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Are You at Risk of Parasitic Infection? (What Can You Do About it?)
- Parasites are organisms that live on, or in a human or animal host. They cause disease and chronic illness in some cases, and can sometimes be fatal – as in the case of malaria.
- Parasites can come in the form of helminths, protozoa, and ectoparasites. Each of these parasites can be spread in a range of different ways, but most infections commonly come from bathing in, or drinking contaminated water, or eating food that was exposed to contaminated water.
- Certain parasitic diseases can be spread by different means. For instances, Chagas disease is frequently transmitted through organ transplants and blood transfusions, while Toxocariasis comes from dogs and cats.
- Anyone can suffer from a parasitic infection, though some are at greater risk than others. Immuno-compromised people, those who live in tropical or subtropical climates, and those without access to clean drinking water for instance, suffer from higher chance of infection.
- The best way to deal with parasites is to reduce your chances of infection. Dietary changes and the consumption of certain foods can help to create an intestinal environment that is healthy to you, but unfriendly to parasites. For instance, eating foods that are high in fiber and antioxidants can encourage good gastro-intestinal health, lowering your risk of infestation.
- Certain herbs and products like oregano oil, garlic, and kefir can all assist with preventing parasites, and killing off signs of parasites when infections do occur. These ingredients are often used as part of a parasitic cleanse.
- When avoiding parasites, it’s crucial to limit your consumption of pork, which is often full of different parasites, toxins, and various dangerous diseases.
- Remember to always wash your hands, fruits, vegetables, and stick to clean bottled water when traveling. At the same time, practicing safe sex and cooking foods to their recommended temperatures can limit your risk of parasitic infection.
The Types of Parasite
It turns out that the little things do matter in life – particularly if those things are lurking within your body or digestive system. A parasite which attaches itself to your skin or your organs is one of those small things that can make a big change to your health.
A parasite is an organism that lives either in, or on a host – getting its food from, or at the expense of that host. Parasitic infections cause a great deal of disease across the world. Though malaria is the most well-known and fatal disease caused by parasites. The truth is that there are dozens of different dangerous parasites out there that can harm the average human being. They are separated into three main classes:
Protozoa are single cell microscopic organisms that can be either parasitic or free-living. These creatures can multiply within humans, helping to ensure their survival, and allow for the development of serious infections. Commonly, transmission of protozoa from one human to another occurs through the fecal-oral route. For instance, if someone drinks water contaminated with fecal matter. Protozoa that live in the blood or tissue of humans or animals can be transmitted through the bite of an insect.
Helminths are larger, multi-celled organisms that are often visible to the naked eye – particularly when fully grown. Similarly to protozoa, helminths can be parasitic or free living, but they cannot multiply in humans within their adult form. Helminths are often separated into thorny-headed worms, flatworms, and roundworms.
Finally, ectoparasites is a term that can be used to describe mosquitos, but is often intended to included organisms such as fleas, ticks, lice, and mites that burrow into human skin. These are multi-celled organisms (often insects), that transmit parasites through biting and stinging.
How Do Parasitic Diseases Spread?
Most of the time, people get parasitic infections as a result of bathing in, drinking, or washing food in water that contains parasites. This happens commonly when human waste is used to fertilize fields but it can also be an issue in food service industries where hygiene practices are substandard. Additionally, many impoverished nations are in the process of rapid urbanization – forcing numerous people into fast-growing cities that lack appropriate sewage treatment. Parasitic infections can spread easily in these conditions.
Some parasitic diseases spread in a variety of unique ways. For instance, let’s take a look at some of the CDC’s “most wanted” list in the world of parasitic infection:
Chagas disease can be spread in a variety of ways. The most common source is a parasite that’s carried by an insect known as the “kissing bug”. The CDC indicates that 300,000 Americans per year are infected with Chagas. Chagas disease can also be spread through organ transplants from contaminated people, blood transfusions, lab accidents, and more.
Cystericercosis is caused by larval cysts that come from tapeworms found in muscle, brain, or other bodily tissue. The highest-risk areas for this disease are Latin America, Africa, Asia, and other places with poor sanitation. The growth of global travel in recent years has meant that Cystericercosis is becoming more widespread. The problem is most frequently caused by an infected person failing to wash their hands properly when preparing food – allowing for tapeworm eggs to be transferred between people.
Toxocariasis comes from two types of roundworm larvae, Toxocara cati from cats, and Toxocara canis from dogs. Infected animals can shed Toxocara eggs in their feces, allowing for larvae to develop and infectious eggs to hatch. Because humans share a small living area with their cats and dogs this parasite is often passed between hosts.
The leading cause of death by food-borne illness, Toxoplasmosis is a very serious parasitic infection that impacts around 60 million people across America. Few people who have this parasite will suffer from any symptoms because the immune system of the human body protects us against the parasite. However, some people will experience flu-like symptoms such as muscle pains, swollen lymph nodes, and more. People usually get infected with Toxoplasmosis either through food, animal-to-human infection (zoonotic), or mother-to-child infection (congenital).
A very common sexually transmitted disease, Trichomoniasis is estimated to affect 3.7 million people across the globe. This infection is also considered to be the most curable STD, but it can be very difficult to spot. Only about 30% of infected patients will have any symptoms, and it’s more common in women than in men. Without proper treatment, trichomoniasis can increase your chances of spreading and getting other STDs.
Who is at risk of parasitic infections?
Though many people believe that only individuals living in impoverished countries and unhygienic environments are susceptible to parasitic infection, the truth is that parasites can thrive almost anywhere. Now that global travel has become easier than ever before, people can more easily pick parasites up when they go on vacation. Additionally, insects, migratory birds, and other animals can easily carry infections from country to country.
While anyone can get a parasitic infection, it’s worth noting that some people are at greater risk than others. For instance, you are more likely to end up with a parasitic infection if:
- Your immune system is compromised, and therefore unable to provide the first line of defense against a parasite.
- You travel or live to subtropical or tropical regions of the world where parasitic infections are more common.
- You don’t have access to clean drinking water, or frequently swallow water when swimming in rivers, lakes, and ponds.
- You work in an environment wherein you might come into direct contact with feces frequently.
In some cases, the frequent use of antibiotics can also be dangerous when it comes to preventing parasites. The reason for this is that antibiotics can rid your body of both good and bad bacteria – throwing your internal system out of balance and leaving you more open to invasion. Additionally, the wrong diet can have a similar problem, helping to provide the perfect environment in which parasites can thrive. For instance, grains and sugars can help parasites to grow, while other ingredients are more effective at destroying and preventing parasitic infections.
How to Reduce Risk of Infection
Since it can take a lot of time, and several uncomfortable die-off side effects for someone to get rid of a parasite, your best solution will always be prevention. Many parasites spend at least a portion of their life cycle within the intestinal tracts of human hosts which means that changing your dietary preferences could help to reduce your chances of infection. Keep in mind before you begin trying some of the following dietary solutions for parasite prevention, that certain foods can interact with prescription medications. As such, it’s important to consult with your healthcare provider before you add new foods to your diet.
1. Pumpkin Seeds
Pumpkin seeds are both delicious, and nutritious. These versatile foods can indirectly kill any parasites that might have made their way into your body by paralyzing them, so that they can be flushed easily from the body. A healthy diet of pumpkin seeds could help you to build up a strong gastrointestinal system that’s ready to destroy helminths at the first sign of infection.
2. Antioxidant-Rich Vegetables and Fruits
The antioxidants in vegetables and fruits – particularly those with plenty of vitamin C, can help to prevent parasitic infestation. Studies show that the regular consumption of blueberries, strawberries, broccoli, bell peppers, and other fruits or vegetables can boost the health of the gastrointestinal system, and therefore reduce your risk of infection.
Garlic is a highly potent ingredient with many valuable health-improving properties. Packed with sulfur-rich amino acids, garlic fights back against parasites, and helps to prevent infections in the first place. A compound in garlic known as allicin can help to expel and kill worms, but the garlic needs to be chopped thoroughly to release it. Experts recommend mincing and dicing garlic to allow for the greatest chemical release.
4. Ginger and Turmeric
Research suggests that the consumption of ginger and turmeric can lower your risk of becoming infested with worms and parasites. The UMMC found that the antioxidant properties of these spices help to kill roundworms. Additionally, research into other spices like Thyme found that herbal remedies can be used to successfully treat certain infestations – such as a hookworm infection.
Papaya helps to create an unfriendly environment for both helminths and protozoa, reducing your chances of parasitic infection. Because it’s rich in papain, amino acids, and bromelain, a regular dose of papaya will help you to develop a healthy system that’s not so healthy for invaders. The value of papaya has been authenticated by a study into the effects of dried Carica papaya seeds which appears to be adept at removing parasites at a rate of between 71.4 and 100%.
6. Oregano Oil
As a highly antimicrobial substance, the oil of oregano can be incredibly effective at preventing and killing intestinal parasites. Studies published by Phototherapy Research discovered that after six weeks of use, oil of oregano could completely eradicate parasites in 72% of all participants when it was given at a level of 600mg per day.
7. Fiber-Rich Foods
Eating fiber-rich foods can help to keep your gastrointestinal system healthy – promoting regular elimination of waste that might be full of toxins and chemicals. Keeping your bowel movements regular is essential to preventing worms and intestinal parasites. Fibrous foods like whole grains, vegetables, and supplements such as magnesium can help to ease this process.
Antiviral, antifungal, and antibacterial, neem has been used in some countries for thousands of years as a remedy to protect against, and kill parasites (both external and internal). Neem is particularly effective not only because it kills parasites, but also because it works to remove the toxins that parasites can leave behind as they die. As such, this detoxifying quality can make it a fantastic substance for the liver, which is frequently compromised by parasitic infections.
9. Cloves, Wormwood, and Black Walnut
Wormwood has various anti-protozoan effects, and can be very effective in killing the larva of parasites before they can grow into a full-blown infection. Wormwood is also effective at stimulating macrophages, which can be important to immune system defense against parasitic infestations. Often, wormwood is combined with Juglans negra, or black walnut, as well as the essential oil of cloves. The antimicrobial oil of the cloves destroys parasitic eggs, while black walnut helps to eradicate parasites.
10. Kefir and Yogurt
Finally, both kefir and yogurt both contain healthy probiotics ideal for promoting intestinal health and preventing infection. Search for yogurts that contain live cultures that primarily include Lactobacilus plantarum, Bifidobacteria, Lactobacillus acidphilus, and Saccharomyces Boulardii.
The Foods to Avoid
While you’re adjusting your diet to prevent parasitic infection, it’s a good idea to avoid meats that come from carnivorous animals – particularly pork. Pork represents the most popular meat in the world. In fact, it makes up about 38% of the meat production across the globe.
Unfortunately, as much as people seem to love pork, it’s worth noting that pigs carry a variety of parasites in their organs and body tissues. Some of these parasites are extremely difficult to kill – even after cooking, and this is the reason why there are so many warnings in the media about eating undercooked pork. One of the biggest concerns that comes with pork meat is trichinosis – an infection that comes from pork infected by the trichinella worm.
Pigs are also the primary carriers of:
- Hepatitis E
- Porcine respiratory and reproductive syndrome
- Nipah virus
- Menangle virus
- Taenia solium tapeworm
Final Quick Tips
One very crucial thing to note when it comes to preventing parasites, is that cleanliness is key. For instance, it’s important to wash your hands before you eat when you want to prevent the spread of parasites. Remember that fecal contamination is a serious problem, and you may touch items that have parasites on them without noticing, as most are microscopic.
Most experts recommend following these additional tips for limiting your risk of parasitic infection:
- Wash fruits and vegetables before eating them. Because much fresh produce uses fertilizer, you can run the risk of contamination if you fail to wash foods before you eat them.
- Stick to clean bottled water when traveling. Not all water is as clean as the water we get in the United States. The safest option is to use only bottled water when traveling.
- Practice safe sex (using condoms to prevent the spread of STDs)
- Wash your hands frequently, particularly after visiting the bathroom.
- Cook foods at recommended temperatures to help kill off pathogens
- Avoid cat litter and feces
- Never swallow water in ponds, lakes, or rivers
- Avoid spending time in areas that are commonly filled with ectoparasites like mosquitos, ticks, and other blood-sucking insects
As with many things in life, protecting yourself against the threat of parasites is all about being diligent and cautious.