Monthly Archives: April 2014

Parasites: A Closer Look

A parasite is relatively easy to define—it is any living organism that lives on or in a host organism, receiving nutrients at the expense of the host organism. Parasites in humans can cause devastating damage to internal organ systems and, if left untreated, can result in fatality. While parasitic infection is generally more common in communities in tropic and sub-tropic areas, inhabitants in more Westernized areas are also susceptible to these unique and dangerous organisms. With increased air travel and untreated water contamination, parasites have been able to gain a foothold in nearly every faction of society. However, while parasitic contamination has remained extremely prevalent worldwide, many practitioners—especially those trained in the ways of traditional Western medicine—are more likely to misdiagnose the symptoms of a true parasitic infection.

One major indicator of a parasitic infection is the development of a chronic digestive condition that has resisted traditional medical treatment upon the return to the United States from such continents as Asia, South America, and Africa. Poor governmental regulation of water sewer, and garbage systems all contribute to the high prevalence in these topic and subtopic areas. Those with compromised immune systems are also more likely to contract a parasitic infection. The unfortunate truth is that many nations who are unable to acquire basic healthcare and successfully perpetuate the knowledge of preventative medicine oftentimes allow for the overall persistence of the parasitic infection in human populations.

Before discussing the basics behind self help, let us first explore some of the most common parasitic infections known to medicine:

  • Giardia: Intestinal protozoa stemming from contaminated food, water, or soil.
  • Cryptosporidium: Gastrointestinal protozoa resulting in serious and potentially chronic gastrointestinal distress.
  • Toxoplasmosis: A parasitic protozoa generally contracted through contact with cat litter or cat feces.
  • Malaria: An infectious parasitic disease caused by the bite of an infected female Anopheles mosquito, which carries the infection in its saliva.

Self Help

These are just a few of the parasitic infections that can ultimately lead to hospitalization or death if left untreated. However, there are multiple measures that can be taken in the prevention of parasites, both at home and abroad. Many of these precautions can be taken to avoid serious negative consequences in the future.

  • Filter water. This step proves to be the most beneficial for both international travelers and those who have compromised immune systems. If you are traveling, be sure to bring a water sterilization kit with you—available at most outdoor and camping supply stores.
  • Be wise about your restaurant choices. Be sure that all food is cooked thoroughly and ensure that all fruits and vegetables are cleaned and peeled.
  • Separate the cutting boards. Make sure to designate which cutting board is used for meat products only so as to avoid cross contamination during meal preparation.
  • Manage your pet’s cleanliness. Be sure to get your four legged friends checked regularly for parasites, ensuring that the pet never licks your face or attempts to sleep in the family bed.
  • Immune Compromised Individuals. Should never handle cat litter directly. Always use sterile gloves and a face mask, keeping the litter as far away from the body as possible.
  • Children. Should, at all times, be protected from any and all animal droppings.
  • Preparing meats before cooking. To ensure that all parasitic larvae are killed before consumption, be sure to freeze fish for 48 hours and beef and pork for 24 hours.
  • Preparing vegetables before consumption. Try a chlorine food bath of ½ tsp Clorox bleach to 1 gallon of water. Leafy veggies, thin-skinned fruits, and all meats should be placed in the bath for 20 minutes before being transferred to a bath of clean water for 10 minutes. Thoroughly clean and dry all food before consumption. This method is especially effective for individuals living in areas where infestation and contamination are known dangers.
  • Thoroughly cook all meat products. Thoroughly cooked meat should have no pink showing. At home, meats should be cooked at a minimum of 325 degrees Fahrenheit, while fish should be cooked at no lower than 400 degrees Fahrenheit. Beef, lamb, veal, and pork should be cooked to an internal temperature of 170 degrees Fahrenheit, while fish should be cooked at 140 degrees Fahrenheit for at least 5 minutes.

Western Treatments

Flagyl (metronidazole) is perhaps the most commonly prescribed drug used in Western treatment of parasitic infection in the US. Unfortunately, this drug comes with many negative side effects. This inevitability leads many patients struggling with parasites to seek out alternative methods of treatment for their unique conditions.

Depending on the type and severity of the parasitic infection, there are different Western approaches to each sort of infection that is known to medical science. The CDC provides an extensive list of Western treatments for parasitic and fungal infections, available for public viewing. The unfortunate truth is that many—if not all—of these various pharmaceuticals come with their own assortment of side effects that may result in both temporary and permanent damage to the health and well being of the patient.

A Case Study in TCM Treatment

A young female health professional developed symptoms of what appeared to be a parasitic infection after a vacation in Mexico four years prior. She had had a thorough biomedical evaluation and the chronic gastrointestinal symptoms persisted regardless of the treatment program that she was given. Aside from violent bouts of gastrointestinal distress, the patient also displayed symptoms of fatigue, headaches, and joint pain. Her tongue was pale and swollen, and her pulse was relatively weak. Tired of trying traditional Western remedies, the patient opted to try an herbal mixture to help alleviate her symptoms.

Initially, this patient was prescribed a mix of Ailanthus cortex, baked astragalus root, white Ginseng root, white and red atractylodes rhizome, among other ingredients. This mixture was combined with a combination of Artemisia anua concentrate, dichroa root, brucea fruit, pulsatilla root, magnolia bark, pinellia rhizome, pogostemon herb, dolichos seed, and a few other choice herbs. After several weeks, the patient claimed that some, but not all, of her symptoms where alleviated. The patient later tested positive for the presence of a fungus called Histoplasma capsulatum. The dosage of the second combination of herbs was recommended. Approximately three months later, all of the patient’s symptoms had essentially disappeared and the parasite tests began to come up negative.

The Truth Behind Ulcers

There are several different types of ulcers known in medicine. Ulcers are painful, open sores that can develop on the insides of your intestines, from the esophagus to the lower intestine. Ulcers are grouped into different categories, depending on their location. Gastric ulcers occur inside the stomach, esophageal ulcers occur inside the esophagus, and duodenal ulcers occur inside the duodenum—the top portion of the small intestine. Ulcers result when the lining in the stomach and intestines are in some way compromised or deficient. The symptoms that are associated with ulcers can vary in intensity, but in general, there is a burning and/or aching sensation at the locus of the affected area. Left untreated, ulcers can have extremely detrimental consequences. Perforation is when the ulcer penetrates through the entire organ wall and into the abdominal cavity, resulting in internal bleeding.

While it is known that some medications can put an individual at risk, there is more than one way to develop an ulcer. A bacterium known as Helicobacter pylori can initiate mucosal damage and result in an ulcer. This bacterium is present in the majority of ulcer cases, now being recognized as one of the primary causes of ulcers in humans.

Sometimes symptoms that may appear to be the result of ulcer formation are actually signs of a less serious and more manageable ailment. Dyspepsia is when there is low grade gastric or duodenal inflammation, often resulting in burning pain, bloating, and belching. With dyspepsia, X-ray and endoscopy results show no ulceration. Individuals with dyspepsia oftentimes benefit the most from proactive self help.

Self Help

There are a few things that you can do in order to prevent the negative symptoms associates with ulcers:

  • Quit smoking
  • Reduce alcohol intake
  • Avoid milk and dairy products
  • Include cruciferous vegetables into your diet
  • Effectively manage general stress level
  • Avoid excess protein and fat in your diet
  • Consider switching pain medications, if possible
  • Protect yourself from infections

Western Treatments

With regard to the Western approach for treating and preventing ulcers, there are a number of interventions that can be taken for acute cases. Antacids are at the frontline of the market for addressing ulcer symptoms. These antacids allow the affected area time to heal by decreasing, blocking, or neutralizing the secretion of acid in the stomach.

Antibiotics have also been used in the treatment of ulcers resulting from Helicobacter pylori. Multiple antibiotics can be prescribed by a doctor and work together to kill the bacterium. Individuals taking antibiotics should be aware of the potential consequences, (e.g., stomach upset, diarrhea, and even drug resistance).

A Case Study in TCM Treatment

A 40-year-old man presented with a diagnosis of H. pylori from his gastroenterologist. The symptoms that this patient felt were the most acute were the chronic gastric burning, indigestion, and occasional headaches. This patient also displayed sensitivity to antibiotics, ultimately deciding to take a more natural approach to ulcer treatment. Traditional Chinese diagnosis found his tongue red with a yellow coating. This patient’s pulse was also found to be rapid and choppy. He was prescribed an herbal formula containing Isatis extract leaf and root, Codonopsis root, oyster shell, Bupleurum root, Smilax rhizome, and gardenia fruit. A secondary herbal formula was combined including, among others, Poria sclerotium, coix seed, Barley Shen Qu, Magnolia bark, Angelica root and Pueraria root. This patient was also instructed to reduce or eliminate dairy products, soft drinks, and citrus drinks. Light exercise was also recommended, with a reduction in overall fat intake. This patient showed remarkable results within two weeks. Within a month, this patient was claiming that his symptoms were 90 percent under control.

Chronic Constipation

The actual definition of constipation is difficult to nail down.  Traditional medical texts say it’s not necessary to have a bowel movement every day and suggest that as little as three a week fall within the normal range.  Herbalists, on the other hand, are of the opinion that one to three bowel movements per day is closer to what should be considered the norm.  Each meal that enters the stomach triggers reflex movements in the colon and can lead to a bowel movement.  There are many factors that can slow the digestive process down such as fat in the diet, stress, and inactivity during the day time.  However, it is normal to have at least one bowel movement a day upon rising in the morning or following the morning meal.  Constipation that comes on suddenly or persists may require a visit to the doctor to rule out serious causes such as intestinal obstruction, hypothyroidism, or side effects from medication.

It’s important not to resort to laxatives if you feel you do not have regular bowel movements, as laxatives–both chemical and herbal–are a common cause of chronic constipation.  While occasional use is considered safe, habitual use can lead to dependence, which not only damages the bowel, but upsets the body’s mineral balance.  When dependent on laxatives, it’s important to discontinue use slowly so your digestive system has a chance to readjust.

Self Help

There are simple, practical steps you can take to help treat chronic constipation:

  • Eat more fiber.  Fiber increases the bulk of the stool and binds water, thus making the stool softer.  The best sources of fiber are fresh fruits and vegetables.  Incorporate psyllium products or soluble fiber such as oat bran and guar gum, which are easily digested, into your diet
  • Set aside a specific time each day (usually after breakfast or dinner) for having a bowel movement
  • Do not resist the urge to have a bowel movement
  • Exercise daily
  • Do not use enemas regularly
  • Drink eight glasses of warm or hot water daily; according to Chinese medicine warm or hot water relaxes the intestines

Western Treatments

When the need for treatment for chronic constipation escalates to needing the care of a physician, there are a number of treatments that Western medicine resorts to, spanning from normal laxatives, to suppositories, to surgical intervention.  Each treatment has varying degrees of side effects an unappealing consequences to the patient.

Currently, a great deal of research is being done on each section of the intestine, as each part of the organ has a network of nerves that controls its muscles.  Much of this research involves neurotransmitters (chemicals that nerves use to communicate with each other).  This research is allowing scientists to develop drugs that stimulate and inhibit various nerves in the colon that propel colonic content.  Such drugs have great potential in the treatment of constipation.  The first of these drugs is currently in clinical trials and will be available soon.  How effective they’ll be over how much of the population remains to be discovered.

A Case Study in TCM Treatment

A 51-year-old woman presented with a conventional diagnosis of IBS.  Her main complaint was chronic constipation, which was only relieved by drinking senna tea.  She reported that all kinds of food gave her indigestion, which started as a burning in the throat and then turned into nausea and bloating twenty minutes after eating.  She also complained of insomnia which was relieved somewhat using Elavil (Amitriptyline), the dosage of which had just recently been increased. Traditional Chinese diagnosis revealed that her pulse was wiry, and tongue normal-colored and dry. She also appeared to be a worrier. She was prescribed an herbal tea containing taurine, magnesium glycinate, biota seed, White Peony root, tang kuei root, fu shen sclerotium, bupleurum root and others. She was also given an herbal formula which combined, among others, poria sclerotium, coix seed, barley shen qu, magnolia bark, angelica root and pueraria root. Dietary recommendations involved avoiding fruit (which can ferment in the stomach, causing bloating) for one week, exercising (light aerobics), and going for a walk after each meal. After reading about the side effects of Elavil (including indigestion and constipation), she became concerned and began reducing the dosage under the direction of her doctor over a period of three months, while incorporating the herbs. Under this regimen, all symptoms gradually improved.