The name strikes dread into most people… “what do you mean I have parasites? Ughhhh”
Did you know that the bacteria in our gut outnumbers our own human cells 10 times and is made up of 1000 different strains? They can weigh up to 1.5 kg and compete with the liver in importance. Apart from modulating our immune system (70-80% of our immune system is in the gut) they are responsible for helping us absorb nutrients, produce energy, are crucial for a healthy mood, a healthy weight, for detoxification and could even help us live longer!
When a patient comes to me with gut issues the first thing I look at is whether they have dysbiosis (bacterial overgrowth) in either the stomach, small or large intestine. Things that we take for granted that can cause this imbalance are NSAIDS (like ibuprofen), Proton Pump Inhibitors (PPI’s taken for reflux), chemotherapy/radiotherapy, diets high in refined sugars/carbs, pesticide residues, tap water, sulphates, fats and of course antibiotics (AB).
Most of us know that changes in our gut flora can last between 40 days and 16 months in most individuals after AB treatment. But did you know that antibiotic resistant organisms can persist 4 years post treatment? And even 4 years post triple therapy (AB and PPI) treatment for Helicobacter pylori (H.pylori – which grows in your stomach and can cause ulcers) your gut bacteria has still not recovered? In fact some species never recover.
Some scientists liken the gut to the deep sea ocean and they are still discovering what is going on in the depths. What we do know is that dsybiosis and parasites are on the rise. I see them quite frequently in clinic. In fact some studies have shown that up to 70% of people with IBS have parasites called Blastocystis hominis (Blasto) and Dientamoeba fragilis (D.frag). One study showed that up to 70% of people in Ireland could be positive for Blasto.
Currently the type of testing called PCR Multiplex stool testing has made it easier and cheaper to test for these types of parasites. The problem is that AB may not work and many doctors simply prescribe metronidazole (flagyl) as a first line treatment and we know that this can be worse than ineffective. Professor Borody at The Centre for Digestive Diseases (CDD) in Sydney is a world expert in parasites especially Blasto. He has a protocol that consists of first, second and third line treatment that can involve up to 5 different types of AB. They also specialise in AB infusions directly into the bowel and fecal transplants but that’s a whole separate blog.
What we do know is that even when the parasite is apparently eradicated the symptoms may not disappear. Stands to reason that the parasite may not have been the problem and if it wasn’t then maybe the AB caused other issues? Confusing isn’t it?
There is a theory that these so-called parasites are not parasites at all but are simply part of our own microbiota or gut flora that has got out of balance. After all we are still learning about that deep sea ocean right? Did you know for example that candida occurs naturally in our gut? And that E. coli does too?
Let me tell you a story….
I had a child patient who had quite severe cyclical gut pain mainly in the mornings, his mother was not sure if it was just an aversion to school (this is a common presentation or interpretation by orthodox medicine practitioners and even family members) but after PCR testing it was revealed that he had high numbers of Blasto and D.frag plus 2 other parasites… what to do? This was many years ago before I had much experience treating parasites. We tried the herbal and probiotic approach without a huge reduction in symptoms. We decided to elicit the help of a local Integrative GP who used one of the protocols indicated by the CDD involving 4 different AB, antimicrobials and antiprotozoal medications which had to be compounded. This protocol was followed for 14 days. All his symptoms disappeared voila! He had a massive growth spurt and started putting on some weight. We waited 3 months to test post AB treatment (this is important) and what do you know? He still had all the parasites! What does this tell us?
- It wasn’t the parasites causing the problem.
- The problem cleared up when the numbers of parasites were reduced.
- The ABX cleared up another undiagnosed issue.
- He needed that extra attention from his parents of having to be medicated 3 x a day.
My opinion is a combination of 1-3 (just threw in number 4 for the skeptics).
I had another patient to compare this to…also a teenage boy. He had the same severe symptoms and this time we did eradicate them with a natural protocol. Then his mother decided they just had to get rid of all the parasites with a similar quadruple AB therapy above. All the symptoms then returned ☹
The Royal College of Physicians released a letter to all GP’s last year asking that PCR testing be scaled back for a couple of reasons. Treatment was ineffective and sometimes harmful (you remember that even one round of AB can cause inalterable changes in the microbiota and can also have severe health consequences like chronic colitis) and a theory that I hold: that these parasites are not parasites at all.
What I like to do now is to find out through comprehensive and PCR stool testing what is going on GOING ON in the gut… what are the levels of beneficial bacteria? What is the pH like? Are they absorbing and metabolising nutrients/vitamins, is there inflammation? I look at what might be contributing to symptoms which may be H.pylori or SIBO (small intestinal bacterial overgrowth), food intolerances, IBS or poor enzyme production. It can take some detective work.
I have been successfully eradicating parasites with a combination of herbs and specific probiotics but each case is different and there is never a one size fits all protocol it is always fine-tuned to each individual.
I also refer to the gut as a garden. You wouldn’t just throw flower seeds down and expect them to grow would you? You need to weed, clear, cut back, dig and prepare the soil, correct the pH, pick the right seeds and make sure you plant them in the right place to get optimum sun for that species and then you need to feed, fertilize, water and most importantly give love and attention in order to create a thriving healthy garden that will provide nourishment for your family. The gut is no different.
I’ll leave you with this thought from Dr Jason A Hawrelak a professor at University of Tasmania an expert on the microbiome…
“We are the Custodians of the Microbiota
We do not inherit the earth from our ancestors, we borrow it from our children
We do not inherit the microbiota from our ancestors, we borrow it from our children”
So remember to look after one of most precious resources you have, small changes can make a big difference. Next time i will write about what you can do to support a healthy gut. But until then if you need support or a Naturopathy Appointment book on this link or call the clinic any day 02 99139781.
Green Door Health
Shop 6/69 Kalang Road, Elanora Heights