ESTIMATED READING TIME 4 MINUTES
Did you know the complex population of many different bacteria and microbes living in your digestive system is now being thought of as an organ in its own right? Sometimes, though, unhealthy bacteria and other microbes can move in, and when bacteria aren’t happy you might experience digestive issues like bloating, gas, IBS symptoms and abdominal pain.
In this article, you’ll be introduced to some unwanted invaders in your bacterial community – parasites. A parasite is any organism living and feeding off another, at the expense of its host – in this case, you.
Although it’s tempting to think parasites only affect people living in developing countries, they’re surprisingly common here in the UK and may be residing within you unsuspected. In fact, up to a third of the world’s population is thought to be affected by parasites.
Read on to find out more about some tell-tale symptoms of parasites and what can be done to deter them.
Thousands of different species of bacteria naturally inhabit your intestines, performing a host of useful functions for you while you provide them with a place to live. They support your digestion, produce vitamins, nourish your gut lining, support your immune system and control inflammation.
In a neat move, these beneficial bacteria produce for themselves the type of environment they love. They do this by manufacturing certain chemicals and training your immune system to defend you against unhealthy types of bacteria or other microbes. This means organisms not so beneficial for health, including parasites, don’t get a look in as they don’t do well in this type of environment.
However, your population of friendly gut bacteria can easily become compromised, opening the door to parasites. For example:
All these factors encourage pathogenic organisms to compete with your friendly bacteria for space within your intestines. These then produce their own chemicals to create the environment they prefer, where the friendly bacteria don’t thrive.
As well as encouraging opportunistic bacteria, this environment is perfect to allow parasites to flourish, and although they can live anywhere in your body, parasites are most commonly found in the gut.
When you think of parasites you might imagine the tapeworms or roundworms affecting your pets. In fact, many parasites are extremely tiny and can’t be detected by the naked eye.
Many different parasites can potentially inhabit your body, but there are two main types. Protozoa are microscopic single-celled organisms like those causing giardia and malaria, and helminths are larger parasitic worms such as pinworms or tapeworms.
It’s by no means uncommon to pick up a parasite. You can ingest them with undercooked food and untreated water, or you can be exposed to them through your pets. Once you have a parasite, it’s extremely easy to pass it on to another person.
Symptoms of an infection vary according to the parasite, so they can cause a wide variety of health issues, including:
Sometimes symptoms appear long after the initial infestation, meaning parasites are often unsuspected and symptoms put down to IBS.
Longstanding parasitic infections can cause poor absorption of vitamins and minerals, leaving you low in essential nutrients.
Because symptoms of parasites can be generalised and mimic those of other gut-related issues, testing is important to confirm if a parasite is responsible.
If parasites are suspected, a simple stool test can detect parasites and their eggs. Once the type of parasite is determined, a specific protocol can be employed to remove it and restore your healthy gut bacteria. It’s important to return the environment in your intestines to a favourable one once more and so prevent re-infestation by the parasite. This may mean paying attention to stomach acid levels, supporting your immune system by nutrients and foods and calming any inflammation in your gut lining.
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