One of the most common complaints I encounter in my practice is gut related conditions, ranging from a ten year old, who have suffered his whole life with stomach pains, to a frail elderly woman unable to digest and absorb nutrients properly. One thing I would consider in these circumstances is if there is some kind of parasite infection in the gut flora. This is where a normal gut flora has been disrupted by infection by one or many types of parasites.
Some parasites cause an acute condition, that may be life threatening. This could be infections with parasites such as Entamoeba histolytica or Giardia lambda. Often due to its severity, these infections usually need a swift therapy to prevent a severe outcome.
What is less evident are all the chronic conditions where parasites do not give a clear picture of what is going on, where symptoms such as chronic fatigue or diffuse stomach ache is the presenting complaint.Nonetheless, these parasitic infections can have a debilitating effect over time.
Imagine having a kid who is in constant pain from his very first years of age. You go to the doctors, hoping that they will figure out what to do. Your family GP can’t find anything wrong, and after repeated visits, where “everything is normal”, your son is refered to a specialist. You have great hopes, but even here no one can find anything wrong. You and your son is left with your problems, and over several years the symptoms persist. Most of his time goes to lying in bed, not being able to do normal activity like other kids in the block. You then eventually come to a functional medicine practitioner, who, due to a different framework of though, manage to find possible solutions. Upon investigation the practitioner find a parasite in the kids gut flora. Your son is given a short antibiotic cure, and after only a few weeks his symptoms starts to fade away, and after a few months he feels completely fine. You are thrilled, and wonder why this hasn’t been addressed before.
Now consider this frail elderly woman coming in to the clinical office. Her health has deteriorated over a course of several years, where she has noticed a gradual wasting, even though she has a good appetite and eats plentiful. Apart from her energy being low, she doesn’t have any other symptoms. Upon seeing her physician, she is told that there is nothing wrong with her. She then comes to a functional medicine practitioner, who, upon a thorough investigation discoveres a parasitic dysbiosis. Also here, her symptoms gradually improves after a gut flora cure, using antibiotics and antibiotic herbs, in combination with other nutritional therapies.
These cases are not uncommon for a functional medicine practitioner to encounter. In fact, I have had many similar cases in my practice. It is therefore very touching when they, upon the follow up consultation, have flowers in their hands and crying because of how happy they are of being cured.
Now, why hasn’t this been addressed more in clinical practice. The reason is basically that some of these “gut dysbiosis” are not considered detrimental for ones’ health, and often is difficult to diagnose. One place where a lot of study has been undertaken on the matter of chronic parasite dysbiosis is at Centre for Digestive Disorders in Sydney, CDD. Amongst others, they have found two common parasites called Blastocystis hominis and Dientamoeba fragilis, that may be important to treat if there are chronic and diffuse symptoms that may be related to the ailments.
What usually follows a diagnosis of these parasites in someones gut flora, is the question “How they managed to contract this parasite in the gut flora”. The answer for this is multifocal. First, usually the beneficial gut flora is weakened. Then there may have been a period of stress, or poor diet, that have weakened the gut functioning. Then there follows an infection with one or more parasites, maybe also accompanied by intestinal worms. The parasites is commonly contracted fecal-oraly, meaning the hygiene of someone has been poor, whereupon someone else eats or drinks what has been handled by that person.
What is tricky with these parasites is that there are several subtypes of them, whereas some om them can cause disease, while other types are asymptomatic (and will therefore not cause any harm). Centre for Digestive Disorders have come to the conclusion that if the patient has symptoms that can be related to the parasite located in the gut flora, it is adviced to treat it.
What is also tricky is how to treat these parasites. In a smaller study there was evidence that using the herb oregano extract, caused half of the patients to be relieved of the symptoms. What is important if you are to use oregano extract is to use the emulsified form, so that it doesn’t erode and irritate the gut lining.
Centre for Digestive Disorders are very much aware of treating patients with antibiotics. Often, a combination therapy using various antibiotics, including antibiotic herbs, are the best way to rid someone of these parasites. I find it essential when clearing away unwanted parasites, to also make sure to build up with beneficial flora. There are many beneficial probiotics that have a good effect, such as VSL#3/Vivomix, or other probiotics with a broad spectrum effect.
In addition, there are many folk remedies that will possibly have a good effect on treating these parasites. Most commonly garlic. Also, I would consider using lemon water or cold pressed extra virgin apple cider vinegar as well, as this benefits the general gut flora.
I think the main message from this article is: Do not give up if you have chronic ailments and are told there is nothing to do. There may be a solution under the next rock, if you look hard enough.