Parasite cleanses that promise to evacuate the worms living it up in your intestines are doing the rounds on TikTok, but as is often the case when health advice starts circulating on social media, a lot of the advice is misinformed and – in some cases – even dangerous. From claiming parasites cause schizophrenia to alleging that getting rid of them can reverse cirrhosis, it’s a minefield that overlooks the sometimes-beneficial effects of certain parasitic freeloaders.
Parasites can live all over the human body. Just look at face mites, tiny ecto-parasite arachnids that harmlessly set up camp in the hair follicles and sebaceous glands of human skin. Humans are hosts to around 300 species of parasitic worms and over 70 species of protozoa, says one paper in Clinical Microbiology Reviews, and it’s estimated that 80 percent of us have parasites living in our guts.
While it’s true a lot of parasites can cause devastating illness, it’s also true that some make for perfect tenants, having little effect on the host and sometimes even bringing benefits. In fact, just last month a study published in Inflammatory Bowel Diseases found that hookworms – a parasite being used without medical supervision by people with ulcerative colitis – was safe to begin clinical trials to see if it actually worked.
Our bodies have also been found to experience more aging-associated inflammation when we’re without helminth parasites, linked to the “old friends’ hypothesis” that considers symbiotic bacteria and parasites to be contributors to the healthy function of the immune system. It’s an idea that taps into “biome depletion”, a condition in which we’re being harmed as a result of sanitizing our environment and macro/microbiomes of the naturally-occurring species that have been a part of the human body’s ecosystem for millions of years.
Some argue the perks of helminths and other potentially beneficial parasites pushes them out of the bracket entirely, becoming mutualists that benefit themselves while also benefiting their hosts. So, why are people on social media still hell-bent on “cleansing” them from their bodies?
According to Dazed, social media users are claiming that parasites are behind stomach problems, autism, dementia, cancer, and schizophrenia. There’s often little-to-no evidence to support the suggested connections, but regardless, the reality is that beginning a “cleanse” without knowing what’s going on inside you is rarely a good idea.
Even in instances where parasites are relevant to disease, doctors wouldn’t give treatment without first establishing a person had an active infection with that parasite. Parasites infect people all over the globe, but typically a significant infection with a harmful variety will make itself known with symptoms that warrant investigation before deciding if medicinal treatment is necessary.
Then there’s the issue of the nature of the “cleanses” themselves. Buying supplements online is often risky (and usually just gives you expensive urine), and often they turn out to be laxatives dressed up as parasite cleanses, or diet tea. Unfortunately, few of life’s problems can be solved by taking a rapid dump, and by taking unnecessary “therapies” you may actually be making things worse.
When it comes to parasites, you should only consider treatments if you’ve relevant risk factors or symptoms, and even then it should be informed by a clinician and not that person talking about worms while twerking on the internet.
“Routine empiric parasitic cleanses in someone without symptoms are not based on any evidence,” Dr. Rabia De Latour, Assistant Professor of Medicine at NYU Grossman School of Medicine, told Rolling Stone.
“Most parasitic infections are spread from contaminated food or water, and risk can increase with international travel to endemic regions, so if you are concerned about this, you should seek help from a medical professional for potential treatment.”
The content of this article is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of qualified health providers with questions you may have regarding medical conditions.
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