What is Giardia?
Giardia Lamblia is the most common intestinal parasite worldwide; in the USA, there’s almost 45,000 cases per year- about 2% of the population has been infected at one time or another. It can cause a variety of digestive symptoms like diarrhea & greasy stool, abdominal pain, bloating, gas, excessive burping, loss of appetite, fever, fatigue & nausea.
As it is a waterborne parasite, giardia has a reputation as being a camping & backcountry traveler’s condition. Giardia can be found in backcountry streams & lakes, but also in municipal water supplies, pools, and wells. Giardia infection can also be transmitted through food and person to person contact. It is common among international travelers, day care centers or any area where there may be unsanitary conditions. The incubation period is 7-45 days; it takes most people about 2 weeks upon contamination to actually show symptoms. It’s estimated up to 20% of people are carriers of Giardia; the active form is called a trophozoite, while the inactive form is referred to as a cyst. Some people with giardia infection never develop signs or symptoms but can still carry the parasite; they can even spread it to others via their stool or other unsanitary practices.
Ayurvedic Views on Parasites
According to Ayurveda, having low agni (weak digestion), encourages & contributes to parasite growth; people with chronic weak digestion are ideal hosts for parasites to proliferate. Parasites are more likely to affect vata and kapha predominant people since they will be more likely to have weak agni. Strong or higher agni, a characteristic of pitta predominant individuals, can “burn up” parasites before they have a chance to make themselves at home in the body and cause symptoms requiring attention. Those with suppressed immune systems, high stress or digestive disorders are also more likely to develop symptoms upon contamination.
According to Ayurveda, just because we come in contact with a parasite doesn’t mean we will show signs of infection. Whether or not our body reacts unfavorably depends on a myriad of factors: our doshic constitution (prakruti), our immune strength, physical resiliency & current stress level (ojas), or our digestive strength (agni).
Ayurveda classifies parasites according to the physical tissues they inhabit: blood, intestines, liver, kidneys, pancreas, or brain. Many parasites migrate throughout the body, so symptoms can change depending on where the parasites are at any given time. This can make diagnosis difficult & frustrating.
Parasite infections symptoms are very similar to yeast overgrowth, candida albicans. As parasites feed and thrive on nutrients the host has consumed, the parasites then create waste on which the yeast feeds. The qualities of the yeast then create an ideal damp environment for the parasites to thrive. It’s common for people who have had a history of yeast overgrowth to experience parasite infection symptoms and vice versa. An Ayurvedic treatment protocol can be used to address both parasite infection or yeast overgrowth.
My Experience with Giardia
I’ve had giardia infections 3 times; as a frequent backcountry explorer and international traveler, I consider myself at a high risk for exposure. The first time I contracted it I was hiking through remote villages in Nepal; I ended up taking prescription antibiotics & an anti-parasitical. Those medications did the trick- my main symptoms disappeared in 48 hours, but my gut flora & fauna was rocked and took months to get back to normal.
I experienced it the second time, 5 years later, in the middle of a multi-day wilderness race. I don’t believe I came in contact with actual Giardia parasite, but because I was physically exhausted and mentally & stressed, and experiencing digestive distress I think I created the optimal environment in which the giardia thrived. I pulled out of the race due to inability to eat, severe digestive & abdominal pain, gas & non-stop burping.
My most recent experience was upon returning home from a yoga training in Bali, Indonesia. I had my tell-tale signs and symptoms: no appetite, abdominal pain, diarrhea, excessive burping & gas, bloating, fatigue…I had adopted some sloppy habits while traveling (mainly eating lots of fresh greens & not being incredibly concerned with safe food practices).
Instead of relying on conventional medication, I treated my last 2 giardia cases using natural approaches I learned from Ayurveda. I used food, herbs and lifestyle adjustments to manage my symptoms. It took about a week and involved 100% dedication to the lifestyle and dietary protocols –but it worked. No side effects. No taking anti-biotics or other prescription drugs that impacted gut flora & fauna or affected other aspects of my well-being. Here’s what worked for me, I hope this information encourages you to consider natural & holistic options to managing parasites (or yeast) in your body.
**disclaimer: this statements in this blog are not intended to cure, prevent or diagnose any disease. Please work with your health provider regarding any of the above mentioned symptoms. This article is not meant to replace medical care**
Anti Parasite Diet
Strengthening digestion and consuming anti-parasitic foods & herbs is most important while cleansing parasites while foods that can create impurities (ama) in the body or contribute to yeast. A diet that is little in quantity, light, warm, and easy to digest will be the most beneficial in cleansing the body of parasites.
- Frozen, stale, leftover or processed food
- Sugars (this can “feed” the parasite or encourage yeast growth)
- Most fruits or juices
- Foods cold in temperature (requires more agni to digest/break down)
- Carbonated beverages
- Snacking & grazing (allow at least 3 hours between meals to cultivate a good appetite)
- Fresh, well cooked vegetables with spices (especially onion, garlic, ginger, turmeric)
- Pumpkin seeds (anti-parasitic); can be eaten freely during day
- Coconut oil
- Papaya Seeds
- Any bitter greens
- Lentils or split yellow mung dahl
- Plenty of room temperature or warm water
Here’s What I Did
After fasting for 24 hours (drinking only water; this helped increase agni & flush system), my diet consisted of the following for 7 days; I only ate when I was hungry. The first 3 evenings I drank 1 tbs castor oil before bed; this is a purgative and will increase bowel movements, helping to flush parasites out via stool. Be sure to drink at least 3 litres of water, but not with meals (this can dilute digestive enzymes…just as water puts out & extinguishes fire, it will do the same to the agni)
Fresh ginger garlic lemon tea upon rising (great for increasing agni)
Anti-Parasite Smoothie for Breakfast:
Handful pumpkin seeds
Handful fresh coconut
¼ c. fresh papaya seeds
Fresh turmeric & ginger
Anti-Parasite Dahl w/ Greens for Lunch & Dinner:
Well-cooked split yellow mung dahl. Be sure to rinse beans thoroughly to remove the hard to digest protein on the outside. I cooked dahl with veggie broth, coconut oil, and ample spices to support agni; favoring lots of ginger, turmeric, garlic, cumin, mustard seeds, black pepper & cayenne. I sauteed kale or collard greens with coconut oil for a side, then sprinkled fresh coconut, pumpkin seeds & garlic cloves roasted in coconut oil on top.
Anti-Parasite Spices & Herbs:
Below are herbs commonly used for treatment of parasites and yeast.
Consult with an Ayurvedic Practitioner or other health care provider regarding best herbs for your constitution/symptoms.
- Black Walnut
My Herbal Formula:
I ate 10-12 whole garlic gloves sauteed in coconut oil throughout day.
I blended equal parts turmeric, black walnut & vidanga. I put in capsules and took 3 capsules 3x day for 5 days.
The value of rest and relaxation can not be dismissed. Cleansing the body of parasites takes energy; give yourself extra time to heal & rejuvenate. Get plenty of sleep. Take time off from work if you can, minimize stress, avoid excessive travel and strenuous exercise. Create time to do things you enjoy; practice yoga and meditation, take walks or spend time in natural surroundings.
Be gentle with your digestive system- continue favoring easy to digest, freshly cooked well-spiced foods. Consume probiotics in food or supplement form to re-build and support healthy flora & fauna in your gut.