By Bruce Fife, N.D.
"… parasites are a problem everywhere, …" Coconut oil may offer protection …
There are two general groups of parasites. One consists of worms such as tape worms and roundworms. The second category is the protozoa, one-celled organisms. Parasites infect the intestines of both humans and animals and can cause a great deal of intestinal distress.
We often associate parasites with Third World countries and poor sanitation, but parasites are a problem everywhere, even in North America. In countries where sanitation is a priority people mistakenly assume that no problem exists and they don’t need to worry. Parasites are everywhere, waiting for the opportunity to latch onto an unsuspecting host.
Backpackers have long been aware of the danger of drinking water from streams and lakes. Open water even in the backcountry is often contaminated with parasites waiting for a host.
Bert Thomas, a 45-year-old geologist, was a wilderness enthusiast. He loved hiking, rock climbing and mountain biking and was an excellent athlete. In the spring of 1994 he took his three children and went backpacking in the Wyoming wilderness.
Always mindful about the dangers of drinking surface water, even in a seemingly pristine wilderness, he made sure to boil or filter every drop of water they drank.
On his return home he began to experience bouts with diarrhea and became increasingly fatigued. He lost all energy and stopped participating in the outdoor sports that had become a regular part of his life. He began to lose weight, suffer from dizzy spells, and became short of breath.
Doctors were unable to find a cause for his problems. Because the illness began soon after his return home from Wyoming, a stool sample was tested for parasites. The tests came back negative. Over the next six months in an attempt to find the cause of his illness he was treated for ulcers, had blood tests, abdominal scans, and X rays.
Symptoms became worse. He began having blackouts and heart palpitations and was hospitalized. Monitoring his heart revealed a serious abnormality called arrhythmia. It was assumed this was the cause of his dizzy spells and blackouts.
He was given medication to control the arrhythmia but after a while stopped taking it because of the side effects. Despite the negative tests from the stool specimen, his doctor gave him medication to treat giardia because there was little else they could do.
He felt dramatic relief of the diarrhoea and regained much of his former energy. As Bert found out, a common problem with tests for parasites is that they are often wrong. A negative reading doesn’t necessarily mean there are no parasites present.
His heart palpitations and dizziness continued and seemed to become aggravated when he attempted to exercise. He went to another doctor, an expert in intestinal disease, who recognized the symptoms immediately as giardiasis. Another stool test was performed to make sure that the giardia had been eradicated. It was.
While the parasites may have been removed, the damage done by them wasn’t. Intestinal permeability tests showed Bert was having trouble absorbing nutrients and was suffering from a mineral deficiency. He was given a multiple vitamin and mineral supplement.
Within a month Bert reported a 90 percent reduction in heart palpitations and dizziness and was able to resume his favorite sports. It took nine months on high doses of supplements for his body to recover completely from the damage caused by the giardia infection.
It was assumed that Bert became infected with giardia while he was in the wilderness, but that may not be so. Tap water can also be a source of contamination. The water treatment process doesn’t remove all contaminants and parasites.
Single-celled organisms such as cryptosporidium and giardia are particularly troublesome because they can often slip through water purification treatments unharmed. Since these organisms are protected by a tough outer coat, the chlorine added to municipal water supplies to kill germs has little effect on them.
Because of their small size, very fine filters are needed to trap them, and complete elimination of these parasites from tap water isn’t possible. Drinking-water regulations are designed to reduce, but not necessarily eliminate, parasite contamination; so even water systems that meet government standards may not be free of parasites.
Water supplies must be constantly monitored to detect levels above acceptable limits, even then there exists the potential for giardia infection. The most susceptible are those who have a weak immune system incapable of mounting an effective defense against the organism.
This is seen mostly in the very young and the elderly and those affected with other immune-suppressing illnesses such as AIDS.
Giardia and cryptosporidium normally live in the digestive tracts of many mammals. Public water supplies can become infected with these organisms when they are contaminated by sewage or animal waste. Although you may not hear about it, outbreaks occur all the time, usually in smaller cities and occasionally in large metropolitan areas.
In 1998 the three million residents of Sydney, Australia were advised by the Health Department to boil all their tap water because high concentrations of giardia and cryptosporidium were detected in the city’s water supply. In this instance most people were spared from infection because they were warned in time.
Unsafe water is an embarrassment to the water department of any city and sometimes officials are unwilling to admit that a problem exists until it’s too late. This is apparently what happened in Milwaukee, Wisconsin in 1993. A breakdown in water sanitation permitted cryptosporidium to contaminate the city’s drinking water for a week.
As a result, a hundred people died and 400,000 suffered stomach cramps, diarrhea, and fever that are characterized by the parasite. Recent outbreaks have occurred in several cities in California, Colorado, Montana, New York, Pennsylvania, and Massachusetts to name just a few.
Cryptosporidium is believed to be in 65 to 97 percent of the nation’s surface waters (rivers, lakes, and streams), according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). About half of our tap water comes from treated surface water. Giardia is a much bigger problem.
It is commonly found in the pre-treated water system used by some 40 million Americans and has caused epidemics in several small cities.
Giardiasis ranks among the top 20 infectious diseases that cause the greatest morbidity in Africa, Asia, and Latin America. It is the most common parasite diagnosed in North America. The CDC estimates that two million Americans contract giardiasis every year.1
Giardia can live in a variety of water sources: streams, ponds, puddles, tap water, and swimming pools. Infection is spread by contact with an infected source. You don’t have to drink contaminated water to become infected. Giardiasis can spread by sexual contact, poor personal hygiene, hand-to-mouth contact, and from food handlers who don’t wash their hands thoroughly.
If hands are exposed to contaminated water, animals, people, or faeces (e.g., litter boxes, diapers) it could spread to you. Shoes can come in contact with animal droppings and bring it inside the home.
Veterinary studies have shown that up to 13 percent of dogs are infected. Any pet can become a source of infection for humans although they may not show signs of infection.
Infection can come from the most unsuspected sources. One family get-together proved this point. A few days after a party 25 people who attended reported gastrointestinal distress. They were all found to be infected with giardia. On investigation, suspicion fell on the fruit salad.
It was discovered that the salad became infected by the food preparer who hadn’t properly washed her hands. She had a diapered child and a pet rabbit at home both of which tested positive to giardia.
A study at Johns Hopkins Medical School a few years ago showed antibodies against giardia in 20 percent of randomly chosen blood samples from patients in the hospital. This means that at least 20 percent of these patients had been infected with giardia at some time in their lives and had mounted an immune response against the parasite.
Giardia is rampant in day-care centers. A study in 1983 showed 46 percent of those who were infected were associated with day-care centers or had contact with diaper-age children.
It is estimated that 20 to 30 percent of workers in day-care centers harbour giardia.2 In a study done in Denver, Colorado with 236 children attending day-care centers, it was found that 38 (16%) were infected.3
Symptoms of infection are similar to those of the flu and often misdiagnosed. We don’t usually think of parasites when be feel "under the weather." I wonder how many times when the "flu" goes around that the real cause is parasites in the water supply?
Symptoms vary. In acute cases symptoms are usually most severe and can include any of the following listed in order of prevalence:
- Malaise (a sense of ill being)
- Abdominal Bloating
- Abdominal Cramps
- Flatulence (gas & bloating)
- Weight Loss
- Greasy, foul-smelling stools
Infection can persist for weeks or months if left untreated. Some people undergo a more chronic phase that can last for many months. Chronic cases are characterized by loose stools and increased abdominal gasiness with cramping, depression, fatigue and weight loss.
Some people may have some symptoms and not others while some may not have any symptoms at all.
Giardiasis can be mistaken for a number of other conditions including the flu, irritable bowel syndrome, allergies, and chronic fatigue syndrome. Many people are diagnosed and treated for these other conditions without finding relief.
Even if giardia is diagnosed and treated, it can damage the intestinal lining causing chronic health problems that persist for years after the parasite is gone.
Food allergies, including lactose (milk) intolerance can develop. Damaged intestinal tissues become leaky. This is often referred to as leaky gut syndrome. Toxins, bacteria, and incompletely digested foods are able to pass through the intestinal wall into the bloodstream, initiating an immune response.
Sinus congestion, aches and pains, headaches, swelling, and inflammation—all typical symptoms of allergies—are the result.
Loss of intestinal integrity can lead to gastrointestinal discomfort known as irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). Dr. Leo Galland, an expert in gastrointestinal disease, demonstrated that out of a group of 200 patients with chronic diarrhea, constipation, abdominal pain, and bloating, half of them were infected with giardia.
Most of these patients had been told they had irritable bowel syndrome. He notes that parasitic infection is a common event among patients with chronic gastrointestinal symptoms and many people are given a diagnosis of irritable bowel syndrome without a thorough evaluation.
Another consequence of poor intestinal integrity is fatigue resulting from malabsorption of important nutrients. If the condition persists it can lead to chronic fatigue syndrome. A giardia infection can be so draining on the immune system that it causes fatigue. Again the cause is often misdiagnosed.
A giardia epidemic in Placerville, California, for example, was mysteriously followed by an epidemic of chronic fatigue syndrome. In 1991 Dr. Galland and colleagues published a study of 96 patients with chronic fatigue and demonstrated active giardia infection in 46 percent.
In another study of 218 patients whose chief complaint was chronic fatigue, Dr. Galland found that 61 patients were infected with giardia.4 His conclusion is that giardia may be an important cause of chronic fatigue syndrome.
Coconut oil may provide an effective defense against many troublesome parasites including giardia. Like bacteria and fungi, giardia can’t stand up against MCFA found in coconut oil.
Research has confirmed the effectiveness of MCFA in destroying giardia and possibly other protozoa.5,6,7 By using coconut oil and other coconut products every day, you may be able to destroy giardia before it can establish a toehold.
In so doing you also eliminate the possibility of developing food allergies, chronic fatigue, and other related symptoms. If you’re currently troubled with these conditions, coconut oil used liberally with meals may provide a source of relief.
Because MCFA are quickly absorbed by the tissues and converted into energy it seems logical that those suffering from chronic fatigue would gain a great deal of benefit. Foods prepared with coconut oil, or even fresh coconut make a great energy booster.
Another possible use for coconut is for the removal of intestinal worms. In India it has been used to get rid of tapeworms. In one study it was reported that treatment with dried coconut, followed by magnesium sulfate (a laxative), caused ninety percent parasite expulsion after twelve hours.8
The authors of some pet books apparently have had success with coconut and recommend feeding animals ground coconut as a means to expel intestinal parasites. In India coconut oil is rubbed into the scalp as a treatment to remove head lice.
Tapeworms, lice, giardia, candida, bacteria, viruses, and germs of all sorts can be eliminated or at least held in check with coconut oil. For infections and intestinal complaints it seems like coconut oil is one of the best natural medicines you can use.
- Crook, W., 1985. The Yeast Connection. Professional Books
- Anonymous, 1998. Summertime blues: It’s giardia season Journal of Environmental Health, Jul/Aug, Vol 61, p 51
- Galland, L. 1999. Colonies within: allergies from intestinal parasites. Total Health Vol 21, Issue 2, p. 24
- Novotny, T.E., et al. 1990. Prevalence of Giardia lamblia and risk factors for infection among children attending day-care…Public Health Reports 105:4
- Galland, L. and Leem, M. 1990. Giardia lamblia infection as a cause of chronic fatigue. Journal of Nutritional Medicine 1:27
- Hemell, O., et al. 1986. Killing of Giardia lamblia by human milk lipases: an effect mediated by lipolysis of milk lipids. Journal of Infectious Diseases 153:715
- Reiner, D.S., et al. 1986. Human milk kills Giardia lamblia by generating toxic lipolytic products. Journal of Infectious Diseases 154:825
- Crouch, A. A., et al. 1991. Effect of human milk and infant milk formulae on adherence of Giardia intestinalis. Transactions of the Royal Society of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene 85:617