Did you know it's possible to get parasites in your brain? This may come as a surprise (and no, this isn't the start of a science fiction film), but it is a health issue that affects many people each year—most of whom have no idea they have a parasitic infection.
When a parasite enters your body, it can relocate to your gut, your tissues, your eyes or even your brain. All parasites can potentially affect the brain. However, the most common type of parasite that infects the brain is Taenia solium, also known as pork tapeworm.
In this article, we will discuss parasites that affect the brain, brain parasites symptoms, and how to get rid of brain parasites.
What Are Parasites?
A parasite is an organism that lives on or inside of another host organism, gaining sustenance from that host organism, usually at the host's expense. (1) Parasitic organisms are widespread and have been around for millions of years—far longer than humans have. Most animals throughout history have had to struggle against parasitic invaders, and over the millennia, parasites have become incredibly skilled at what they do.
Most parasites are experts at stealth, and many people can have a parasitic infection for years without ever knowing it. Moreover, even when symptoms of infection do appear, they often resemble symptoms of other health conditions, making them difficult to diagnose.
Not all parasites in nature affect humans, but many of them do. While parasitic infections are certainly more common in tropical countries or undeveloped countries with poor sanitation, people in the Western world are not immune. Therefore, it is important to practice good hygiene, take preventive measures, and periodically cleanse to keep your body parasite-free.
The Three Categories of Parasites
There are three primary categories that parasites are classified under:
- Protozoa (single-celled organisms)
- Helminths (multi-cellular organisms/worms)
- Ectoparasites (external parasites) (2)
Though the most difficult to see, Protozoa pose the most significant health risk to humans. Malaria, for example, is a common protozoan parasite that affects nearly 250 million people yearly and kills roughly 600,000 people yearly. (3)
Helminths are various types of parasitic worms. These can also pose a significant health risk to humans, though many only pose minor health risks and can exist in the body for years without showing any symptoms. (4) Tapeworms, roundworms, whipworms, and hookworms are common examples of helminths.
The first two categories of parasites are considered "endoparasites" as they exist within the body. Ectoparasites live on the body. Lice, fleas, and ticks are common examples of ectoparasites.
Parasites That Affect the Brain
All parasites can potentially affect the central nervous system (CNS), though certain parasites are more likely to do so. The list of parasitic infections that can potentially infect the CNS include:
- MalariaAfrican Trypanosomiasis
- American Trypanosomiasis
- Lagochilascariasis (5)
The most common parasitic infection in the brain is cysticercosis, caused by the pork tapeworm (Taenia solium). Following this are toxoplasmosis, echinococcosis, and schistosomiasis. In rare cases, paragonimiasis, malaria, toxocariasis, onchocerciasis, American trypanosomiasis, African trypanosomiasis, and angiostrongyliasis may cause a parasitic infection in the brain. (5)
Pork tapeworm (Taenia solium) infections are known as cysticercosis and are caused by the larval cysts of this worm. Infections can occur in the brain, muscle, or other body tissues and are a major cause of seizures in adults. (5) People commonly contract pork tapeworms by eating contaminated or undercooked pork.
Toxoplasmosis is a parasitic infection caused by the parasite Toxoplasma gondii. This parasite enters the brain by traveling across endothelial cells. Once in the brain, it forms tissue cysts with neurons and can be fatal. This infection is common in underdeveloped countries and affects over one-third of the world's population. (6) This parasite is commonly found in cat feces and contaminated food. Exposure to contaminated cat feces is a common cause of transmission in developed countries. (7)
Echinococcosis is a parasitic infection caused by tiny tapeworms of the genus Echinocococcus. (8) It is commonly found in dogs, sheep, cattle, goats, and pigs, and humans often contract this parasite from contact with infected animals of these species. Initially, most infections in humans show no symptoms. However, if untreated, harmful cysts can form in the liver, lungs, brain, or other organs and slowly enlarge over time—eventually resulting in serious health issues or death. (8)
Schistosomiasis is an infection caused by blood flukes (trematode worms) of the genus Schistosoma. (9) People become infected with Schistosoma when exposed to contaminated water. Larval forms of this parasite are released by species of freshwater snails. Infections are uncommon in the United States but occur in many tropical regions and warm climates, including parts of Africa, the Middle East, Asia, and South America. (9)
Most parasitic infections of the CNS are considered to have a high rate of mortality and morbidity, especially for those that don't have access to quality medical care as soon as symptoms appear.
Brain Parasite Symptoms
The exact symptoms of parasites in the brain will depend on the type of parasitic infection. However, some of the most common shared symptoms of parasitic brain infections include:
- Frequent headaches
- Chronic fatigue and exhaustion
- Cysts (in the eyes, muscles, brain or spinal cord)
- Poor muscle coordination
- Mood changes
- Chronically stiff neck
- Muscle aches
- Lack of attention to surroundings
- Difficulty balancing
- Personality changes
- Memory issues
- Excess fluid around the brain
- Swollen lymph nodes that last for weeks (particularly in the neck)
If you are experiencing one or multiple of these effects of parasites in the human brain, you should consult your doctor for professional medical advice.
How to Test for Brain Parasites
To test for CNS or brain parasites, your doctor may try various diagnostic procedures. The most common ways to test for brain parasites include MRI or CT brain scans and blood tests. Surgery may also be performed if there is an obvious cyst caused by a parasitic infection. (10)
How to Get Rid of Brain Parasites
The most common brain parasites treatment is anti-parasitic drugs in combination with anti-inflammatory drugs. Surgery may also be necessary to treat cysts in certain locations. (10) Depending on the symptoms that one is experiencing, one may also be given medications to alleviate symptoms of infections, such as anti-seizure medications.
How to Get Rid of Brain Parasites Naturally
Some people prefer to take natural approaches to treat parasitic infections. While there are certain herbs that kill parasites in the brain, it is strongly recommended to work with a medical professional if you are experiencing any symptoms of a parasitic infection of the CNS.
All parasitic infections can harm our health, but those confined to the digestive tract are much easier to alleviate at home using anti-parasitic herbal remedies. However, a parasitic infection of the brain is much more serious and should be treated professionally.
Whether you work with an allopathic medicine practitioner or a natural medicine practitioner is a personal choice. Still, it is best to work with a professional medical doctor to treat any serious disease.
A natural medicine practitioner will approach treatment in a similar way to an allopathic doctor, likely using advanced medical technology for diagnosing the infection and using anti-parasitic and anti-inflammatory drugs for treatment. The most significant difference is that a natural medicine practitioner may use therapeutic herbal extracts instead of pharmaceutical ones. If surgery is necessary, they are likely to refer you to a surgeon, as this is usually out of the range of practice for a typical practitioner of natural medicine.
How to Avoid Parasitic Brain Infections
The best way to avoid a parasitic infection in the brain is to avoid getting the parasite in the first place. This can be accomplished with good sanitation practices (washing hands, avoiding pollution or contaminated areas, etc.), drinking filtered water, never eating raw fish or undercooked pork, and avoiding common sources of exposure. If you are traveling in a foreign country, particularly one that is underdeveloped, take extra precautionary measures and consider taking an anti-parasitic herbal tonic daily as a preventative measure.
The idea that you can get a parasite in your brain is not something that most people want to hear. But if you care about your health and avoiding diseases, parasitic brain infections are something to be aware of. They can be life-threatening, difficult to diagnose, and difficult to treat. However, they are easy to avoid if you take the right precautionary measures.
Do not eat raw or undercooked meat, especially pork or fish; drink filtered water, practice good hygiene, avoid common sources of contamination, and take extra precautionary measures if you are traveling to an underdeveloped country or an area with poor sanitation. You may also want to do a parasite cleanse a few times a year to eliminate any potential infections you may have.
If you are experiencing any brain parasites symptoms or symptoms of parasitic infection, you should consult your doctor for professional medical help.