The word “parasite” carries with it negative connotations. Whether figurative or literal, no one wants to harbor a parasite. In the literal sense, parasites are living organisms that have as much right to live as any other living thing; however, we don’t want them living in our bodies.
You can only pick up a parasite from direct contact, either through something you eat/drink or something that comes into contact with your skin (including via sexual contact). The organism then goes quickly to work to make itself at home. Often, that means illness for the host (you).
Common parasitic infections include:
- cryptosporidiosis – an intestinal infection passed through contact with infected stool
- giardiasis – transmitted through contaminated food or contact with an infected person
- malaria – transmitted through bites from infected mosquitoes
- toxoplasmosis – transmitted through contaminated food or contact with cat feces
- trichomoniasis – sexually transmitted
These illnesses are caused primarily by three types of micro-organisms:
- ectoparasites – multi-cell organisms that can live on or from your skin; insects like mosquitoes and arachnids like ticks fall into this category
- helminthes – multi-cell organisms, commonly known as “worms”; they include tapeworms, flatworms, and roundworms and are visible by the time they reach adult stage (1)
- protozoa – single-cell organisms that quickly grow and proliferate when they find a hospitable host; they are common in untreated or stagnant water or can be contracted from contaminated stool. (2)
Symptoms of Parasitic Infection
Many parasites find a nice, safe, warm, moist home in the digestive tract. Symptoms of infection are therefore a direct correlation of such invasion:
- nausea, vomiting
- fever, chills
- abdominal cramps
- skin irritation, such as redness, a rash, or itching
- genital discharge
- swollen lymph nodes
- muscle aches
For every human toxin in the natural environment, Nature has an antidote.
What we deem a parasite doesn’t translate to an inherently “bad” organism. Every microbe on Earth serves a purpose in the natural world—we may not recognize what that is. Some of these organisms cause illness to humans but not necessarily to other species. By simply making our bodies inhospitable and ensuring a robust immune system, we can rid ourselves of the organisms that make us sick if we happen to come into contact with them.
Herbs are powerful medicines. It may seem simple to treat yourself for any illness by employing plants known to have certain qualities. If you are infected with a parasite, however, professional care is indicated to make sure you are using the right herbs in the appropriate dosage to get rid of the unwelcome invaders. Consider someone certified in functional medicine with experience in herbal treatment of parasitic infections. Other foods you can eat with impunity.
The Best Foods to Naturally Kill Parasites
1. Black Walnut – the green skin of the black walnut contains tannins, a type of antioxidant with antimicrobial and anticancer properties. (3) A substance called juglone is one of those tannins, which has been found specifically to be antiparasitic. (4) You can eat whole walnuts or make a tincture with the hulls.
2. Cayenne – this spicy ground pepper kills fungus, bacteria, mold, and parasites on contact. (5) Parasites in general don’t like hot spices, so load up! (6) Cayenne is great for topical treatments (click here for a DIY salve recipe) or sprinkle with ginger powder on pumpkin or cucumber seeds to combat internal parasites. (7)
3. Clove – eugenol is a phytochemical in cloves, as well as nutmeg, cinnamon, and basil. Eugenol, found in the plant’s essential oil, gives cloves its strong aromatic flavor. It’s also the active compound with antifungal, antiviral, and antiparasitic properties. A 2014 study of clove oil’s effects on a particular fish parasite found that after only one hour, eighty to ninety percent of the microbes had been destroyed. (8)
“The antioxidant and antimicrobial activity of clove is higher than many fruits, vegetables and other spices and should deserve special attention.” (9)
Eugenol acts against different classes of microbes and is anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, and anaesthetic. (10, 11)
4. Cucumber Seeds – in addition to its hydrating and nutritional qualities, the seeds of the cucumber have been widely used in tropical countries to treat tapeworm infections. Its amino acid cucurbitine is the active ingredient. (12) You can eat whole cucumbers (with seeds) or dry organic cucumber seeds and grind them into powder to add to salads and smoothies—one teaspoon at a time will do to kill and prevent parasites from taking up residence.
5. Garlic – known to cure many common illnesses and diseases, this bulb herb contains potent antimicrobials, including allicin and ajoene. Allicin has been shown to be antifungal, antiviral, antibacterial, and antiparasitic. (13) Among the common parasites for which allicin is an antagonist are protozoa, with indications for intestinal infections. (14)
Ajoene is one of the sulfur compounds in garlic that gives it that strong aroma and flavor. These compounds are the plant’s defense mechanism against would-be predators and it works much the same way in humans. (15) Ajoene on its own is antibacterial, antifungal, and antiviral. (16) In addition, ajoene is effective against skin infections when applied topically. (17) In one ajoene study, just one dose was enough to kill malarial parasites and prevent them from proliferating. (18)
To activate allicin, ajoene, and other beneficial phytochemicals in garlic, the clove must be crushed or minced and the bulb’s enzymes allowed to interact for several minutes before consuming. Start with one crushed clove; you may gradually increase how many cloves you eat in a day to combat parasites.
6. Ginger – this rhizome herb is a cousin of turmeric and just as good for you. More than a condiment for sushi, ginger is a superspice that aids digestion, detoxifies, improves circulation, regulates blood sugar, is anti-inflammatory, antibiotic, antimucosal, antioxidant, anticancer, and antiparasitic.
A 2013 study published in the journal Parasitology International found that ginger directly kills parasites and their eggs and heals the liver and intestines from parasitic damage. (19) Ginger can be used raw or dried. Click here for a recipe for a parasite-destroying tea.
7. Papaya – perhaps the most efficacious food for clearing the body of parasites is papaya fruit and its seeds. A 2007 study found that papaya seeds were 71.4-100% effective in ridding stool of parasites after a seven-day treatment. (20) Further, when mixed with honey, the seeds are not only more palatable (they tend to be somewhat bitter) but you get the added benefits of honey, including its antiparasitic properties. (21)
Two ways to take papaya to combat parasites:
- Peel the skin and soak the fruit in raw organic apple cider vinegar for twenty-four hours. Eat one cup of the fruit and two ounces of the brine for four days.
- Remove the seeds from an average-sized papaya and grind them to a paste (a coffee grinder, food processor, blender, or mortar and pestle will work to grind the seeds). Place the ground seeds in a blender. Add one tablespoon of organic virgin coconut oil, one cup of organic coconut milk, and the rest of the papaya (skinned). Blend until smooth. Drink a fresh smoothie each morning for at least 7 consecutive days.
8. Pumpkin Seeds (Raw) – cucurbitacin is a plant steroid found in pumpkin, gourd, melon, cucumber, and other squash seeds. It is in itself bitter and slightly toxic but those may be the properties that parasites find destructive. Like other bitter plant substances, cucurbitacin is an antitumor, antiparasitic emetic (induces vomiting). That may not sound very appetizing but over time, pumpkins have been domesticated to breed out the bitterness and hence reduce human toxicity, making them not only safe but health-promoting. (22)
A Chinese study for which pumpkin seeds were mixed with areca nuts found them extremely effective for tapeworm expulsion. (23) Other studies have had similar results in killing parasites and their eggs in humans and other animals. (24, 25, 26)
Furthermore, pumpkin seeds provide significant nutrition including protein, magnesium, vitamin E, omega-3 fatty acids, and zinc. You can eat them (raw) by the handful or on and in anything else you eat. Click here for easy and delicious pumpkin seed recipes.
9. Turmeric – this is another versatile superspice that provides a multitude of health benefits. (27, 28) In fact, this rhizome should more fittingly be on the top of the list of anti-parasitic herbs. From a 2013 Brazilian study:
“Curcumin [the active compound in turmeric, its golden pigment], a phenolic compound deriving from the plant Curcuma longa, has been shown to have anticancer, anti-inflammatory and antiparasitic effects. Recently, our group has demonstrated that curcumin causes the separation of S. mansoni adult worm pairs, eggs infertility, decreased oviposition and parasite viability, leading to death.” (29)
For parasite destruction (or any other health treatment), turmeric should be slightly prepared—its bioavailability in humans is limited so a little care must be applied. Gently warmed and taken with a teaspoon (or more) of virgin coconut oil and black pepper increases the human body’s ability to absorb curcumin. Click here for a recipe for turmeric paste that you can make and store in the refrigerator to use as you need it.
If you are fighting parasites, keep in mind that they are most likely targeting your digestive system. Paying special attention to gut health during the period of infestation is therefore exceedingly important. Increase your probiotic intake; foods include yogurt and kefir (plain and organic), sauerkraut, kimchi, kombucha, and other fermented and pro-/pre-biotic foods. Drink plenty of clear fluids and get ample rest.
Paul Sherman is an evolutionary biologist and professor of neurobiology and behavior at Cornell University. Here’s how he describes the relationship among humans, parasites, and herbs:
“The proximate reason for spice use obviously is to enhance food palatability. But why do spices taste good? Traits that are beneficial are transmitted both culturally and genetically, and that includes taste receptors in our mouths and our taste for certain flavors. People who enjoyed food with antibacterial spices probably were healthier, especially in hot climates. They lived longer and left more offspring. And they taught their offspring and others: ‘This is how to cook a mastodon.’ We believe the ultimate reason for using spices is to kill food-borne bacteria and fungi. I believe that recipes are a record of the history of the coevolutionary race between us and our parasites. The microbes are competing with us for the same food. Everything we do with food—drying, cooking, smoking, salting or adding spices—is an attempt to keep from being poisoned by our microscopic competitors. They’re constantly mutating and evolving to stay ahead of us. One way we reduce food-borne illnesses is to add another spice to the recipe. Of course that makes the food taste different, and the people who learn to like the new taste are healthier for it.” (30)