Although more common in poor and developing countries, parasite infections affect millions of Americans each year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Parasites, which include helminths such as tapeworms and protozoa such as cryptosporidium, cause a number of symptoms, such as abdominal pain, gas and bloating. There's no diet cleanse that's going to treat your parasitic infection. But here is evidence that certain foods may help, although they do not work as quickly as conventional medical therapy, according to the University of Maryland Medical Center. Consult your doctor to determine the best treatment.
Diet, but Not a Cleanse
The University of Maryland Medical Center suggests that making some modifications to your diet may help your body fight against a parasitic infection. It's important to note, however, that the medical center does not recommend a cleanse, which typically consists of limiting your intake to specially prepared juice, tea or another liquid concoction that's purportedly able to rid your body of toxic substances such as parasites. There's no evidence to support the claims made by these types of diets, according to a 2008 article published in Today's Dietitian.
In fact, the medical center recommends a diet almost opposite to a cleanse. The center recommends you replace your refined carb and high-sugar foods, such as white bread, juice and sweets, with foods high in fiber, such as fruits, vegetables, whole grains and beans.
Specific Foods That May Help
The medical center also suggests you increase your intake of foods that have been traditionally used to treat parasite infections. This includes garlic, carrots, beets, pomegranates and pumpkin seeds.
Upping your intake of vitamin C and zinc may help your fight against the parasites by supporting immune health. Foods rich in vitamin C include red and green peppers, broccoli, spinach, brussels sprouts, tomatoes, cauliflower, oranges, kiwifruit and strawberries. Get more zinc by including oysters, lean hamburgers, pork chops, cashews, chickpeas and almonds in your diet.
Honey and Papaya Seeds
The tropical fruit papaya, along with its seeds, is known to have anti-helmintic and anti-amoebic properties. A 2007 pilot study published in the Journal of Medicinal Food investigated the effects of a papaya seed extract mixed with honey on intestinal parasites in a small group of children over a seven-day period. The study found that the papaya seed and honey extract helped eradicate 74 percent to 100 percent of the parasites in the children after treatment. This was a pilot study, however, and more research is necessary before claims can be made.
Things to Consider
While there are alternative treatments for parasite infections, the University of Maryland Medical Center notes these types of treatments may take longer than using medication prescribed by a doctor. Each case is different, and no matter which route you decide to take, you should consult your doctor to discuss all modes of treatment. This is especially important to certain groups of people, such as the elderly, pregnant women and those with weakened immune systems.
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: Neglected Parasitic Infections (NPIs) in the United States
- University of Maryland Medical Center: Intestinal Parasites
- Journal of Medicinal Food: Effectiveness of Dried Carica Papaya Seeds Against Human Intestinal Parasitosis: A Pilot Study
- Today's Dietitian: Spring Cleansing: Assessing the Benefits and Risks of Detox Diets
- Office of Dietary Supplements: Vitamin C
- Office of Dietary Supplements: Zinc