Any organism that derives its food from and lives of another organism are called a parasite. Parasites are not just found in the animal kingdom; the plant kingdom has its share of parasites too. Parasites of the animal kingdom are classified into three groups:
Protozoa – living in the intestines, tissue and/or blood of its host, these are tiny single-cell organisms.
Helminths – larger than Protozoa’s, these parasites include roundworms, thorny headed worms, and tapeworms.
Ectoparasites – these parasites attach or burrow themselves in the skin of their hosts and include mites, lice, fleas, and ticks.
How Does Infection Occur?
A parasitic infection can happen to anyone and is far more prevalent than we realize. Parasites exist in every corner of the world and there are numerous ways in which we can be infected. Thinking that people only get infected during visits to places with poor hygiene or drinking contaminated water or eating undercooked food, is a common mistake made by most people in the developed world. While it is true that the chances of infections increase due to the above-mentioned reasons, there are numerous other ways in which parasites infect us. Insect bites and parasites transferred from our pets are two common methods of getting infected. Activities like gardening, swimming in a lake, river or a poorly maintained swimming pool and even sex; procedures such as medical interventions can all cause infections.
Symptoms of Parasitic Infections
Most of us harbor parasites within us and never show any signs or symptoms that point to their existence. However, the following symptoms may point to the fact that you are infected and require treatment to eradicate the parasites from your body.
- Unexplained weight loss can be caused due to a host of diseases. However, it is also a symptom of harboring certain types of parasites like tapeworms. Found in the intestine of the host, tapeworms can grow to a large size and can cause loss of appetite and/or an upset stomach along with rapid weight loss.
- A poor immune system caused by diseases like HIV or diabetes weakens your body and makes it more susceptible to infections.
- One of the most common symptoms affecting the majority of people is smelly loose motions accompanied by flatulence, cramps in the abdomen and dehydration. This is caused due to Giardia infection. Unfortunately, this infection can occur by drinking contaminated water, eating infested raw food, swimming in infested waters, touching infected surfaces and even through the fecal-oral route.
- An unusual vaginal discharge, itching, sore and red genitals, pain during sex and urinating could be signs of infection due to Trichomonas vaginalis. This is a protozoan parasite that causes this sexually transmitted disease.
- Certain parasitic infections do not show any kind of sign or symptom. It is always prudent to get yourself checked regularly and start treatment should you be infected.
Ways to get rid of Parasites
While ectoparasites can be eradicated through a combination of proper hygiene and medication, getting rid of protozoan and helminth parasites require more interventions from the host. Parasites cannot make their food and depend totally on their hosts for their nourishment. One of the primary foods that parasites derive from their hosts is sugar. It is their source of energy. Using the energy derived from sugar, parasites use fatty and amino acids to reproduce. Starving the parasite of its primary source of energy will not allow it to reproduce. This requires the host to reduce its sugar consumption to the bare minimum. However, this is easier said than done. Most of the food we eat contains sugar in some form or the other.
Food to the Rescue
The good news is that certain foods can help get rid of parasites without causing any side effects to the host.
- Known to cause parasites to detach from the host and even die, garlic consumption not only reduces infestation but also acts against many infections in the body.
- Bromelain, a compound found in bromeliads which include pineapple is known to kill parasites and help restore digestive health.
- Sunflower seeds prevent the germination of parasitic eggs and also flush out parasites by preventing them from penetrating the host system.
- Coconut oil is known to have anti-parasitic properties.
- Used for ages to treat wounds, turmeric is also known to stop parasitic growth in the body.
- Papaya seeds possess enzymes that are anti-amoebic and anti-helminthic. Adding a little honey to papaya seeds makes them more effective in treating parasitic infestations in the gut.
Getting rid of parasites from your system will require planning, time and discipline. However, the effort will help your system and bring about better health, higher energy, and a parasite-free body.