5 Parasite Cleanse Side Effects: My Best 3-Step Detox

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Written By

Lauryn

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Expert Reviewed By

Dr. Lauryn Lax, OTD, MS

Dr. Lauryn, OTD, MS is a doctor of occupational therapy, clinical nutritionists and functional medicine expert with 25 years of clinical and personal experience in healing from complex chronic health issues and helping others do the same.

Parasite cleanse side effects are not pretty if you don’t take the steps to optimize your body to cleanse properly before starting your parasite cleanse. 

Here’s all you need to know about parasites, how to avoid the 5 most common parasite cleanse side effects to feel better (not worse), and a simple 3-step process to cleanse parasites out of your body. 

Parasites 101

Parasite Cleanse Side Effects - Teen Girl Unhappy With A Plate Of Salad

All people have microscopic parasites living inside them. Just like all people have bacteria, viruses and germs living inside them at all times.  

Parasites or “protozoa” are a normal part of life. 

In fact, there are over 3200 species of parasites that are found everywhere in our environment—in the air we breathe, the water we drink and the foods we eat. Consequently, these parasites easily make their way into our own GI tracts as well, where they live alongside a host of other good and bad bacteria and fungi.

Many people go their whole lives without knowing they have parasites in them, and many are harmless to the human body if you have a good, strong immune system; plenty of healthy gut bacteria; and good detoxification systems working for you. 

However, if your immune system, gut health and/or detox pathways are down (from stress and inflammation), then you are more likely to become the perfect “host” for a parasite to take over and cause inflammation. 

How You Get Parasite Infections

In medical terms, a parasite is “an organism that lives on or in a host organism and gets its food from or at the expense of its host.” Parasites feed on the nutrients that are meant for us.

If we don’t have a healthy immune system, gut bacteria or we are unable to detox toxins and wastes, then the parasite bugs living inside of us already can take over—causing nutrient deficiencies, GI disturbances, hormone imbalances, metabolic imbalances and brain-related conditions (like brain fog, anxiety and depression).

 Additionally, we can come into contact with new parasites (in food, water, air, soil, hospitals, foreign country travel, etc.), and instantly become susceptible to developing a parasitic infection if our immune defenses are “unarmed.” 

The perfect storm arises.

For example, food poisoning from Chinese takeout; drinking bad water in Mexico; getting bit by a tick or flea; or swimming in a fresh body of water and then becoming ill are all examples of how new parasites, living outside of us, can hijack our health. 

Parasites are the X-factor that can be kept undercover and harmless if our body is generally healthy and on it’s A-game, but in the blink of an eye, parasites can take our health south fast if our immune defenses, gut bacteria and/or detox system are “unarmed.” 

Testing for Parasites

So how do you know if you have parasites?

Testing for parasites is tricky—primarily because parasites LOVE to hide out in nooks, crannies and biofilm. 

Biofilm is sort of like dental plaque on your teeth—a thick protective sticky goo, comprised of bacteria and fungi—that form a steel-like armor casing around certain parasites and other bacteria and fungi in order to protect them and keep them alive in your body. 

A good first place to start with “testing” is to assess if you have any parasite-infection related symptoms.

Parasite Infection Symptoms

  • GI symptoms (constipation, diarrhea, IBS, bloating, nausea)
  • Unintended weight loss or weight gain 
  • A slow or fast metabolism
  • Fatigue (despite sleeping)
  • Cravings for sugar/sweets/carbs/snacks
  • Low iron, low ferritin, low Vitamin B12 and/or anemia of chronic disease
  • Shortness of breath/air hunger
  • Anxiety or depression
  • Brain fog/difficulty concentrating
  • Hormone imbalances (irregular periods, horrible PMS, hot flashes, breast tenderness)
  • Autoimmune flares
  • Mast cell activation syndrome flares
  • Not feeling well (despite eating well, exercising and drinking water)

The symptoms of a parasite infection can be similar to symptoms of other underlying conditions as well, such as mold illness, lyme infection, SIBO or simply impaired gut function; and often times are not isolated—meaning other conditions may be at play. 

Beyond parasite infection symptoms, lab testing may be helpful—but, be warned: Lab testing often times still misses parasites.

Conventional Testing

Parasite Cleanse Side Effects - Woman Hand Holding Stool Test

For acute parasitic infections (such as those related to food poisoning or foreign travel), wherein gut symptoms are obvious (like diarrhea, loose or watery stools, cramping, flatulence (gas) and other abdominal illness), conventional healthcare practices will run an ova and parasite stool test (O&P) to see if they can find any of the “heavy hitters” like Giardiasis and Cryptosporidiosis.

Bloodwork may also be telling. 

Your doctor may run an antibody blood panel to look for parasite antigens produced when the body is infected with a parasite and the immune system is trying to fight off the invader. A blood smear test may also be used to look for parasites that are found in the blood like malaria or babesiosis.

However, for the common person who does not have a suspected acute parasite infection, these tests will only get you so far. 

Alternative Testing

On the opposite end of the spectrum, many alternative and integrative healthcare practitioners assess parasites in other ways, such as:

A blend of these may be used, along with other tests to rule out or rule in other common underlying triggers behind ill health (such as mycotoxin mold testing, autoimmune screening, intestinal permeability testing, Lyme disease testing or SIBO breath testing). 

However, even with such a comprehensive work up, some parasitic infections can still be missed, and empirical treatment with a nutrition, lifestyle and supplement based  parasite cleanse may be considered.

Parasite Cleanse Basics

There are TONS of misguided parasite cleanse tips and tricks out there on the internet—many that can lead to ill parasite cleanse side effects if you are not aware of how to properly cleanse. 

Any good parasite cleanse will NOT jump into treating or “cleansing” out the parasite right away with harsh antimicrobial herbs or antibiotics without first preparing your body to do so; otherwise you may run into these 5 most common parasite cleanse side effects—also known as “Herx” reactions. 

Herx reactions, or “die off” reactions, are short-term detoxification reactions in the body (from a few days to a few weeks) that can seem like you are getting worse, not better. 

As the body detoxifies from parasites, bacterias, molds, yeasts or other toxins, if it is unable to clear out these pathogens and toxins fast enough, then you may experience an assortment of ill or concerning symptoms. Additionally, if your gut health and immune function are compromised and not supported appropriately, Herx reactions are much more common. 

Let’s chat about the 5 most common parasite cleanse side effects, then discuss an effective 3-step strategy for parasite cleansing, done right. 

5 Parasite Cleanse Side Effects

Parasite Cleanse Side Effect #1: Diarrhea Die-Off

Parasite Cleanse Side Effects - Happy Young Woman Making Fresh Organic Smoothie

 

Gotta go, gotta go, gotta go right now! If you’ve started taking parasitic cleansing supplements or medicines and you’re running to the lieu, this is actually quite normal. 

Your body is releasing ie-off pathogens, bacteria, biofilms and toxins as well as experiencing a re-shift in the biome. Definitely better out (of your body), than being constipated and keeping everything in.  

Parasite Cleanse Side Effect #2: Skin Breakouts

Nearly 80% of your immune system is in your gut—also related to your skin health. Our outside is a direct reflection of what is going on in the inside. If you have skin breakouts, rashes, face redness, oily skin or other skin changes, you know something is happening in your biome. 

Skin cleanse reactions are signs of toxins leaving the body (via your pores) and can be considered normal as well. However, if you find that your skin conditions do not improve in 1 to 3 months, this is a sign your body is actually not detoxing well and your gut, liver and gallbladder may need some support. 

Parasite Cleanse Side Effect #3: Hypoglycemia

You need food and you need it now! If you feel easily hangry, shaky, lightheaded, tired or easily full, then ravenous during your cleanse, this is because the parasites and bacteria that have been living inside of you are not happy. 

You (the host) were its #1 food source before the cleanse. Even though blood sugar imbalances—like hypoglycemia—are common when you have the parasite living inside of you, during a cleanse, it’s working double time to keep alive and zapping up nutrients wherever it sees fit.

Your liver also requires tons of nutrients to work effectively through all 3 phases of detoxification—especially amino acids (proteins) to clear out pathogens in Phase 2 Detox. Without enough protein in your system and enzymes and stomach acid to absorb them, you are more likely to experience hypoglycemic crashes.

Parasite Cleanse Side Effect #4: Brain Fog or Headaches

The brain and the gut are directly connected by way of the vagus nerve—the 10th cranial nerve that runs from the top of your gut to two distinct parts of your brain responsible for controlling your autonomic nervous system and keeping inflammation at bay. 

If your gut is feeling inflamed with your cleansing and you’re also killing off some healthy gut bacteria in the process, inflammatory signals can fire to your brain. Additionally, your liver and gallbladder are on “super drive” during a cleanse—being challenged to work extra hard to get pathogens out.

If your liver cannot clear toxins out fast enough, along with increased cortisol hormones that it also clears, then it sends inflammatory signals (ie. Headaches, brain inflammation) upstream. 

Parasite Cleanse Side Effect #5: Anxiety

When the body feels like it’s under attack, it sends “stress signals” to your brain. Parasites have been used to being in control of you (the host)—telling you what to feed them so they can stay alive (in fact, altered gut bacteria and parasitic infections can be a huge driver behind your food cravings).

Just like you would feel anxious if you were being chased by a bear in the wild or walking down a dark alley at night—raising your body’s anxiety reactions (like a rapid heart rate, increased breath rate, sweating, shortness of breath), the parasites living inside you also feel anxiety with the new (cleanse) threat. 

Parasite Cleanse Side Effect #6: Autoimmunity

One more possible side effect that can commonly occur if you start a parasite cleanse too soon before your body is ready is an increased autoimmune or “mast cell activation syndrome” response—your immune system going haywire!

For some people this looks like an exacerbation of Hashimoto’s (thyroid), IBD (colon/intestional), eczema (skin), MS/neurodegenerative (brain/cerebellar) or Lupus-like fatigue, chest pain and joint pain (systemic).

In others, mast cell activation syndrome (MCAS) takes over—with an assortment of histamine and immune-related symptoms, from headaches, low blood pressure, food intolerances, diarrhea, constipation, flushing, abdominal pain and cramping, anxiety exacerbations, skin itching and more—particularly around meal times or supplement times.

In both these cases, you have definitely started your parasite cleanse too soon without first supporting your immune system, gut health and detoxification pathways. 

How to Feel Good on a Parasite Cleanse: 3 Steps

The goal of a parasite cleanse is to feel better, not worse. Hence, preparing your body to detox effectively (BEFORE jumping into your parasite cleanse) is essential. 

You have 7 detox “pathways” in your body that help filter and shuttle toxins including the:

  1. Lymphatic system (hydrating your tissues and shuffling toxins from head to toe)
  2. Bloodstream (filtering blood)
  3. Lungs (respiration) 
  4. Skin (sweat)
  5. Colon (poo)
  6. Kidneys (urine)
  7. Liver (detox)

If these pathways aren’t working properly and you start parasite cleansing and killing too soon, then the die-off parasites, bacteria, biofilms and toxins just end up staying stuck and clogging up the pathways more than they should. 

Think of your body as a big city. Each house is like one of your cells. What if every homeowner took the garbage out, yet the trash was never collected? It would pile up and create toxic waste! The same thing can happen in your body. If you start pulling toxins out, but there’s no place for them to go, they pile up!

Consequently, impaired detox systems and circulating pathogens start up-regulating your immune system, your cell danger response and systemic inflammation all at once…causing you to not feel great!

For this reason, for a truly effective  parasite cleanse, I have a 3-step process I walk each of my patients through using research-backed and clinically-proven nutrition, lifestyle and supplement strategies to see them through to the finish line.   

Here’s an overview of my 3 step parasite cleanse process and a few key tips and tricks for each.

3 Step Parasite Cleanse

  • Step 1: Establish a Foundation 
  • Step 2: Cleanse the Parasites (& Other Toxins)
  • Step 3: Rebuild Your Gut Health

Step 1: Establish a Foundation

Parasite Cleanse Side Effects - Happy Young Woman Making Fresh Organic Smoothie

Prior to doing a parasite cleanse, you should focus at least 4 to 8 weeks on prepping your gut, immune system and liver to detox properly.

It goes without saying that clean water, good food, sleep, movement, proper oxygen uptake (breath), daily poo and sweat (movement) are essential, “gut loving” habits; and you want to make sure that your immune system and 7 detox pathways are  working the best they can (so parasites can exit the body in the near future). 

For example, if you are NOT pooping daily, you need to fix that. Buffered Vitamin C, Magnesium Citrate and Iberogast digestive bitters can help.  

Not sweating or moving your body for lymphatic flow regularly? Get moving and grooving.

Or the opposite—over training in the gym? Hello systemic inflammation! You won’t detox well with all those circulating cytokines. 

During Step 1, we focus hardcore on nutrients, lifestyle habits and a few key (gut health) supplements to set your gut, immune system and liver up for success. 

Key Points

To prep your body for a cleanse, focus on:

Nutrients 

  • Hydrate. Drink clean, filtered water to encourage lymph flow
  • Eat a “gut loving” balanced diet inclusive to 3 meals consisting of: 2-3 colorful veggies with meals, organic proteins and healthy fats;
  • Avoid egg whites, soy, dairy, gluten/grains, high starch or fruit intake (stick to 1-2 servings of each per day), sugar, artificial sweeteners alcohol and more than 1 cup of coffee per day. If you experience bloating, IBS or constipation, try a short-term low FODMAP or low histamine diet to see if symptoms improve.

Lifestyle

  • Sweat daily (appropriate exercise and infrared sauna are great).
  • Sleep more than 6 hours each night (ideally 7-9).
  • Consider a 12 hour fast (overnight, such as finishing dinner by 8 p.m. and eating breakfast at 8 a.m. the next day)—nothing crazy here, but enough to support cellular cleansing.
  • Promote natural lymph cleansing with daily dry brushing, rebounding, inversion, deep breathing and yoga. 

Supplements

Step 2: Cleanse the Parasites (& Other Toxins)

Once the foundations are in place, you can move into detoxing parasites or other toxins more directly, while keeping up your foundational supports, you may integrate:

  • Anti-parasitic, anti-bacterial & anti fungal herbs—A formula like this one or Formula 2 and 3 by Microbe Formulas—all contain broad spectrum natural herbs for cleansing parasites: 
    • Oregano leaf
    • Cat’s claw
    • Hydrastis (goldenseal)
    • Coptis
    • Garlic or allicin
    • Caprylic acid
    • Bearberry
    • Berberis (barberry)
    • Black Walnut
    • Berberine HCL
  • Mimosa Pudica Seed: Seeds that gently but effectively help pull parasites out of your system. (Microbe Formulas is great for this).

During your cleanse, continue to nourish your body—not deprive it—with real nutrient dense foods (Optimal liver function requires amino acids, antioxidants, hydration and fatty acids to work effectively. 

Generally, most parasite cleanses will last about 30 days unless severe fungal and bacterial overgrowth are also at play. It is highly advised you work with a knowledgable clinician or healthcare practitioner familiar in parasite cleanses to avoid damage to your gut. 

Step 3: Rebuild Your Gut Health

Last, but not least: rebuilding—an often overlooked step in any parasite cleanse. After “killing the pathogens” and cleansing any dysbiosis, it’s essential to rebuild your internal ecosystem home in order to prevent unwanted pathogens and toxins from returning.

Step 3 includes a more targeted protocol using probiotics, pre-biotics, short chain fatty acids, and possibly some mitochondria support and antioxidants to keep your gut (and immune system), strong and healthy.

Start Your Parasite Cleanse Today

Think you need a cleanse, but unsure of where to start or want to make sure you do it right? Contact us today to schedule an appointment with Dr. Lauryn. 

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