“Once upon a time in the 1930’s in New York City, there lived many fresh fish lovers,” writes Robert S. Desowitz, Ph.D. in his book New Guinea Tapeworms and Jewish Grandmothers. They would venture to markets where huge tanks filled with water held live pike, pickerel and carp from Minnesota and Wisconsin lakes. Scandinavian fishermen had moved to that area and were supplying the fish, which had become infected with a tapeworm that can reach up to 45 feet, according to Desowitz. Customers included housewives who took the fish and transformed them into gefilte fish, minced fish pressed into balls and boiled until done.
"The `until done’ is the tricky part," says Desowitz. The grandmothers of that time would sample the fish until it was cooked just right. "The early samples were still quite raw and if infected, contained viable worm larvae. In this way, many a nice old lady of Gotham unwittingly acquired a forty foot Scandinavian immigrant in her digestive tract."
It’s true! Persistent parasites abound. Whether you drive an expensive sports car, live in a lovely garden home surrounded by a white picket fence or wander shoeless in search of food, you can serve as host to pesky worms vying for your attention. Finally, we can admit that, yes, most of us have parasites. Fortunately, they can be easily eliminated.
"Parasite" comes from a Greek word meaning "one who eats off the table of another." How fitting. A parasite survives by hijacking another organism, robbing it of nutrients and thanking it by leaving behind toxic waste. Obviously, we would be much happier without having these pintsized freeloaders around.
Yet, there are over 100 different types of parasites that can live in human hosts. Since the world’s population is becoming more mobile, with US tourists traveling to foreign countries where parasites are prevalent and immigrants moving to the US from these countries, parasitic infections are increasing.
Worms are prolific little creatures. They can release tens of thousands of eggs at a time and it’s the eggs or the freshly hatched larvae that we inadvertently pick up as we walk barefoot or garden in infected soil. Parasitic infection may spread through contaminated water, fruits, vegetables, grains, poultry, fish or meat. Parasites, in addition, can be transferred from pet to owner. Since children spend more time outdoors, they’re more likely than adults to be exposed to parasites. Signs of infection include a runny nose, nighttime restlessness and blisters on the lower lip inside the mouth.
If you become infected, be prepared for a rough time. Infected individuals may feel bloated, tired and hungry. They may have allergies, anemia, lethargy, fuzzy thinking, headaches and roller coastering blood sugar levels. They may experience restlessness, hair loss, diarrhea, arthritis, mineral imbalances and nighttime teeth grinding. One or more symptoms may occur to a greater or lesser degree depending upon the individual. But the fact remains, parasitic infections may have reached epidemic levels in this country.
Types of Parasites
Parasites include an amazing cast of characters that can end up taking residence in our bodies. There are four different groups to choose from: roundworms, single celled protozoa, tapeworms and flukes.
Roundworms exist worldwide, especially in warmer climates. Twenty-five percent of the world’s population may be infected with roundworms (which can reach the size of pencils) and include hookworms, whipworms, pinworms and trichinae. Hookworms migrate down the digestive tract where they attach to intestinal walls and ingest blood. The victim may experience nausea, indigestion, diarrhea, anemia and listlessness. Whipworms are small, about 3 to 5 centimeters long, and infect the large intestine. Pinworms are the most common roundworm in the US and inhabit mostly crowded areas such as schools, day care centers and mental hospitals. They can be as contagious as the flu and usually infect several members of one family. Trichinae are tiny roundworms found in the muscle of infected animals, usually pigs, that cause trichinosis, a disease characterized by intestinal disorders, fever, muscular swelling, pain and insomnia. If you eat pork, be careful since even a small uncooked portion can lead to infection. Always cook pork until it’s well done.
Minuscule, single celled protozoa permeate our environment and harm more people worldwide than any other parasite. Protozoa form cysts, or a resting stage, where they become resistant to temperature extremes, chemicals and drying. Humans can easily ingest these small cysts and many of us have been exposed. Yet, our immune systems come to the rescue and eliminate the cysts, keeping them under control. Individuals with a weakened immune system due to stress or illness, however, may experience outbreaks curable with certain herbs.
Common throughout the world, tapeworms are long and ribbon like. Humans can ingest tapeworm larvae by eating raw or under cooked beef, pork and fish or from coming in contact with infected animals or contaminated grains. Tapeworms live in our intestines and absorb nutrients through their skin. People with tapeworm infections feel dizzy, toxic, have unclear thinking, high and low blood sugar levels, hunger pains, poor digestion and allergies.
The various species of flukes, tiny flat worms that look like odd shaped pancakes, include blood flukes, fish flukes, intestinal flukes, liver flukes, lung flukes, lymph flukes and pancreatic flukes. Humans can become infected by eating raw or under cooked seafood, eating infected vegetation like water chestnuts or watercress or drinking or wading in infected water. Once inside the body, flukes migrate to various organs and may cause liver swelling, jaundice, weakened lungs and blood clots.
Simple Herbal Remedies
As you can tell, it doesn’t take Stone Age sanitation habits or a lengthy trip exploring dense jungles to increase parasitic infection risks. The little beasts are almost everywhere. Yet, many medical doctors hesitate to diagnose parasitic infection and won’t treat the infection unless symptoms are serious. Even though we’ve always had to deal with parasites, medical doctors have found that patients don’t want to hear about them.
It’s just as well. The drugs most physicians use against parasitic infection work on the premise of differential toxicity which means that the drug is hopefully more toxic to the parasite than to us. Side effects include nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain, rashes and headaches.
Fortunately, there are gentler herbal remedies that rid systems of persistent parasites. Some work better in combinations and some are very strong, so it’s best to obtain advice from an herbalist before ingesting them.
Take herbal remedies before meals on an empty stomach and, if you can, wait until just before the full moon since worms may be more active then. Begin taking herbs five days before the full moon and continue for about two weeks.
A combination of pumpkin seed, garlic, cramp bark, capsicum and thyme, can chase away tapeworms. An herbal mixture of black walnut leaves, wormwood, quassia, cloves and male fern, helps eliminate roundworms. Three parts capsicum, two parts wormwood and one part sage is an effective combination against worms. Black walnut, sassafras and pine needles also works.
- Be sure that all meat, chicken and fish are cooked thoroughly.
- Don’t use a microwave to cook meat, chicken or fish. Microwaves don’t heat foods completely.
- Always wash your hands, kitchen counters and utensils with hot soapy water after cutting or handling raw meat, chicken or fish.
- Wear gloves when changing the cat box. Deworm pets periodically.
- Avoid swallowing river, stream or lake water when swimming in them. Better yet, avoid swimming in them altogether.
- Eat high fiber foods and avoid sugar and other refined carbohydrates.
- Keep your body slightly acidic by including pumpkin seeds, calmyrna figs, garlic, apple cider vinegar, cranberry juice and pomegranates in your diet.
- Avoid eating water chestnuts and watercress.
- Desowitz, Robert S., Ph.D. New Guinea Tapeworms and Jewish Grandmothers. W.W. Norton & Company.
- Kroeger, Hanna. Parasites: The Enemy Within. Hanna Kroeger Publications, 1991.
From Winter 1992 Herbal Insights.
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