A few years ago a friend of mine was told by a naturopath that he had parasites and should do a cleanse. "Parasites?" I said incredulously. It sounded a little sketchy to me. I didn't buy it. But he did the cleanse, that is. Did it make any difference? Absolutely maybe! was what he decided.
I hear about parasites all the time these days, an assortment of little critters that allegedly live inside our bodies, wreaking havoc and causing health problems like fatigue and intestinal disorders.
Some say they reside in, like, 80 per cent of the population, and then I kind of have to think, well, then maybe they're supposed to be there.
What the experts say
"Just because you've got a parasite doesn't mean you need treatment. In fact, the vast majority of parasites that we see in North America are non-invasive, non-pathogenic and can be ignored. The groups in North America with the greatest frequency of parasitic infections are children in daycare and gay men. Parasites play very little, if any role in the poor health of anyone not in a high-risk group. I also haven't seen any scientific data to show that cleanses actually eradicate them. I want to make it very clear I do support alternative medicine, but the issue of parasites is one that is dear to me." JAY KEYSTONE , professor of medicine, U of T, senior staff physician, tropical disease unit, Toronto General Hospital
"The average person comes in contact with parasites several times a week. I'm not convinced that they are always a problem, but they can be. It comes down to population numbers and of course species. I have most of my patients almost routinely do a cleanse once a year . We use a product that has two different types of wormwood , black walnut and male fern . Whether your body will keep the parasites has a lot to do with the toxicity of your digestive tract. One symptom of parasites is drained energy. Some parasites, like liver flukes, can destroy tissue. Parasites can sometimes be involved in autoimmune diseases. But I'm conflicted because small amounts of parasites may lower inflammation in your body or lessen your chance of getting things like rheumatoid arthritis."
TERRY WILLARD , clinical herbalist, PhD, Calgary
"I find that parasites are a very common problem, not necessarily the ones you might expect like worms but things like yeast, Blastocystis homonis and Entamoeba dispar, common microscopic parasitic organisms found around the world. These can cause gastrointestinal problems. The diagnosis is done by sending three stool samples to a lab in the U.S. Once diagnosed, the treatment might involve taking black walnut, bearberry , pau d'arco and acidophilus (if the person has taken antibiotics) and decreasing sugar and refined foods . I know there are people who say parasites are harmless, but I've seen that they can cause many problems."
Sushma Shah , naturopath, Toronto
"Everybody has parasites. If you do some research on the theory of pleomorphism, you'll see what I'm talking about. [We all have] a basic set of bacteria, and different stressors like pollution or toxins will cause them to evolve to a potentially harmful level. It becomes [a problem] when it starts to manifest as a disease process. A colonic will flush out the actual parasites. We had a patient who came in after reading about colonics and passed a 12-inch worm, having had no prior symptoms. We routinely see various parasites coming out. Patients may have no symptoms, minor irritations like rectal itching or full-blown diseases that can include cancer. Not to say parasites cause cancer, but cancer patients typically have more toxins, including parasites."
Taras Rodak , naturopath, Toronto