February 22, 2018

Five Ways to Contract Parasites

apple wormParasites. For many, this word conjures up frightening images of 10-foot-long worms, like tapeworms, the eggs of which have been reported to be found in ill-prepared sushi.  Parasites are actually any organism that derives nourishment and shelter from its host, but in doing so, is detrimental to the health of its host. They can damage the intestinal lining, the blood cells, the liver, the heart and so on. Most of them cannot be seen with the naked eye, so neither can their eggs.

Here are the 5 most common ways you can get parasites:

1.Eating ill-prepared raw foods. One recent article suggested that over fifty percent of Atlantic salmon is infected with a parasitic louse. There are dozens of fish parasites, which is why fish farms rely on pharmaceuticals to protect their stock.  It’s also why fish being prepared for use in sashimi and sushi  must be prepared carefully before use and are served with very pungent condiments!  Not a sushi fan? Even organically grown fruits and vegetables should be washed thoroughly before eating them raw.  Prefer cooked vegetables? Your risk may be reduced. The heat of thorough cooking will destroy parasites and their eggs.

2. Drinking water directly from a freshwater lake, river or stream. Ever heard of ‘beaver fever’?  Giardia lamblia is a parasite that North Americans hikers and campers can acquire in one gulp, resulting in chronic irritable bowel-type symptoms that can go unsolved for years. That’s right; it is uncommon for medical doctors to test for giardia before assigning a diagnosis for IBS. 

Samoyed Sitting3. Your pets. Yes, your cat or dog may contract a parasite that could be transmitted to you via a slobbery kiss. One such parasite is cryptosporidium, which veterinarians and medical doctors believe to be highly infectious.  Children are most vulnerable to this parasite because they are close to the ground and they tend to put fingers in their mouths. Unlike canine heartworm, there is no vaccination against it.

4. Unprotected sexual activities. It should come as no surprise that if a virus as small as HIV can pass through blood, semen and vaginal secretions then parasitic micro-organisms can also pass through.  For example, trichomonas is the most common parasitic STI (sexually transmitted infection) worldwide.

5. Foreign travel. Visiting a region where sanitation and hygiene are not on par with western, industrialized regions can increase your risk of acquiring a parasite.  Walking barefoot on infected soil is a risk factor for old-world hookworm, for instance.

I could keep this list going, but you get the point. These tiny organisms are everywhere, and even if you sit at home with a cat on your lap and make your own food you are at risk .  Even a healthy immune system may not offer protection against most parasites.

Parasite Cleansing

Assorted basil herbsOur grandparents and great-grandparents were wise to ‘de-worm’ the family a couple times per year with homemade concoctions. When’s the last time you de-wormed the kids?  Why we stopped this practice may have a lot to do with the false sense of security created by the success of antibiotics; however, antibiotics only kill bacteria–not nematodes (worms), nor fungi, nor protozoans (like giardia).

You don’t need to wait until a doctor diagnoses you with a parasite to enjoy the benefits of a parasite cleanse.  If you have an inflammatory skin condition, chronic digestive difficulties, or any other health challenge, parasites could be part of the problem. Cleansing the body of parasitic organisms is a form of detoxification that can result in better sense of well-being.  But it requires nutritional modifications and lifestyle modifications to prevent re-infection. Read more about cleansing and detoxifying.

Are you “fat, sick and nearly dead”?

Recently, I watched the film “Fat, Sick and Nearly Dead” by Joe Cross (Joe Cross Films, 2010). What an inspiring story! It’s about  two overweight men who transformed their health by performing a 60-day juice fast.  These two men first meet at a truck stop somewhere in the American Midwest and discover that they suffer from the same inflammatory skin condition, not to mention obesity and unhappiness about their current health status. Joe, our narrator, has already been drinking nothing but juiced fruits and vegetables for several weeks when he meets Phil, who is over 420 pounds. They exchange contact info, and the rest of the film follows Phil through his ‘reboot’, i.e. his juice fast experience.  The results are dramatic and impressive, rewarding Phil with a second chance at life.

While I found the film to be very inspirational (my juicer has returned to a central place on my countertop and is seeing daily use after a winter in hibernation), I feel it necessary to emphasize that  it is essential that you not embark on a juice fast on your own.  Here’s why you want to be under the supervision of a health care practitioner if you’ve never done this before:

1. Juice fasting can produce some unpleasant side effects in the consumer as large amounts of toxins are rapidly expelled from the fat cells.  This can result in headaches, skin outbreaks, diarrhea and other signs that your body is unable to cope with the volume of waste entering your circulation.

2. You will lose weight on a juice fast, whether you want to or not. Losing it too quickly may increase your risk of gall bladder stones, for instance.  If you’ve already got stones, well, then losing a large amount of weight in a short time could potentially cause an obstruction that requires emergency surgery.  Trust me: you should keep your gall bladder!

3. Consuming a juice-only diet means you are on a vegan diet. This means it will be devoid of vitamin B-12, retinol (vitamin A) and vitamin D.  You’ll need to take supplements to prevent deficiencies in these nutrients.

4. Individuals with diabetes or hypoglycemia  shouldn’t fast on just any juice.   Juicing removes most of the fibre from fruits and vegetables, allowing the natural sugars to enter the bloodstream much faster than if the food was eaten whole, fibre and all.  This means that blood sugars can be difficult to manage without the guidance of a nutritionist.

5. You will have cravings, and when you do, it will probably be for something you know is not healthy. You need a coach to make sure you stay away from the chips, chocolate, burgers, and other junk foods your body may be addicted to. Who better than a nutritionist to be that coach?

Other tips before you embark on this dramatic dietary change:

1. Have an electronic body composition assessment before, during and after your juice fast. This data will identify how quickly you are losing fat, expelling toxins and losing muscle (gasp! it’s likely on this low-protein diet).

2. Even if you aren’t ‘fat, sick and nearly dead’, please—have a health check-up by a qualified health professional before embarking on a juice fast.  The two gentlemen in the film did—and it proved to two medical doctors that dramatic changes in diet can produce dramatic, healthy results.

Final thoughts: Juicing is an excellent way to increase your daily intake of vitamins, minerals and antioxidants without having to chew your way through several large salads daily.  I believe that if more of us drank fresh juices instead of the pasteurized, “from concentrate” ones that we’d all be the better for it.

Have you ever fasted on juice, and if so, did you have a positive experience?