If you suffer mysterious digestive difficulties that derail your sense of satisfaction after every meal, your woes may be linked to parasites. Here’s the good news: In many cases, getting these invisible freeloaders under control isn’t difficult and may reward you with restored digestive health.

Along with feeling bloated or even nauseated after eating, other signs that you may be troubled with parasites include unexplained rashes, tiresome itching, constant hunger, persistent fatigue, coughing, wheezing and fever. And if you suffer flu-like symptoms (such as stuffy nose and headache) without having the flu, you may have parasites.

You have to keep in mind however, that just about everybody harbors parasites to some degree. But, for most of us, these denizens of the body are not usually a health risk or discomfort.

Many researchers actually blame a portion of our problems with parasites and allergies on the American habit of being too hygienic and germ-phobic. According to these scientists, your immune system should constantly interact with a plethora of microorganisms in order to learn how to keep the bad ones in check. From this perspective, if you keep your house too clean, doing things like constantly bathing everything in disinfectant and washing your hands with anti-bacterial soap, your immune system forgets how to cope with invaders. Instead of learning on a daily basis how to zap the occasional pathogen, your immune system is coddled into an unprepared state of dormancy. Eventually, if a larger infectious problem arises, your immune cells are like night watchmen who have fallen asleep. They let parasites and other undesirables march in and take over without offering much resistance.

This theory, known as the “Hygiene Hypothesis,” argues that a little dirt and bacterial exposure is good for kids, adults and other living things. For example, a study at the Columbia Center for Children’s Environmental Health found that the immune systems of kids who grew up with cats in the house produced antibodies to cats early in their lives. By age five, these children were less likely to have immune problems such as cat allergies or asthma.

An Ocean of Parasites…

Even though having a cat around the house can help your immune system in some ways, you may be one of the 60 million Americans infected by Toxoplasma gondii, a protozoan parasite carried by cats that is often found in their kitty litter. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than 20 percent of the American population carries this parasite, and it is the third leading cause of death from food-borne illness in the U.S.

Researchers have been shocked to find that toxoplasma is also becoming a problem in the world’s oceans. Scientists have found that during the past ten years, toxoplasma infection is now common in sea mammals such as seals, beluga whales, dolphins and sea lions. They estimate that 17 percent of sea otter deaths off the coast of California can be attributed to toxoplasma. Many scientists think that this parasite is spreading in water runoff contaminated with cat feces, although this connection has not been proven conclusively.

Researchers believe that sea mammals ingest toxoplasma from eating smaller raw fish that carry the cysts of this parasite. Similarly, many humans may pick up parasites from sushi (raw fish), which can be infected with parasites such as the commonly found roundworms Anisakiasis.

Other sources of parasites include:

  • Rivers and lakes. Studies show that salmonella and other problematic organisms are present in the water at many recreational areas.
  • Undercooked meat. Be sure the heat you use to cook is high enough to kill parasites.
  • Contaminated food and water. Eating and drinking contaminated food and water is common during overseas travel.
  • Airplane travel. In airplane cabins, travelers are exposed to air that is constantly recirculated.
  • Walking barefoot. Parasites from the soil can penetrate the skin.
  • Eating unwashed produce. Always thoroughly clean fruits and vegetables even if they’re organic to avoid contamination by pesticides and other chemicals.

Push Out Parasites…

To prevent parasites from growing out of control, use a thorough parasite cleanse at least twice a year. This type of cleanse should include botanicals that support a healthy intestinal environment, including:

  • Wormwood: A digestive aid that stimulates the production of hydrochloric acid (HCl) in the stomach. HCl helps destroy parasites before they can travel down the digestive tract and grow to be a menace.
  • Garlic (bulb): Garlic has a long history of being employed as an anti-parasitic and infection fighter. The antioxidants in garlic are believed to be among the fastest-acting ever studied by scientists.
  • Marshmallow (dry root): An herb that helps relieve mucosal irritation and soothes inflammatory conditions in the digestive tract.

Taking a daily enzyme formula that includes HCl is important for keeping parasites in check. High acidity in the stomach kills incoming microorganisms, and low HCl levels can leave your digestive tract more vulnerable to invasion. Wide-spectrum enzyme preparations that include nutrients such as L-glutamine and butyric acid are also helpful because they supply nutrients that help the intestinal lining heal itself.

Also remember to take probiotics—supplements that supply beneficial bacteria. These help control disease-causing microorganisms in the gut. The key to a healthy digestive tract is not a sterile internal environment; it is in achieving a healthy balance of the organisms living there.