Editor’s note: This guest opinion column was originally published on www.healthambition.com and is reprinted here with permission.
I’d say most of us have joked at some point that we’d love to have a tapeworm that would allow us to stay slim while stuffing our faces with treats. However, if I really had a parasite, I think I’d freak out. Just the idea of something living inside me, leaching from my life force, makes me shudder.
In fact, it’s normal to have millions of living things — I can’t quite call them animals as they are mostly bacteria — inside and on our bodies. These are the well-known “good” bacteria that help with everything from immune defence to digestion.
Parasites are a different story — they’re unhelpful and unwelcome, they can even make us sick. Luckily, we don’t have to be stuck with them once we have them. Here’s how to get rid of parasites naturally.
What are parasites?
A parasite by definition is any organism that needs another living plant or animal to survive — called a “host.” It takes nutrition from this host, usually causing unpleasant symptoms and, eventually, serious illness. If the parasite is ejected from the host, it cannot survive for long, usually dying in a matter of hours to days.
Parasite size varies from microscopic to visible to the naked eye. The parasite most of us have heard of — the tapeworm — can grow up to 15 meters in size. Horrifying, right? Luckily most of us will notice the symptoms of parasite infection before it gets to that size.
Parasites exist in hundreds of different varieties. Some only exist in certain regions of the world. If you are lucky enough to live in a developed country then you are at low risk for being infected by a parasite. Parasites also differ in the area of the human body they inhabit.
Here are some of the most common:
Stomach and gut worms, such as threadworms, hookworms — Worms are in fact whole animals, although small, that live inside your body. Usually humans swallow the eggs which then hatch and grow inside. If the worms end up living in your gut, they will “eat” the food before you get a chance to absorb its nutrients, leaving you malnourished. They can also live in other organs such as the blood or liver, causing serious illness.
Skin mites and lice, such as scabies, head lice, crab lice, ticks — Mites are small insects, visible to the naked eye. They can burrow into your skin, depositing eggs and fecal matter. You will usually become aware of a mite infection quite quickly as they leave an itchy, red skin rash. (Feeling itchy yet?)
Protozoa, such as Giardia, Malaria — Protozoa are single-celled organisms, much like bacteria. They are invisible to the naked eye. They usually cause serious illness.
Some websites list yeast as a host but I don’t consider this accurate as does not require a host to survive.
Where do parasites come from?
Parasite infections occur most commonly in tropical countries and regions lacking in basic hygiene facilities. Many parasites such as are passed via the fecal-oral route from an infected person to another e.g. contaminated water, dirty food, contaminated soil.
Mites and lice travel from person to person via bedsheets at hostels and nursing homes, clothing, sharing hairbrushes and direct contact.
In developed countries, children and their direct family members are most likely to develop a parasite due to close contact with other children, tendency to play in dirty soil and lack of handwashing practices.
Unfortunately, other than avoiding the factors mentioned above, there’s not much we can do to make ourselves immune to parasites. Keeping your natural “good” bacteria population healthy with probiotic supplements, natural yogurts and a balanced diet might be helpful, though.
Symptoms of parasite infection
Symptoms will vary depending on the exact variety of parasite involved and its location. In most cases, if you have one, you will know it.
Stomach symptoms include anaemia, diarrhoea, fever, constipation, anal itching, visible worms in the feces, stomach pain, weight loss and weakness. With lice and mites, you will notice a rash and itching.
How to get rid of parasites naturally
I have to be honest with you here, I’m all for natural remedies when it comes to my family’s health but parasites are something that I would go straight to the doctor for. There just isn’t substantial evidence to support it, except in the case of head lice.
Usually for minor illness I will try a natural remedy for a few days or weeks and it it doesn’t work then I’ll head to the pharmacy. In the case of a parasite, a few days spent feeding my kids a homemade tonic could mean the parasites have multiplied and spread to all of our bedsheets and the rest of the household.
The consequences of a parasite infection can be severe too, especially in kids. For example, hookworm infestation can slow down children’s growth. I strongly believe in a risk-benefit balance when it comes to conventional medicine and I have to go with the drugs on this one. I encourage you to do the same.
Natural remedies for head lice
Head lice are the only parasitic infection where I feel comfortable using a natural remedy. It’s extremely common — my kids got the dreaded letter home from school warning of an outbreak at least once a year — and not likely to lead to further health complications.
Commercial chemical treatments for head lice can be quite harsh, especially for my son who suffers with eczema outbreaks on his forehead. Here are my favourite natural choices for treating head lice:
1. The first thing you’ll need is a louse comb. It’s a small plastic or metal comb with very fine teeth. You must comb the hair thoroughly at least twice a day – this crushes the lice and removes them from the hair.
2. Many neutral oils such as olive oil, coconut oil and baby oil can be used to suffocate and kill the lice – no chemicals required! Just apply the oil generously to the scalp and hair and cover with a shower cap. Leave overnight or as long as is practical. Wash thoroughly and comb with the louse comb afterwards. Repeat daily.
3. Tea tree essential oil has insecticidal effects. Mix one teaspoon of tea tree oil, one ounce of shampoo and three tablespoons of coconut or olive oil. Apply to the hair and cover your head with a shower cap or towel. Leave for a half an hour and then rinse thoroughly with hot water. Again, follow this up with combing and repeat daily until the situation is resolved.
For those of you who wanted to know how to get rid of parasites naturally, I’m sorry to disappoint you. If you came here hoping that a green smoothie would kick the worms out of your stomach, I can’t lie to you – it just won’t.
I want to provide advice about what works best for our health and in this case, medicated lotions and tablets are the only way to go.
The good news is, unless you’ve travelled to a tropical country recently or experienced poor hygiene conditions, you’re probably safe from the worst parasites. Now I’m off to take a shower, writing this article has made me feel positively itchy!
About the author: Helen Sanders is the founder and editor of the website healthambition.com. She launched the site in 2012 after her best friend mistook her excessive weight gain for pregnancy. “I decided to take control of my life and get into shape,” Sanders says on her website. Health ambition.com is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for site owners to earn fees by linking to Amazon.com and affiliated sites. Any statements made in this contribution opinion piece have not been evaluated by the FDA and any information or products discussed are not intended to diagnose, cure, treat or prevent any disease or illness. Please consult a healthcare practitioner before making changes to your diet or taking supplements that may interfere with medications.