By Dr. Todd Watts and Dr. Jay Davidson
By definition, parasites are organisms that live inside a host and intercept nutrients, essentially leaving you with just the leftovers…and maybe some nutritional deficiencies, too. No matter how healthy you eat, these uninvited and unwelcome guests prevent you from getting all the essential vitamins and minerals from the food you eat.
Dealing with parasites is something you can do safely from home, as long as you have the right approach. Even “healthy” people (those not experiencing uncomfortable, daily symptoms) can choose to perform a parasite cleanse in their search for optimal health. Generally, these people need to do parasite cleansing for about 90 days, while those with more complicated infections or chronic illnesses may need to extend their cleanse for much longer.
Since there are so many different types of parasites, the symptoms they produce are varied. Tapeworms, for example, cause very different symptoms than roundworms or hookworms.
Often, digestive issues are a sign that you might be a parasite host. If you have unexplained diarrhea, bloating, gas, or constipation, you are wise to look into clearing parasites out of your GI tract or bile duct.
- Brain fog
- Chemical sensitivities
- Fatigue, lethargy
- Food sensitivities
- Itching, especially rectally at night
- Mood disorders
- Skin rashes
- Stomach pain, tenderness, or cramping
- Teeth grinding
- Unexplained aches and pains in either joints or muscles
- Weight loss
Die-Off Symptoms and How to Combat Them
When a targeted “eradication agent” is introduced into the body, parasites die. They release inflammatory toxins that alert your body to expel them as fast as possible. This can be uncomfortable, but as long as you’re prepared and have the right tools in the house to deal with these die-off symptoms, you’ll have a much easier time. (6, 7)
Parasites can release neurotoxins, heavy metals, and other toxins when they die, which enter into the interstitial fluid that surrounds the tissue cells. These toxins then travel to the lymphatic system, which helps filter your body’s waste. Next, they head to the spleen, lymph nodes, or liver to be further filtered, and then sent to other drainage organs (like your kidneys, bladder, colon, or even your breath and skin). (8, 9)
The trouble is, especially if you’re chronically ill, some of these detoxification organs can be blocked. This means the toxins can recirculate in the body as they wait to be detoxified, and that’s a substantial contributor to die-off symptoms. (3)
At times, it’s necessary to endure die-off symptoms, because the very thing causing the blocked drainage pathways is often the parasites themselves. Parasites love to take up residence in the liver and bile duct, and many of the other elimination organs, as well. The more you work on parasite elimination, the more these reactions may ease up. (10, 11, 12)
SYMPTOM: Aches and Pains
Another very common and uncomfortable die-off symptom is an aching body. Your muscles, joints, or even organs may hurt as a result of your body eliminating toxic waste while parasites die.
How to Fight It
- Try an Epsom salt or magnesium chloride bath. This helps pull toxins from your skin, and also replenishes the magnesium in your body, which is one of the first things you burn during stress. (13)
- Remind clients to also exercise because not being active can actually worsen joining pain. This doesn’t have to be intense exercise. Instead, focus on easy movements to promote stability and to stretch any affected joints and muscles.(14)
- You can also use hot/cold packs for immediate relief to joint pain. Start with a hot compress for 20 minutes and then switch to a cold ice pack for another 20. (14)
- For an extra boost, keep your joints and connective tissue strong by including more collagen in your diet by consuming foods high in protein. Collagen can also be taken in powders or bone broth. (14)
- You can also get chiropractic care to get non-invasive adjustments and provide instant and long term relief from your aches and pains. (14)
SYMPTOM: Anxiety and Depression
Parasitic infections, especially food-borne ones, can be responsible for depression, anxiety, and even schizophrenia. Certain parasites, metacestodes of Taenia solium, actually influence the neurotransmitter pathways, affecting dopamine, GABA, and serotonin levels. (15)
Many parasitic infections, like Toxoplasma gondii, can be responsible for disorders like OCD and generalized anxiety. Additionally, certain neurological symptoms can flare during a “die-off” reaction. (16)
Herxheimer reactions (“die-off” bodily responses to detoxing) can sometimes cause flare-ups of these mental health issues. (17)
Experiencing anxiety and depression is common while killing off parasites, and usually is temporary. Though it may be difficult to foster this mindset, bear in mind that die-off reactions mean that your body is working hard to eliminate the toxins and the anxiety and depression will fade.
How to Fight It
- Get out in the sun and soak up some Vitamin D. Not only is this a great mood booster, but it’s also a wonderful way to boost your immune system and help your body with its detox burden. (18, 19)
- If it’s too cold or cloudy, try a light therapy lamp. This lamp can be placed a few feet away so you can see it out of the corner of your eye. You can even do this while reading or working (eyes need to be open). This works best in the morning or afternoon, because if you use it in the evening, it can be stimulatory and disturb your circadian rhythm. (20, 21, 22, 23)
- Emotional trauma processing tools, such as EFT and Braintap, are also available. You can also look into programs like Gupta and DNRS that can help your wire trauma loops in your limbic system. Braintap uses light, tones, and “auriculotherapy” (trigger points in the ears activated by frequencies) that all work together to create a relaxing experience. (24, 25)
Toxins can leave your body through your skin, and so can parasites and their eggs. If toxins pile up in your body, this can appear as breakouts on the skin. When it comes to cleansing, your skin may be purging these toxins which can also cause breakouts because the pores are clogged. (30, 31)
How to Fight It
- If you are experiencing more breakouts than you normally do, you can keep your skin clean by washing it twice a day.
- You can apply apple cider vinegar to the breakouts to dry them out in a face wash, toner, or spot treatment (make sure to patch test before applying to breakouts) (32, 33, 34)
- You can even make your own skin rescue cream: almond oil, coconut oil, and tea tree oil. These three oils all have antimicrobial and anti-inflammatory properties that can benefit your skin. (35, 36, 37, 38)
When you’re parasite cleansing, you want to avoid the foods that help feed them. The biggest two to avoid are sugar and grains, but animal products, too, can slow down digestion. (39)
Add as many fresh vegetables as you can, some low-sugar fruits like berries or green apples, and plenty of healthy fats to your diet.
Stomatologists (oral medicine specialists) published recent research in The Chinese Journal of Dental Medicine that links sugar not only to poor oral hygiene, but also obesity, diabetes, liver and kidney disease, heart complications, and other systemic diseases. It can also suppress immune system activity for up to six hours after consumption. (40, 41)
Eliminate all processed, boxed, or packaged foods, and reach for the one-ingredient foods that don’t need a nutrition label (like produce). This will help you keep your parasite infestation under control.
Watch out for hidden and artificial sugars, too. Even “healthier” sugars like honey and maple syrup should be avoided, at least while you’re actively cleansing.
How to Fight It
- A cup of peppermint tea (or any herbal tea) can help fight your sugar cravings. (42)
- Adding more healthy fat, like avocado or coconut oil, can also help your body feel satiated as well. (43)
Fatigue is one of the most frequent complaints during parasite cleansing. It’s tough on your body to process and eliminate the toxins released when killing parasites, so be gentle with yourself. Most people begin to regain vitality and energy after spending some time on the parasite protocol.
How to Fight It
- Sleep is vital, not only for fighting fatigue, but also for giving the body the time and space it needs for healing. Be sure to get 8-10 hours of sleep if possible.
- Along with sleeping more, go easy on the exercise. Replace your cardio or kickboxing with some gentle yoga or stretching, at least until your body has had some time to recover. (44)
- B vitamins can also help combat fatigue. Adequate supply of B vitamins is required for appropriate functioning of your metabolism. (45, 46)
SYMPTOM: Flu-like symptoms, Fever, Chills
Patients fighting Lyme disease, tick-borne relapsing fever, or other parasitic infections may experience brief Jarisch-Herxheimer reactions from treatment. In a 2017 study published in The American Journal of Tropical Medicine Hygiene, these patients’ die-off symptoms resolved in just a few hours. Researchers deemed these temporary uncomfortable flu-like symptoms as necessary for eradicating the parasite infestation. (47, 48, 49)
How to Fight It
- Keep your body comfortable. Rest is necessary to get over this die-off symptom, especially since it’s normally a shorter duration.
- If you have chills, an infrared sauna can help. If you’re sweating, it’s a positive sign because your body is working to eliminate toxins for you. The discomfort should pass soon. (50, 51)
- Sufficient hydration will help this process along, especially with a fever.
- You can also take anti-inflammatory painkillers, or natural fever-reducing herbs, like moringa and kudzu root (52, 53)
Headaches are one of the most common symptoms of any kind of detox. They can occur as your body adjusts to your parasite cleansing diet (avoiding caffeine and sugar), or because of parasite activity in your head. Sometimes, these parasite die-off headaches can co-occur with sensitivity to light and nausea.
How to Fight It
- Try applying some Frankincense Essential oil or WO China healing oil on your temples, across your forehead, and on the back of your neck (54)
- Rubbing peppermint essential oil across your temples has also been shown to reduce the symptoms of tension headaches. (55)
- Make sure you’re well-hydrated, as headaches can easily worsen due to dehydration. (56)
- To help with hydration, you can drink ginger tea to help reduce nausea and vomiting since it has anti-inflammatory and antioxidants that may stay migraine pain (57, 58)
- For another natural way to treat headaches, acupuncture can be another option. A technique of Traditional Chinese Medicine, this practice uses thin needles that are inserted into your skin to stimulate meridian points on your body. (59, 60)
- You can also practice yoga to relieve stress, which may help reduce your headaches and chronic migraines, as well as increase your quality of life because of its therapeutic effects. (61, 62, 63)
SYMPTOM: Increased GI Upset
Since parasites like to live in your digestive tract, sometimes digestive symptoms can increase during a parasite cleanse. You might experience bloating, constipation, diarrhea, cramps, or other issues with your digestion. (64, 65, 66)
How to Fight It
- Certain herbs can be calming to your digestive system. If you’re struggling with diarrhea, carbon-based binders can also help bind your stools. (67, 68)
- A digestive essential oil blend that includes peppermint, rosemary, and lemon (with coconut oil as a carrier oil) can also be helpful to apply topically on your stomach. (69, 70, 71)
- Traditionally, chamomile has been used to treat digestive ailments. Chamomile tea may protect you against diarrhea, nausea, and gas due to its anti-inflammatory properties. (72, 73, 74)
Whenever the body is processing toxins, issues with sleeping can arise. According to Traditional Chinese Medicine, there is a body clock which explains why certain times of day align with certain organs. For example, if you frequently wake up between 1:00 AM and 3:00 AM, it could be your liver that is affected. You may also experience trouble falling asleep or staying asleep while you’re detoxing.
How to Fight It
- Try a castor oil pack before bed, followed by a warm Epsom salt bath. This can give your body a boost in eliminating toxins before you climb into bed. (79, 80, 81)
- Diffusing certain oils, like cedarwood and lavender, is also a great option to calm your body and encourage sleep. (82, 83)
- Sleep hygiene is also essential during this detox period. Create a completely dark room, avoid blue light-emitting device screens late at night, and avoid eating stimulating foods two hours before bed. (84, 85)
SYMPTOM: Mucus and Stuffy Nose
How to Fight It
- Using a saline rinse in a Netipot or Navage system is a great method to irrigate the sinuses and battle the stuffiness that occurs with die-off. (88, 89)
- Along with a sinus rinse, a nasal saline spray can also help clear the sinuses by adding moisture and breaking up the mucus. (89)
SYMPTOM: Skin Rashes
Skin is an organ of elimination, and sometimes your body tries to eliminate toxins through it. You might experience rashes, skin sores, flare-ups of eczema or psoriasis, dry skin, or a number of other rash-like symptoms. The good news, though, is that these typically resolve on their own in just a few days. (90)
How to Fight It
- Dry skin brushing is a good way to stimulate your lymphatic system and also slough off that dead, toxin-containing skin. Use a soft, firm brush with natural bristles, and always brush towards the heart. It’s best to skin brush once or twice a day, ideally before a shower. (91)
- Additionally, coconut oil with some diluted tea tree oil is a great way to help your skin rashes heal a bit faster. (92, 93)
- Oatmeal is another natural option due to its antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. You can make a poultice or bathe with powdered oatmeal. (94)
Liver/Bile Duct Support
You always want to make sure your liver and bile duct are functioning well if you’re experiencing die-off. Here are some general detox practices that you can use any time you’re experiencing die-off symptoms.
Castor oil packs: Soak unbleached cotton flannel in organic, cold-pressed, hexane-free castor oil. Place it over your liver, cover in a thin towel, and apply heat. (95)
Coffee enemas: Read 3 Main Benefits of Coffee Enemas (Plus an Instructional Guide) for specific directions on how to perform a coffee enema.
Dandelion root tea can also help support the liver. (96)
Since your lymphatic system helps process the toxins and waste and remove them from your body, give it some extra TLC while on a parasite cleanse. Here are some tips for keeping your lymphatic system moving.
Contrast showers: Turn your shower water very warm (careful not to burn yourself) for three minutes, followed by cold for one minute. Repeat the cycle 3-4 times. (97)
Dry skin brushing: Using a natural bristle brush to brush your skin, always toward your heart, to stimulate lymphatic flow. (91)
Massage: Your lymphatic system doesn’t have a pump like your heart to keep it flowing, so it relies on movement. Try a home lymphatic drainage massage or get a professional lymphatic massage. (98)
Rebounding: Purchase a personal-sized trampoline and jump on it for 5-10 minutes a day. Not only does it strengthen your cardiovascular system and provide a good workout, but it also stimulates your lymph to move. For you, this means the toxins are being pushed through at a faster pace, lessening unwanted detox symptoms. (99)
General Die-Off Support
Epsom salt baths: These can help draw toxins from your skin. If you’re sensitive to Epsom salts, your body may have trouble with its transsulfuration pathway. Epsom salts are magnesium sulfate, which can be hard for a small percentage of the population to process. In this case, you can try magnesium chloride flakes instead. Taking certain forms of magnesium, like magnesium citrate, can also keep your bowels moving. (102)
Hydration: Staying hydrated is incredibly important during a parasite cleanse. Dehydration slows down your organs of elimination, like your lymphatic system, and keeps toxins trapped in your body longer. Add some trace minerals and lemon to your water for additional benefit. (103)
Infrared Sauna: Infrared saunas can help you sweat out toxins and eliminate them faster. Sauna therapy has been used as a health practice for thousands of years in Scandinavia. Infrared saunas can be used in short sessions to enhance blood flow and cardiac functioning, and longer sessions can be done to detox heavy metals and purge other toxins. Just be sure to restore electrolytes and minerals you lose through sweating. (50, 51)
Stress-Relief: Practicing forms of stress-relief, like yoga or meditation, keeps your body out of fight-or-flight mode and encourages your parasympathetic nervous system to take over. Your parasympathetic nervous system promotes “rest and digest” functions, which allows your body to relax and heal. (61, 104)
If you’re choosing to intentionally rid your body of parasite infestation, make sure you’re also giving it the drainage, lymphatic, liver/gall bladder, nutritional, and emotional support it needs to process the toxins.
Keep your mindset positive, and ask your friends and family for additional support during your cleanse. Experiencing die-off is a necessary (and temporary) discomfort in order to continue on your pathway to optimal health.