People often find the idea of parasites living inside the human body to be shocking or unbelievable. There is also a common misperception that parasites only exist in tropical countries or in undeveloped countries with poor sanitation. The truth is, however, that parasites not only exist in America and other developed countries, but are thriving in a large sector of the population.
Thankfully, more people are becoming aware of the prevalence of parasites and how damaging these creatures can be to our health. While the idea may be repulsive and unpleasant to dwell on, parasites are a very real thing that many people struggle with. The key is not to fear or deny them, but to educate yourself on them so you can take control of your health.
In this article, we aim to share some of the many ways that you may get a parasite and how you can prevent parasitic infection.
What Are Parasites?
A parasite is an organism that lives on or in a host organism and gets its food from or at the expense of its host. In humans, parasites that live inside us use up our vitamins, proteins and other nutrients, depriving us of optimal nutrition. Not only do they steal nutrients from our body, they also eliminate waste inside us, releasing their toxic bacteria. Parasites are most commonly found in the colon, however, any part of the body is vulnerable to infestation, including the lungs, liver, brain, blood, muscles, joints, skin, and other organs.
Even if you eat a healthy diet, these unwanted visitors may prevent you from getting all the nutrients from the food you eat, and they may cause a wide range of health issues, with symptoms reaching from mild rashes or headaches to serious illnesses.
While some parasites are easily identified, such as tapeworms, roundworms and hookworms, most parasites that people suffer from are actually microscopic bugs such as amoebas or flukes.
Where Do Parasites Come From?
Parasites exist all over the world in every country and climate. Just like insects, bacteria, or fungi, they are a part of the ecosystem of the natural world, and humans, as well as other animals, have been struggling against parasites for our entire history on earth.
While it is true that tropical countries tend to have more types of parasites, they exist in America too. In fact, they are much more prevalent in America now because of several factors, such as:
- The rise in international travel
- The return of armed forces from overseas
- The increased popularity of household pets
- The increasing use of child day-care centers
- The contamination of municipal and rural water supplies
- The rise of refugee and immigrant populations
- The increased popularity of imported exotic foods
- The use of antibiotics and drugs that suppress the immune system
- The sexual revolution and the increase in sexual activity among the general population
How Do You Get Parasites in Your Body?
Parasites can enter your body in a number of ways. They are most commonly contracted from consuming contaminated water, meat, or produce, but some can also enter your body through the skin, such as when walking barefoot on contaminated soil, or when touching contaminated surfaces. They can also be contracted from sexual activities with a contaminated person, especially when protection isn’t used. Microscopic parasite eggs can even be breathed in, and may survive in your intestinal tract where they then reproduce and grow.
What Are the Major Sources of Parasites?
There are numerous sources of contamination that can cause you to get a parasitic infection. The most common are:
- Contaminated water
- Contaminated food (especially pork, raw fish, and unwashed vegetables grown in contaminated soil)
- Walking barefoot on contaminated soil
- Touching contaminated surfaces
- Pets (especially close contact with animal feces)
- Child care centers
- Unsanitary sexual practices
- Poor sanitation practices in general
How Do You Get Intestinal Parasites?
Parasites can exist in any organ and tissue of the body—including unsuspected areas like the heart, liver, and brain. However, the most common area in the body that parasites thrive is in the gut. This is because the gut gives access to food and important nutrients that a diverse range of parasites can utilize—unfortunately at the host’s expense.
Many common intestinal parasites come from contaminated food and water. Raw fish (sushi), undercooked meat (especially pork), and unwashed vegetables grown in contaminated soil are the most common sources of food-borne parasites. Unfiltered and contaminated water is another major source of intestinal parasites.
How Do You Prevent Parasitic Infections?
Prevention is incredibly important when it comes to protecting yourself from parasitic infections. It is important to educate yourself on the major sources of parasites and how you can avoid them, as well as how you can best deal with these sources to prevent infestation. Parasites can be difficult to diagnose, and difficult to treat, so prevention is one of the best things you can do to protect your health.
Strengthen Your Immune System
Our best line of defense against parasites is a strong, healthy immune system. Unfortunately, however, many people’s immune systems have been compromised over the last few decades due to the rise in harmful chemicals and pesticides in food, the increase in antibiotic drugs, the increase of sedentary lifestyles, the rise of stress, and overall poor dietary and lifestyle practices.
Supporting our immune systems with foods rich in vitamins C, E and A, as well as with minerals like zinc and selenium is a great place to start. Immune-supporting herbs like burdock root, suma root, astragulus and olive leaf can also be helpful to supplement with†.
Practice Good Personal Hygiene
Improving your personal hygiene is a great way to enhance your protection from parasitic infection, and it is one of the factors that you have the most control over. We often overlook the importance of good personal hygiene, but it is important to:
- Always wash your hands prior to eating
- Make sure you wash your hands with soap and water after going to the bathroom, changing a baby’s diaper, or handling your pets
- Keep finger nails short and scrub underneath them (many microscopic organisms like bacteria, parasite eggs, and others can get trapped in the dirt beneath your finger nails)
- Avoid sitting on a bare toilet seat without first wiping it or protecting it with toilet paper (especially in public restrooms)
- Do not use tap water to clean contact lenses and remove contact lenses before swimming (especially when swimming in natural bodies of water)
- Avoid walking barefoot in warm, moist sandy soils or areas of likely contamination (such as a dog park or other areas where animal feces may be prevalent)
Infant and Child Care
Children are easy targets for parasites, especially since kids are often ignorant of hygiene practices, have developing immune systems, and tend to get into messes that expose them to infection. Educating your child at a young age about good hygiene is a great way to set them up for success in their adult life. Some other things to consider for parasite prevention:
- Breast-feed your baby as long as you can (human milk has anti-protozoan properties that provide antibodies against certain parasites like amoeba and giardia)
- Keep toddlers away from puppies and kittens that have not been regularly dewormed
- Make sure that your child routinely washes their hands after contact with household pets
- Prevent toddlers from kissing household pets or being licked by them (wash them afterwards if they do get licked)
- Do not allow children to eat dirt
- Do not allow children to play in areas where animals are allowed to roam loose (sandboxes, certain yards or playgrounds)
- Sanitize toilet seats and bowls regularly
- Clean children’s toys with soap and water often
- Keep children’s fingernails short and clean
- Bathe your child regularly
Water is a major source of contamination with parasites, and not just in tropical countries or countries with poor sanitation practices. To avoid water-borne diseases and infections:
- Drink only filtered water (it takes a fine-pore filter of not more than three microns to filter microorganism cysts), consider purchasing a reverse osmosis water filter for your home
- Have your tap water tested
- Invest in shower filters for all of your showers or a high-quality filter for the entire water supply of your house
- Never drink out of brooks, reservoirs, ponds, streams, or lakes, no matter how remote or clean they may seem. This kind of water must be boiled or filtered.
- If backpacking or camping, invest in a fine-pore filter of not more than three microns, designed to filter out giardia cysts
Parasite infection can be avoided by taking certain precautions with your food:
- Freeze fish at -18°C for at least 48 hours to kill larvae. Freeze beef and pork at -20°C for at least 24 hours to kill larvae.
- Cook your food thoroughly.
- When cooking meat in a conventional oven, always set the temperature to at least 325°F
- If using a thermometer to test meat, the internal temperature of beef should be at least 160°F, lamb, veal, and pork to at least 170°F—check for no pink color in the center.
- If cooking in the microwave, always check the internal temperature of meat, as microwaves cook unevenly.
- In conventional ovens, cook fish until flaky and white. Bake at 400°F, 8 to 10 minutes per inch of thickness.
- Buy seafood from established dealers instead of roadside stands or food trucks.
- Clean utensils and cutting boards thoroughly.
- Avoid sampling foods before they are cooked.
- Wash vegetables and produce before consuming (avoid washing with tap water unless you have a good filter).
- Maintain a balanced diet with moderate amounts of protein, high fiber, natural complex carbohydrates, and a variety of whole grains. Consider eating more anti-parasitic foods in your diet such as garlic, onions, peppers and pumpkin seeds.
The great increase in travel worldwide may expose tourists to rare diseases and parasites. It’s important to take necessary precautions when traveling to avoid infection:
- Always drink filtered water
- Avoid ice in your water, as it is often made from tap water
- Don’t brush your teeth with tap water
- Aim to eat cooked foods when traveling and avoid or limit fresh produce
- Wash your hands often
- Avoid walking barefoot in areas of likely contamination
- Avoid swimming in bodies of water that may be contaminated (this risk is higher in tropical climates)
- Consider bringing along antidiarrheal herbs or medications
- Take a serving of a parasite preventative like our Parasite Detox Tonic each day when traveling
- Avoid wearing perfumes or aftershaves if out in the wild, as they attract mosquitos
- B Vitamins, especially B1, also repel mosquitos
Parasites are a prevalent health concern that many people struggle with—though most are unaware that parasites are at the root of their symptoms. The best way to avoid parasitic infections is to educate yourself about parasites, how we can get infected, how to prevent infection, and how to treat an infection if you have one. With proper education, you can have all the tools you need to stay parasite-free and to remain in control of your health.