September 10 2009
The gut health boosting effects of probiotics may also extend to preventing and eradicating parasitic infections.
Scientists studying Toxoplasma gondii, the parasite responsible for toxoplasmosis, found that bacteria present in the human gut help stimulate the body's defense mechanisms.
Probiotics may occupy space in the intestine and thus reduce or prevent potentially pathogenic bacteria attaching to the intestinal wall.
|Dr. Mercola's Comments:|
Eighty percent of your immune system is located in your digestive system, which is one reason why keeping your gut balanced with plenty of beneficial bacteria is so important.
Not only can probiotics modulate immune responses via your gut‘s mucosal immune system, but researchers from the University of Texas Southwestern found that because they occupy space in your intestine, they may therefore reduce or prevent disease-causing bacteria and parasites from attaching to your intestinal wall.
Signs You May Have Intestinal Parasites
Parasitic infections are responsible for millions of deaths worldwide every year. Malaria is one of the most well-known, killing about 1 million people a year, many of them young children in sub-Saharan Africa.
Further, the neglected tropical diseases (NTDs), which include parasitic diseases like lymphatic filariasis, onchocerciasis and Guinea worm, kill about 500,000 people each year, primarily in rural areas of low-income countries.
Even in developed countries, however, parasites can contribute to disease like irritable bowel syndrome and other digestive issues, and possibly even cancer.
Not all parasites cause symptoms or are harmful for that matter, but some do -- and are. Signs that you’ve been infected with a potentially dangerous intestinal parasite are varied but can include:
Eye inflammation (conjunctivitis and retinitis)
Coughing or wheezing
Enlargement of liver and spleen (hepatosplenomegaly)
What You Should Know About Toxoplasmosis
The parasite used in the above study, toxoplasma gondii, is the parasite responsible for toxoplasmosis and one of the most common parasites in the world. It’s typically spread by eating or handling contaminated undercooked meat, fruits and vegetables, drinking contaminated water, or by coming into contact with contaminated cat feces.
In most healthy people toxoplasmosis infection is asymptomatic, causing no symptoms because your immune system keeps the parasite from causing illness. In fact, in the United States it’s estimated that 23 percent of the population has been infected with toxoplasma, and according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention up to 95 percent of some populations around the world have been infected.
When symptoms do occur they may include swollen glands, fatigue, muscle pain, fever, sore throat and a rash. In pregnant women, toxoplasmosis that is newly acquired can cause miscarriage, premature births, and severe illness and blindness in newborns.
Because of this, pregnant women (and those with compromised immune systems) should take extra precautions and avoid coming into contact with cat feces, cat litter or potentially contaminated food, soil or water.
It should be noted, however, that if you have been exposed to the parasite in the past (even if you had no symptoms) this will provide immunity so you can’t become infected again.
If you suspect you’re infected with toxoplasma or any other parasite, seek the help of a knowledgeable natural health care practitioner, and in the meantime eating raw garlic (smashing the cloves first to activate their beneficial properties) and raw pumpkin seeds will help you to get rid of them.
Taking probiotics is also a proactive step that may help your body to fight any disease-causing parasites your body comes into contact with.
As a side note, if you are a pregnant woman or a woman who may become pregnant soon, you should take a high-quality probiotic regularly not only because of its potential to fight parasites but for the many other benefits it offers during pregnancy as well.
Why Probiotics are One of the Few Supplements I Recommend
Although I do not recommend taking supplements on a regular basis, a high-quality probiotic is one of my exceptions. In fact, it’s the one supplement recommended to all new patients in my clinic.
This is because the nutritional root of so many health concerns are related to an imbalance of intestinal bacteria (the optimal balance is about 85 percent “good bacteria” and 15 percent “bad”).
A large part of the influence of the "bad" bacteria (and parasites) is on your intestinal lining (mucousal barrier) that is over 300 square meters, or about the size of a tennis court. Simply stated, friendly bacteria compete with the bad guys for room and board, but since beneficial bacteria are more at home there, they win most of the battles for nutrition and attachment sites within your colon.
The good bacteria tell your body how much nutrition they need and your body responds by supplying just that much and no more -- so that any excess bad bacteria are starved out. The helpful bacteria also produce a substance that kills harmful microbes.
Proper food choices will help shift the bacteria in the direction of the good guys, particularly if you avoid eating a lot of sugar and grains and eat plenty of fermented foods (which supply beneficial bacteria naturally).
But, just like your lawn, sometimes you may need to "reseed" areas that have become barren for whatever reason.
Normally, you don’t need to take probiotics forever, but I have found them to be incredibly helpful at certain times, such as when you stray from your healthy diet and consume excess grains or sugar, or if you have to take antibiotics.
I also take them when traveling to foreign countries or when eating at suspicious restaurants, and I’ve found that using a high-quality probiotic every 30-60 days will typically help maintain a well-functioning digestive system.
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