites are most active at night.
- Parasite testing is flawed as parasites don’t necessarily come out in every bowel movement, and once dead, they sometimes manage to dissolve themselves before reaching the lab. The best approach is to assume that parasites are present and focus on cleansing.
- It is essential to focus on drainage before eliminating parasites to ensure that cleansing is done safely and effectively, and to reduce the risk of die-off symptoms.
- For more in-depth guidance on this and other critical steps towards recovery, sign up for my at-home Lyme disease program or apply for one-on-one coaching.
PARASITES IN THE NEWS
Parasites are somewhat elusive to many of us. In the US, we often think that we don’t need to worry about them, assuming instead that they are primarily a problem in tropical countries. Because we don’t tend to see or hear about them here, and because most conventional doctors don’t discuss them with us, they often go undetected, quietly causing harm and contributing to chronic illness.
Parasites can cause all kinds of different symptoms that often overlap with symptoms of other chronic infections or illnesses. In some cases, they don’t appear to cause any symptoms at all, even though they’re present. But as challenging as they can be to detect, parasites are the missing puzzle piece for many people who are suffering from Lyme disease and other chronic illnesses, and without addressing them, healing becomes impossible.
Parasites come in many shapes and sizes, and we never cease to be amazed by their methods of infection, destruction, and survival. The following are a few of the news stories we’ve come across recently that have stopped us in our tracks.
Remember, awareness is key! It may be scary sometimes to read about parasites in the news and think about the many different ways that they can inflict harm, but it’s always better to know about the possibilities and the signs and to address them if and when you suspect them.
Triatomines– sometimes referred to as “kissing bugs” because of their tendency to bite people on or near their mouths– are bloodsucking bugs found throughout the Americas that often carry and spread insidious parasitic infections. Triatomines have typically been found in Mexico, Central America, South America, and the Southern US, but have now begun to spread throughout more northern states as well 1.
The “kissing bug”, which likes to bite people around the eyes or the mouth, spreads Chagas disease through the Trypanosoma cruzi parasite found in its feces. Experts estimate that approximately 50% of triatomines are Chagas carriers.
In some cases, symptoms develop– and then go away– within a few weeks. These early symptoms may include swelling in the area of the bite (often above the eye), fever, headaches, difficulty breathing, and body aches. During this early stage, Chagas may be detected with a blood test.
In many cases, though, symptoms do not immediately occur, and therefore Chagas is not detected. The parasite, sometimes called the “silent killer”, can live quietly within the body for years– even decades– before ultimately causing digestive illness and/or heart disease, stroke, or heart attack 2. The World Health Organization estimates that up to 30% of individuals infected with Chagas are experiencing digestive and cardiac symptoms 10-30 years after having been bitten.
Around the world, Chagas is responsible for at least 10,000 deaths per year. Within the US, Chagas has been reported in 30 states. This number may grow as climate change persists, inspiring the “kissing bug” to venture farther north. In fact, climate change is increasing the spread of harmful parasites of all kinds 3.
The New York Times recently published an article detailing our alarming exposure to Toxocara parasites in the US, the symptoms that they can cause, and our limited ability to identify the problem.
Toxocara roundworms are primarily found in cats and dogs. The parasite’s microscopic eggs come out in these animals’ feces, and can spread throughout parks, playgrounds, streets, and backyards. Kids can easily come into contact with these parasitic eggs when playing outside, and end up ingesting them. When the eggs hatch in our bodies, they release larvae that can roam around in the body and make their way to the brain.
A recent report estimates that 5% of the US population have ingested Toxocara eggs 4. The trouble is– as is the case with most parasites– it’s tough to recognize the symptoms, and not many doctors are looking for them to begin with.
Some people who are exposed to Toxocara roundworms experience symptoms including fever, abdominal pain, coughing, difficulty breathing, and fatigue at the onset of their infection, while others will experience no symptoms at all. Toxocara can also lead to systemic inflammation, liver damage, and damaged eyesight or even blindness if larvae get into the eyes.
A particularly troubling study found that children who tested positive for Toxocara exposure scored lower on tests, indicating a correlation between the parasite and cognitive function 5. A study on adults found a similar association 6, and a study on mice exposed to Toxocara also demonstrated an impaired ability to learn.
Because we know that larvae travel to the brain, these effects are not entirely surprising– but unfortunately, in spite of these studies as well as a survey of New York City parks that found Toxocara eggs in almost half of the playgrounds, there is still very little awareness of the problem within the medical community.
It may sound like something out of a science fiction movie, but two roundworms that had been frozen for over 30,000 years recently came back to life. The worms were discovered in Siberia, where they’d been frozen in permafrost since the Pleistocene age. After being defrosted and placed in Petri dishes, researchers observed as two of the unfrozen worms began to move and even eat again. At 32,000 and 41,700 years old, they earned the titles of oldest living animals in the world. Just in case we needed a reminder of parasitic worms’ unbelievable determination and ability to survive.
Pork (particularly when it’s been undercooked) is known as one of the most common causes of parasitic infection. Recently, infected pork has been receiving extra attention for its links to seizures across the US.
How do parasites found in pork lead to seizures? When we eat infected, undercooked pork, we may be ingesting tapeworm eggs. These eggs can then hatch in our intestines, and the larvae can travel all the way to the brain where they can lead to the development of cysts. This is called neurocysticercosis 7, and can cause headaches, nausea and vomiting, and meningitis, as well as seizures. There are now more than 2000 cases of neurocysticercosis reported in the US per year, causing doctors and researchers to begin to take notice and develop new treatment guidelines 8
Every once in a while, a story hits the news that just makes you want to squirm. Although these cases are sometimes extreme and may not happen every day, they are a reminder that parasites can affect anyone. And for every parasite story that makes the news, we know that there are thousands, if not millions of us with hidden parasites of our own.
Here are some of the stories that have caught our attention recently:
A woman went to the hospital after six months of abdominal pain so bad that she could barely stand up, persistent fever, vomiting, and extreme weight loss. After originally being misdiagnosed and prescribed antibiotics, a CT scan at the hospital found 14 roundworms that had made their way out of her intestine and into her bile ducts. This type of roundworm, called Ascaris lumbricoides, can make its way into our intestines when we ingest fruits or vegetables contaminated with its eggs.
One woman noticed a small bump below her left eye after a trip overseas. The bump didn’t stay there– after a couple of days, it moved above her eye. A few days after that bump disappeared, severe swelling began in her lip. The culprit? A parasitic roundworm travelling through her face. This parasite, dirofilaria repens 9, is transmitted via mosquito bites, and if undetected, can cause severe problems within the lungs. In that sense, this woman was lucky that the worm chose to wander around her face, making it easier to find and remove!
Within the US, a teenage boy recently contracted hookworms while playing in the sand on the beach in Florida, a woman found a live parasitic worm in a salmon filet she had purchased at Costco, and rat lungworms– once thought to only be a problem in tropical Asia– have infected individuals, many of whom had never traveled overseas, in at least 8 continental US states. 10
PARASITES ARE MORE COMMON THAN YOU MAY THINK
Stories of giant worms being pulled out of bile ducts and salmon filets are shocking and frightening, but what’s even more troubling is the fact that many of us are actually suffering at the hands of parasites without even knowing it.
Parasites are much more common than most people realize– including in the US. Some experts estimate that at least 50% of us have them, and many believe it’s probable that almost all of us do. Not all parasites are giant worms– many of them are actually microscopic. And, because parasites can cause so many different kinds of symptoms (and in some cases no symptoms at all), it’s easy for them to go undetected, especially as testing for parasites is flawed, and most doctors are still not looking for them in the first place.
The reality is that anyone can become infected with parasites, and parasites can contribute to and worsen all kinds of chronic illnesses and autoimmune conditions 11, making healing an even bigger challenge. And when your immune system is impaired because of chronic Lyme or another illness or infection, you are more prone to further infection from parasites.
No matter what you’re doing to try and eliminate Lyme, if you have parasites and your protocol does not address them, you will be unable to fully recover, and may feel like you’re going around and around in circles with your treatment. Symptoms of Lyme and symptoms of parasites often overlap, making it hard to pin down exactly what’s going on, but because of the high likelihood of parasitic infection and the critical importance of parasite cleansing, the best strategy is usually to approach treatment with the assumption that you do have parasites, and with the goal of eliminating them for overall healing.
PARASITE RISK FACTORS
There are many different kinds of parasites, and they spread in a number of different ways. Some common risk factors are:
- Swimming in and swallowing water from lakes, rivers, ponds, etc.
- Drinking contaminated water; eating food grown in contaminated soil
- Traveling to tropical countries
- Insect bites
- Eating raw fish or sushi; eating undercooked meat, especially pork
- Walking outside barefoot
- Sleeping with pets on the bed; allowing pets to lick your face
These are some of the primary ways that parasites spread, but we also have internal risk factors that make parasitic infection more likely to take hold. For example, a compromised immune system, another chronic infection, and/or chronic Lyme make us more susceptible. Dysbiosis and leaky gut make us more prone to parasitic infection as well. And, once we’ve been exposed to parasites, we may be feeding them and encouraging their growth by eating sugars and grains, and taking certain kinds of medications.
The symptoms of parasites vary widely, and as they often overlap with symptoms of Lyme and other chronic illnesses, they are challenging to pinpoint.
One of the biggest telltale signs of parasites is difficulty sleeping. This may mean difficulty falling asleep, difficulty staying asleep, restless sleep, grinding of teeth at night, Restless Leg Syndrome, or any combination of these, as well as being hungry at night. You may also wake up feeling exhausted even after a long sleep. All of these things occur because parasites are most active at night.
Other possible symptoms may include any combination of the following:
- Brain fog; forgetfulness
- Skin problems; itching; hives; eczema; rashes
- Intense food cravings; frequent, insatiable hunger; changes in appetite
- Decreased immune system function; susceptibility to illness
- Anxiety; depression; irritability
- Joint pain; muscle pain
- Anemia; B6 deficiency; zinc deficiency
- Difficulty sleeping
- Adrenal fatigue
- Bloating; constipation; diarrhea; abdominal pain or cramps; SIBO
- Heart pain; chest pain; difficulty breathing
- Numbness; tingling
- Trouble with sight; spots in front of eyes
THE TROUBLE WITH PARASITE TESTING
The fact that parasites so frequently go undetected is the result of a number of different factors. First, there’s the fact symptoms are often nonspecific, and sometimes even nonexistent. Most doctors in the US are not thinking about parasites, even though they are common here. And even when doctors are thinking about the possibility of parasites, testing is extremely flawed, and often results in false negatives.
There are a number of issues with parasite testing. To begin with, tests for parasites are usually stool tests where the lab is looking for parasites within a stool sample. This method may seem logical at first glance, but the trouble is that parasites don’t necessarily come out every time you have a bowel movement. You may end up paying for an expensive test and sending in a stool sample, only to receive a false negative back because your stool wasn’t collected at the time that your parasites were most active (something that would be pretty tough for you to control!).
Furthermore, parasites can actually dissolve themselves when they die, meaning that even if they do come out in your stool sample, they may no longer be there by the time the lab technician gets to it. And finally, because of the many different kinds of parasites out there, lab technicians may not always know exactly what to be looking for.
Ultimately, whether or not you want to pursue testing is up to you, and there are some testing options out there that are better than others. But although a positive parasite test may help to inform treatment, a negative parasite test does not at all rule out the possibility of parasites.
The most effective and proactive approach is to assume that parasites are present based on symptoms, and focus your time, energy, and resources on cleansing and eliminating them.
PARASITE CLEANSING & HEALING
Removing parasites from the body is a crucial step in healing from chronic Lyme and many other kinds of chronic illness, but it’s equally important to make sure that this step is taken carefully. Focusing on killing parasites too quickly without first addressing the function and draining capabilities of the liver, colon, gallbladder, and kidneys can result in severe die-off reactions and symptoms that may actually cause you to feel worse.
Our one-on-one coaching and at-home Lyme disease programs offer in-depth guidance for healing every step of the way, including drainage prior to parasite cleansing, and detailed protocols for cleansing.
When cleansing parasites, it’s important to make a few changes to the diet, including avoiding foods that can feed parasites such as sugars, grains, and alcohol. There are a number of helpful herbs, supplements, and other treatments that can be used to flush out parasites, bind onto ammonia, metals, and toxins that they produce, and cleanse the whole body safely.
Parasites are more common than many of us realize, and they are not always easily recognized because of the wide range of symptoms they can cause, and flaws in testing and diagnosis.
Worms that have come to life again after being frozen for 30,000+ years, parasites on playgrounds that are causing cognitive impairment, and parasites in pork that are causing seizures throughout the US have all come up in the news recently, and are all reminders of the importance of taking these critters seriously.
Parasite symptoms and Lyme symptoms often overlap, and without addressing parasites, we cannot fully heal from Lyme. Because of a number of challenges with testing, it’s best to assume that parasites are present, and to concentrate on cleansing and eliminating them– but only once drainage has been addressed, to ensure that the body is being supported during the process.
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- Nunes, M. C., Beaton, A., Acquatella, H., Bern, C., Bolger, A. F., Echeverría, L. E., . . . Marin-Neto, J. A. (2018). Chagas Cardiomyopathy: An Update of Current Clinical Knowledge and Management: A Scientific Statement From the American Heart Association. Circulation, 138(12). Web: https://www.ahajournals.org/doi/10.1161/CIR.0000000000000599 doi:10.1161/cir.0000000000000599
- Hoberg, E. P., & Brooks, D. R. (2015). Evolution in action: Climate change, biodiversity dynamics and emerging infectious disease. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences, 370(1665), 20130553-20130553. Web: http://rstb.royalsocietypublishing.org/content/370/1665/20130553 doi:10.1098/rstb.2013.0553
Farmer, A., Beltran, T., & Choi, Y. S. (2017). Prevalence of Toxocara species infection in the U.S.: Results from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, 2011-2014. PLOS Neglected Tropical Diseases, 11(7). Web: https://journals.plos.org/plosntds/article?id=10.1371/journal.pntd.0005818 doi:10.1371/journal.pntd.0005818
- Walsh, M. G., & Haseeb, M. (2012). Reduced cognitive function in children with toxocariasis in a nationally representative sample of the United States. International Journal for Parasitology,42(13-14), 1159-1163. Web: https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0020751912002470?via%3Dihub doi:10.1016/j.ijpara.2012.10.002
- Erickson, L. D., Gale, S. D., Berrett, A., Brown, B. L., & Hedges, D. W. (2015). Association between toxocariasis and cognitive function in young to middle-aged adults. Folia Parasitologica, 62. Web: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/?term=Association+between+toxocariasis+and+cognitive+function+in+young+to+middle-aged+adults doi:10.14411/fp.2015.048
- O’Neal, S. E., & Flecker, R. H. (2015). Hospitalization Frequency and Charges for Neurocysticercosis, United States, 2003–2012. Emerging Infectious Diseases, 21(6), 969-976. Web: https://dx.doi.org/10.3201/eid2106.141324.
- White, A. C., Coyle, C. M., Rajshekhar, V., Singh, G., Hauser, W. A., Mohanty, A., . . . Nash, T. E. (2018). Diagnosis and Treatment of Neurocysticercosis: 2017 Clinical Practice Guidelines by the Infectious Diseases Society of America (IDSA) and the American Society of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene (ASTMH). Clinical Infectious Diseases, 66(8). Web: https://academic.oup.com/cid/article/66/8/e49/4885412#112409016 doi:10.1093/cid/cix1084
- Kartashev, V., & Simon, F. (2018). Migrating Dirofilaria repens. New England Journal of Medicine,378(25). Web: https://www.nejm.org/doi/full/10.1056/NEJMicm1716138 doi:10.1056/nejmicm1716138
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