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Do Parasite Cleanses Really Work?

Separating Fact From Fiction When It Comes to Parasite Cleanses and Healing Your Gut.

Key Takeaways:
  • The best parasite cleanse is one that supports overall gut health through a therapeutic diet, probiotics, and antiparasitic herbs or pharmaceuticals.
  • Trendy parasitic cleanses are too targeted and can miss the mark, leaving you with unaddressed inflammation and other gut conditions, and susceptible to recurring infections.
  • Overall gut health, including healthy epithelial cells and a robust microbiome, are your first line of defense against parasites.
  • Annoying gut symptoms like diarrhea, bloating, nausea, vomiting, or rash may indicate that you have a parasitic infection and can benefit from a “parasite cleanse”
  • Severe symptoms like unexplained weight loss, fever, and dehydration due to diarrhea indicate a more significant infection, making parasite testing with a healthcare provider the best choice.

Parasites are a part of life for nearly all earthly inhabitants. Plants and animals (including humans) alike all face the possibility of interacting with a parasite at some point in their lifetimes, even if tapeworms, in particular, aren’t all that common in the Western world. If you’ve gotten sick during international travel to developing countries, you may have been interacting with a parasite. Sometimes parasites clear on their own, and sometimes they cause long-term problems.

Importantly, some parasites are dangerous and deadly, but not all parasites are harmful to all individuals at all times. Research seems to suggest that the health of your microbiota plays an essential role in whether or not certain parasites become pathogenic (a parasite infection) inside your body. So maintaining and improving digestive health is a cornerstone defense against parasitic infection.

If you suspect you might have an intestinal parasite, there are tests you can take to find out whether and which one(s) could be negatively impacting your health. Conventional doctors will often prescribe antiparasitic medications to treat the problem — which may come with side effects of their own — while more holistically-minded practitioners may suggest a parasite cleanse. 

Unfortunately, due to the rising influence of medical advice on social media, there is significant misinformation on parasites and gut health. The truth of the matter is that focusing on parasites might be missing the forest for the trees. Improving your overall gut health through the use of strategic probiotics, an anti-inflammatory diet, proper sleep, and other lifestyle changes is a better bet in dealing with gut parasites than most of the expensive (possibly ineffective) solutions you see online.

Let’s separate fact from fiction when it comes to dealing with gut parasites. I’ll go over a step-by-step process to pushing parasites out of your system by improving your intestinal health, and, thereby, your immune system overall to prevent future problems from occurring.

Symptoms Can Determine If a Parasite Cleanse or Parasite Test is Best

If you’re looking for a parasite test, it’s likely because you’re experiencing persistent and annoying gut symptoms like unexplained weight loss, bloating, nausea, fever, rash, vomiting, constipation, lack of appetite, diarrhea, cramping, stomach pain, or general gut discomfort [1, 2, 3, 4]. While some of these symptoms may be attributable to other issues of the digestive system like IBS, once you’ve ruled out all other possibilities by implementing healing-based strategies, you could be dealing with a parasite.

This is why I prefer to start with the gut-healing, step-by-step process below before spending money on potentially expensive parasite testing. But if you’re experiencing extreme discomfort and symptoms (like severe abdominal pain, dehydration due to diarrhea, and significant weight loss) and feel that an urgent answer and solution are warranted, skip straight to the test. 

Parasite Testing Basics

Parasite testing generally looks for protozoan parasites in your gut via a stool sample. Many different types of integrative and conventional licensed healthcare providers are able to help you complete a Gastrointestinal Microbial Assay Plus (GI-MAP™) parasite test using a stool sample. GI-MAP™ was one of the first Food and drug administration (FDA)-approved tests for gut pathogens. While Medicare is the only insurance company that covers it, some insurance providers may provide partial reimbursement after purchase.

What’s critically important is that you don’t jump to conclusions if your results show that you have protozoa in your stool, as not all are bad for human health You should be concerned and follow up with your provider if you’re positive for Cryptosporidium [1], Entamoeba histolytica [2], Giardia [3]), Cyclospora spp.[5], or Dientamoeba fragilis [6]. These are pathogenic, can cause debilitating symptoms in most people, and likely require prescription pharmaceutical treatment. 

However, if your test shows the following protozoan parasites, you can likely relax — they’re not generally considered harmful.

  • Chilomastix mesnili [7]
  • Endolimax nana [8]
  • Entamoeba coli [8]
  • Entamoeba hartmanii [8]
  • Pentatrichomonas hominis [9]

Blastocystis hominis has mixed research behind it, some of which shows harm, some doesn’t. Seek medical advice to be sure about this one, especially if you’re having symptoms [4, 10].

Overall Gut Health is Your Best Defense (and Offense)

When I was in college, I dealt with my own health issues related to a parasite in my gut, and I know firsthand how much trouble they can cause in some cases. But, I still want to caution against being overly focused on parasites when it comes to improving your symptoms. 

When it comes to getting rid of any harmful protozoan parasites, the most important thing to keep in mind is that you want to improve the health of your gut as a whole. You want to create an environment that supports beneficial bacteria & microorganisms, one that is inhospitable to pathogens, including pathogenic parasites.

By occupying space and using up nutrients in the gut, a healthy gut microbiota is likely the body’s first line of defense against protozoan parasites that get into the digestive tract [11]. Not only do beneficial bacteria and fungi make the gut inhospitable to parasites by outcompeting them for resources, they also promote strong intestinal immunity against pathogens that enter the gut [12]. 

A healthy microbiota can also strengthen the epithelial cells (cells lining the gut), which have several defenses against parasites. With microbial support, the epithelial cells can more effectively [12]: 

  • Tell infected self-cells to die in order to slow the spread of infection. 
  • Make antimicrobial proteins that fight parasites.
  • Make other molecules that recruit immune cells to fight infection.
  • Recognize and better react to parasites in the future.

Dendritic cells are a type of immune cell that live in close proximity to epithelial cells that keep watch for pathogens [13]. Once they encounter a foreign invader, such as parasites, they initiate an immune response and help prevent a similar infection in the future [13, 14]. Dendritic cells may even cooperate with beneficial gut bacteria, including those introduced via probiotics, to reduce inflammation [15].

If a harmful intestinal parasite has colonized your gut, it will almost certainly have a negative effect on your microbiome that can disrupt your immune system and promote disease [12, 16]. It’s possible (and maybe likely) that medical intervention with pharmaceuticals is necessary to eradicate the parasite. But by supporting your gut microbes with probiotics while you’re treating the infection, you’re supporting your gut microbes. 

Along with a therapeutic diet to reduce gut inflammation, you’re giving your body’s defense system the best chance of killing the parasites, letting it deal with them more efficiently if they come back, and making you overall less susceptible to gut pathogens. Even better, you are healing your entire gut environment, so that if parasites even aren’t your main issue, you’re still likely to receive benefit from this protocol.

A Step-by-Step Approach to a Parasite Cleanse

To push problematic gut parasites out effectively, holistically, and in a way that supports your overall gut health, follow a step-by-step process. After step one, each subsequent step is only necessary if the problem persists (although I do recommend using a daily probiotic either way).

Step One: Build The Foundation

The first step should always be to lay a solid foundation by getting your gut and immune system functioning well. Since a healthy gut microbiota can help the immune system keep parasites in check, incorporating a nutrient-dense, anti-inflammatory diet, and a healthy lifestyle (quality sleep, stress management, and proper exercise) will support the microbiota so it can keep doing its job [11, 12, 16]. 

It bears repeating that by starting with gut health foundations and not diving into specific parasite cleanses/botanicals right off the bat, you can:

  • Treat any underlying inflammation that can present with “parasite-like” symptoms or conditions 
  • Support a healthy intestinal microbiota that can counteract many different types of pathogens that may be contributing to your symptoms
  • Heal the gut environment as a whole to make it less susceptible to future infections

Even if there is a parasite, skipping over the foundational step of a therapeutic diet can leave you with an unhealthy gut environment and any co-conditions unaddressed. Unfortunately, this can leave you with unhealed symptoms and/or contribute to a re-infection in the future.

An anti-inflammatory diet cuts out gluten, processed foods and oils, sugar, dairy, and potentially other foods that are specifically triggering to your system. Those foods not only create inflammation in the system but also feed harmful bacteria and microbes that disrupt the health of your intestinal tract. 

A Paleo diet that’s specifically low in sugar and cuts out common inflammatory food triggers is a great example of a therapeutic-grade diet that acts as a parasite cleanse.

Step Two: Add Probiotics

Step two is adding probiotics. If, after making meaningful changes to your diet and lifestyle, your symptoms persist, add in probiotics, ideally the triple category approach to probiotics. Some studies have shown that probiotics alone (Saccharomyces boulardii in particular) can treat infections of B. hominis and Giardia and improve leaky gut related to Cryptosporidium. 

Though human clinical trials are scarce, three randomized controlled trials have demonstrated that probiotics can reduce leaky gut caused by Cryptosporidium and be as effective as conventional antiparasitic drugs at treating Giardia and B. hominis [17, 18, 19]. 

Probiotics also help with numerous other digestive diseases, which makes the gut more resistant to pathogenic parasites. They can also reduce any gut symptoms if parasites aren’t actually the problem (which is the main issue with most of the “parasite cleanses” out there — they miss the mark).

Probiotics may have these effects by competing for resources and stimulating the immune system [20]. They may also increase antioxidant capacity, suppress oxidation, regulate the immune system, and directly kill parasites or inhibit their ability to multiply [21].

Step Three: Antimicrobials or Antibiotics

Step three is adding in antimicrobials or antibiotics if you still have symptoms. Conventional antiprotozoal medications that may be prescribed by your gastroenterologist come with many potential side effects and health risks, including [22]:

  • Abdominal cramping
  • Bloating
  • Loose bowel movements
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Dizziness
  • Drowsiness and fatigue
  • Fever
  • Headaches
  • Itchy skin (pruritus)
  • Rash

If you and your provider feel the best course of action for your individual situation is to go the pharmaceutical route, absolutely do NOT skip the first two steps of this protocol. Eating well and supporting your health with proper sleep, along with taking probiotics, will give you the best possible chance of skipping some of those side effects, clearing the parasite, and preventing future infections.

A holistic approach may be effective for treating some parasites while supporting a healthy gut microbiome with fewer side effects [17, 18, 19, 23]. This may be a better choice if you have minor symptoms, haven’t undergone any testing, or tested positive for a less-pathogenic parasite.

There is far less research on herbal antimicrobials for treating intestinal parasites compared to prescription medications. Only two herbs have human clinical studies to back their effectiveness in treating pathogenic gut parasites. If you’ve tested positive for a dangerous parasite, it’s best to talk with your medical provider about pharmaceuticals and support the treatment with the diet and probiotic recommendations above. 

But if herbals seem like a good first choice for you, here’s what the research says. One, Holarrhena antidysenterica, is an Indian herb that can effectively eradicate Entamoeba histolytica and the symptoms it causes [24]. The other is oregano oil, which an industry-funded study found was able to eliminate three parasites generally considered non-pathogenic [25].

The following herbs have demonstrated antiparasitic properties in animal and cell (in vitro) studies, and may one day be researched in human clinical studies.

  • Common plants in the U.S. with specific antiparasitic effects against Entamoeba histolytica include [26]:
    • Creosote bush
    • Avocado
    • Ginger
    • Garlic
    • Anise
  • Plants with general antiparasitic properties:
    • Garlic (Allium sativum and its thiosulfates, including allicin) [27, 28, 29, 30, 31, 32, 33]
    • Ginger (Zingiber officinale and its constituent hexahydrocurcumin) (27, 28, 30, 34, 35, 36)
    • Peppermint oil [37]
    • Asafoetida (Ferula asafoetida; aka hing powder or oil) [38]
    • Tongkat ali (Eurycoma longifolia) [39]
    • Chromolaena odorata (bitter bush or Siam weed) [40
    • Uncaria perrottetii (sungay kalabaw) [40, 41, 42, 43, 44, 45, 46]
    • Yarrow (Achillea millefolium) [47
    • Fennel (Nigella sativa) [48]

Despite the limited research, many of these botanicals, including cat’s claw, oregano oil, garlic, fennel, and ginger, are considered to be safe for short-term use in healthy, non-pregnant persons. If you completed the prior steps and have persistent symptoms, these can be a great next step for you. But always check in with a botanical-savvy provider before taking one of these herbs for longer than a few weeks or if you have a health condition. 

Always include probiotics along with antimicrobial treatment, as studies have shown antibiotics are more effective in combination with probiotics for other types of dysbiosis (e.g. bacterial infections like bacterial vaginosis, small intestine bacterial overgrowth (SIBO), prostate infections, and H. pylori) [49, 50, 51, 52, 53]. Probiotics also help reduce the damage and uncomfortable side effects caused by antibiotics themselves, antibiotic-associated diarrhea. 

If you don’t fully respond to any of the steps in this plan and haven’t had a parasite test, it might be worthwhile to look into testing. Assessing for other gut conditions, like inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), Crohn’s disease, SIBO, or irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is also a good consideration, based on your symptoms. Jumping straight into a different parasite or colon “cleanse” may not be putting your time and resources into the best avenue for improving your overall gut health.

Parasite Cleanse: Back to the Basics

As with most of the content found here at, the topic of a parasite cleanse comes back to gut health, which is at the foundation of your susceptibility, resiliency, and ability to prevent parasitic infection. By taking the steps to support your gut health, you’re boosting your immune system, fortifying the epithelial cells in your gut lining, and boosting the good bugs in your colon. When your gut microbiota is strong and healthy, there’s no room for a harmful parasite to thrive.

Instead of trusting your health with a Tiktoker’s detox home remedy, follow the science. We would love to help you tailor your diet and find the right supplements to support you on your health journey. Reach out to the Ruscio Institute for Functional Health and schedule a time to talk with one of our practitioners.

The Ruscio Institute has developed a range of high-quality formulations to help our patients and audience. If you’re interested in learning more about these products, please click here. Note that there are many other options available, and we encourage you to research which products may be right for you.

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