True or false…
You only get parasitic infections outside of the United States.
(I bet you know where this is going already, right?)
Obviously, the answer is false.
Yet many Americans believe it.
If you have been working to shift your lifestyle to be more healthy, energized, and fit—and not seeing the results you desire—a gut parasite may be to blame.
These “energy thieves” sneak inside and sabotage you at a cellular level. They skyrocket your toxic load, cause widespread inflammation, and steal your nutrients, leading to poor energy, brain fog, and other mystery symptoms.
While you can pick up parasites internationally, it’s incredibly common to have gut parasites in you right now — and you have no idea.
In fact, scientists estimate that 1 out of 4 people worldwide have a parasite in their gut microbiome.
Gut health parasites can wreak havoc not just on your digestion, but on your mental and emotional wellbeing as well. In fact parasites are connected with anxiety and depression.
- What is a parasitic infection?
- Symptoms of parasitic infection
- The most common gut parasites in the United States
- How do I know if I have a parasite?
- How to get rid of gut parasites
What Is A Parasitic Infection?
A parasitic infection happens when a parasite gets introduced to your digestive tract, usually through contaminated food or water.
While this isn’t the only way a parasite can enter your body, or the only place it can live, it’s the most common.
Interesting fact: Other ways parasites enter the human body are:
- Exposed skin, like the bottom of the feet (i.e. hookworms from walking on contaminated soil)
- Infected insect saliva (i.e. malaria via a mosquito bite)
- Blood transfusions (very rare in the United States)
- Via open wounds
You may have even heard harrowing stories of parasites entering unsuspecting victims via the urethra, eyes, nose, and ears, but this is incredibly rare, and often due to poor hygiene or unsanitary environmental conditions.
Parasites feed off the host to thrive. The parasite’s primary goal is to reproduce, causing widespread problems that can lead to serious illness or even death.
Internal parasites affect about 3.5 billion people each year. And while many occur in lower-income communities in developing countries within tropical and subtropical areas of the world, parasites exist everywhere — even high-income markets like the United States, Canada, Europe, and Australia.
Symptoms Of Parasitic Infection
- Digestive issues – including irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), inflammatory bowel syndrome, gas, bloating, diarrhea, constipation, and nausea
- Low energy, exhaustion, and chronic fatigue syndrome – parasites love to settle into your gut microbiome to disrupt the function of your good bacteria and steal your nutrients, resulting in your body’s inability to produce energy at a cellular level
- Depression, apathy, and brain fog – due to the gut-brain axis and the toxins released by the gut health parasites, mental health disorders often show up in cases of parasitic infection
- Unexplained weight loss – parasites interfere with nutritional absorption, no matter how much you eat, so you may lose weight
- Fever – a common first sign of infection as your body seeks to kill the parasite, but it can also occur in cases of untreated or common infections
- Muscle and joint pain and swelling – parasites cause inflammation which can spread to your muscles and joints, sometimes even causing arthritis (ever wonder why some people in your family are so susceptible to arthritis, while others are not…)
- Belly pain or tenderness – parasites cause inflammation, particularly centralized where they live and feed (in your digestive tract)
- Sleep disorders – parasites can make it hard to both fall asleep at night and stay asleep when their toxins interact with your neurotransmitters or blood cells
- Skin irritation – including rashes, eczema, hives, and rosacea
- Anemia – caused by parasites that suck the iron nutrients from your red blood cells
- Grinding your teeth in your sleep – more common among children, teeth grinding can happen as a result of parasitic toxins in your bloodstream
Another surprising sign you may have a parasitic infection is being diagnosed with an autoimmune disease (particularly thyroid-related disorders like Hashimoto’s and Graves’ diseases). Toxoplasmosis may be an underlying cause, as it often displays no symptoms but triggers an autoimmune response. In these cases, resolving the parasitic infection improves or even reverses the disorder.
How Do I Know If I Have A Parasite?
If you have traveled internationally and consumed the native food and water, you may have experienced a parasitic infection (or “food poisoning”).
This doesn’t necessarily mean the food and water are “bad”. You may get sick while locals do not because your unique gut microbiome hasn’t been exposed to these parasites before, and therefore hasn’t built up the skills to handle them.
However, if your stomach or bowels haven’t been right since returning home, you may wish to work with a functional medicine practitioner to test for parasites your body hasn’t been able to fight off yet.
Parasites don’t often show up on standard testing… but they do on functional medicine tests.
If any of these symptoms sound familiar (for you or someone you know), working with a functional health practitioner can help you get the right stool tests and blood tests done and create a highly targeted protocol to eliminate harmful parasitic infections.
A functional medicine parasite test involves running DNA-based stool samples through specific analysis sequences that pinpoint if parasites are present and which ones are in your digestive tract. We may also run blood tests to look for toxins and other parasitic infection sources there.
Common Gut Parasites in the US
The most common parasitic worms infecting humans in the United States include tapeworms, roundworms, pinworms, and hookworms.
Tapeworms – are flat parasites that often settle into the small intestine. While most are 4-28 inches, they can grow as long as 80 feet inside your body and live up to 30 years! The most common way to get tapeworms in the United States is by eating undercooked meats, particularly pork, beef, or fish.
Roundworms – are the most common type of parasite in the US. They look a bit like spaghetti, live in your intestines, and can survive up to 10 to 24 months. Roundworm infections usually happen when you consume soil, sand, or plants that are contaminated with infected animal feces. Children are the most common group to pick up roundworms, as they play in dirt or sandboxes and place dirty objects in their mouths. Another common way to get a roundworm infection is by handling the feces of infected animals (reason #612 to always wash your hands after touching animals or their environments!).
Pinworms – a common type of roundworm in the US. They’re usually white, about one-third of an inch, and look like short pieces of threads. If you (or your children) experience an itchy anus at nighttime, this may be a sign of pinworm infection. Most infections occur due to handling or consuming contaminated foods, so always wash your hands thoroughly before, during, and after preparing meals!
Hookworms – are slightly gray or pink and usually between one-third to one-half inch in length. Their distinguishing characteristic is a hooked shape, with a head that’s bent a bit compared to the rest of the body. Similar to pinworms, hookworms spread via feces—but in this case, human to human, as well as animals! In some parts of the world, they use human feces as a fertilizer (“night soil”). Walking on contaminated soil is a common way to pick up a hookworm infection, so always wear shoes when outside, remove the shoes when entering your home, and wash your hands frequently.
Candida – while most people don’t think of candida as a parasite, as it’s a fungus, it’s one of the most common causes of digestive issues. When it grows out of control and takes over the microbiome, it can cause infections that spread to the blood, heart, brain, kidneys, and more. Similar to parasites, often candida does not show up on traditional medical tests but is detected on functional medicine tests.
How To Get Rid Of Gut Parasites
The first step before doing any detoxification protocol is to open and clear your “drainage funnel”.
These are the pathways for waste and toxins to leave your body and if they’re blocked or stagnant, you won’t be eliminating toxins—you’ll simply be recirculating waste and “re-toxing” yourself all over again.
Once your drainage funnel is functioning properly, you can take steps to loosen and remove gut health parasites by doing a parasite cleanse.
- Cut sugar – sugar is one of the favorite food sources for parasites so slashing your intake (including sugars found in fruit, juice, and refined sugars) helps starve them
- Avoid simple carbohydrates – just like sugar, gut health parasites thrive on the “unhealthy” carbs found in processed foods and dairy products
- Consume probiotics – as gut parasites take over your microbiome, bringing in “good gut bugs” helps your body fight them off and restore balance
- Drink more water – this helps flush out your system and is particularly important if you are engaging in a parasitic infection protocol
- Do a Vitamin C Flush – a natural detox solution for the intestines, consuming high amounts of vitamin C at regular intervals helps flush out toxins and parasites while boosting energy and immune system function
- Boost your energy naturally – parasites can zap your energy and make you crave sugar and carbs, so reach for these energy-boosting solutions instead
The best way to determine if parasites are causing your low energy or affecting your health results is to take a functional medicine lab test.
Working with a functional medicine practitioner helps you not only pinpoint exactly what’s going on in your body, but also create a customized, laser-focused approach to resolving the issue.
Unlike traditional Western practices, functional medicine seeks to address the true root causes of disease—not just manage acute symptoms.
Choose a functional medicine expert experienced in eliminating parasites (like me!) who will help understand your specific situation and health goals… and work with you to create an effective plan to suit your lifestyle and needs.
While toxic parasites may be part of the problem, they often are not the only one happening inside your gut.
Environmental toxins, heavy metals, and mycotoxins may also be why you don’t see any forward movement when your health efforts.
However, by working with a reputable functional medicine practitioner who truly cares about getting you healthy, you become equipped to see the results you desire, and know exactly how to maintain them.
Take Good Care,