Parasites


Although North Americans often consider parasites something you only worry about when traveling, this is not true. As long ago as 1976, a nationwide survey in the United States by the Centers for Disease Control revealed that one in every six people selected at random had one or more parasites. It is possible that we are hosting a dinner party for some 130 types of parasites.

An Internet Homepage, Parasites of Vertebrates, by the Department of Nematology, University of California-Davis, states that 900 million people worldwide are infected with hookworm, and some 4 percent to 15 percent of the population in the Southeastern United States. Some one billion people (1/4 of the world's population) are infected with roundworm, and 500 million people worldwide are infected with pinworm. In the United States, estimates of those infected with pinworm range from 10 percent to 35 percent of the population.

How did this happen? Climate and sanitary conditions breed parasites, of course, and then they are spread throughout the world. International travel spreads them, as well as the return of armed services personnel from overseas. Within a country, parasites find a home in contaminated municipal and rural water supplies and in household pets, not to mention in farm animals. Finally, the increase of daycare centers has proven to be a transmission place.

What are parasites?

The word parasites comes from the Greek para, meaning "beside", and sitos , meaning "food." This means "an animal or plant that lives on or in another organism from which it obtains nutrients." Parasites are larger than bacteria and viruses but usually so small that you cannot see them without a microscope. Four major groups of parasites include Protozoa (amoebas, giardia), Nematode (round, pin, and hookworms), Cestode (tapeworms), and Trematode (flukes). Bacteria can also be parasitic.

Parasites enter your body in one of four ways through food and water intake; through a transmitting agent, such as a mosquito; through sexual conduct; and via the nose and skin. The parasites are often harmful. Any number of them can infect your gastrointestinal tract. Most parasites produce similar symptoms.

How do I know if I have parasites?

According to Ann Louise Gittleman, a certified nutritionist who has worked with parasite patients, a parasite infection can be manifested by any number of signs. These include constipation, diarrhea, gas and bloating, irritable bowel syndrome, joint and muscle aches and pains, anemia, allergies, skin conditions, nervousness, sleep disturbances, teeth grinding, and chronic fatigue.

Many health practitioners believe that not only do parasites result in symptoms such as those listed above, but that they also may be responsible for a number of other health problems. Gittleman says "I have observed that many unexplained health conditions often disappeared when parasites were eliminated from the body. These conditions included environmental illness, skin problems, digestive problems, excessive fatigue, hypoglycemia, arthritic-like aches and pains, long-standing obesity, and even depression."

How can parasites hurt you?

Parasites can damage the host's body in a number of ways. They can:

* Destroy cells faster than cells can be regenerated.

* Produce toxic substances.

* Irritate body tissue.

* Invade body tissue, including the skin and intestinal lining.

* Depress immune system function while activating immune system response.

* Cause nutrient malabsorption.

Treatment

If you suspect you have parasites, a health practitioner can arrange a number of tests. These include stool tests, blood tests, tissue swabs, and more. These tests can often be inconclusive. Many parasites that reside in tissue or in the blood will not be found in fecal samples. Nor can pinworms be seen in stools. Parasites that adhere to the gastrointestinal tract lining are very hard to find.

If you have parasites, there are a number of things you can do. Prescription drugs are available, and they do work, but, like so many prescription drugs, they also can have many side effects. There are also natural methods of ridding the body of parasites. These generally include cleansing the intestinal tract, modifying the diet, using a substance that kills the parasites, recolonizing the intestinal bacteria, and taking preventive measures.

Prevention

There are a number of things you can do to avoid picking up parasites:

* Wash your hands before eating.

* Wash all fruits and vegetables before eating them.

* Wash your hands with soap and water after going to the bathroom, changing diapers, or handling pets.

* Keep your fingernails short and clean.

* Do not walk barefoot.

* Have regular parasite checkups (especially if you travel frequently).

Reprinted with permission from AIM International Partners Magazine, 1997


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