You know, I've been feeling awfully tired lately. I haven't been sleeping well, and when I do sleep, I grind my teeth. Also, I'm feeling slightly nervous, forgetting minor details, and eating more than usual but not gaining weight. Should I be worried? According to the November 2002 issue of Secrets of Robust Health promoted as a "health newsletter for the thinking person," I should. Divulging information "you will probably never hear from your family doctor"(with good reason, as we'll see), the newsletter claims that all of my symptoms point to the same culprit: a parasite.
Parasites are organisms that live inside or on the body of their hosts, receiving nourishment and propagating, while at the same time causing a variety of symptoms. According to Secrets..., common symptoms of parasites can include constipation, gas and bloating, diarrhea, allergies, itchy ears, nervousness, apathy, tooth grinding, forgetfulness, and sleep problems, among others. The newsletter claims there are five to twenty-five pounds of fecal matter built up in my body on which the parasites thrive: "Many of our readers already know how unhealthy colon build-up is. Unless eliminated promptly, the food in our bodies tends to putrefy and poison our systems. Now we see that is also [a] wonderful breeding ground for all sorts of parasites."
The newsletter goes on to declare that constipation is the "plague of our time" and that individuals should be passing fecal matter two to three times a day anything less than this is abnormal. On what grounds are they basing this assumption? On statements made by naturopathic doctors and traditional Chinese specialists. But after twenty-four years, can't I judge whether my body is excreting in a normal, natural fashion? According to this newsletter, no, I can't trust my body because it has been invaded and taken over by hungry parasites that don't want me to dispose of waste.
Cleansing as the Solution
Since most parasites are found in the intestinal tract and colon, the author suggests a thorough internal cleansing program, such as the one being promoted at the end of the newsletter. I should immediately stop neglecting my colon because, I'm told: "Remember that even such a conservative body as the Royal Academy of Physicians of Great Britain stated that 90% of disease and discomfort is directly or indirectly related to an unclean colon." As I'll explain, that claim may be false on more than one level.
What exactly is involved in this internal cleansing program? The cleansing program is advertised as being suitable for "everyone ages eight to 108," and the manufacturer recommends that it be used every day for two months. It has three components. First, there is the herb and fiber mix, which contains nearly forty herbal ingredients and two fibers. Then, there are the herbal antiparasite capsules, which contain nineteen herbs meant to banish parasites from your colon, liver, and kidneys. Finally, there is the herbal cleansing tea, which contains fourteen herbs meant not only to aid in digestion but to promote sound sleep. The whole program costs about $70. However, it only provides one month's supply of the antiparasite capsules. To follow through on the suggested two month regimen, an additional bottle will needed: $27.95.
The editor of the newsletter is a strong advocate of the program. He maintains that it cleared up not just his colon but a wide variety of other health problems: "Another thing that I'm thrilled about is that, upon awakening in the morning, I am no longer hoarse and can breathe properly my passages feel totally clear."
Herbal Side Effects
Supposedly, there are no adverse side effects associated with this product. A "senior researcher" at Natural Medicine Associates quoted in the newsletter confidently claims: "This comprehensive seventy-ingredient herbal cleansing program doesn't have any side effects, aside from possible minor discomforts one might expect while cleansing their body. There are no special diet requirements to follow during the cleanse, and we recommend that you repeat the program at least one to two times a year. Furthermore, the products do not cause any adverse reactions with any medications you may be taking and the medications, in turn, do not adversely affect them."
If you are an avid HFAF reader, you are already know that herbal supplements are not so innocuous they may indeed interfere with the prescription medications you are taking, and you should be aware of these potential interactions (see ACSH's publication on drug-supplement interactions). Many consumers wrongfully believe that labels stating "all natural" mean that the products inside are "all safe" and don't need to be used with caution. On the contrary, one should be very careful because herbal supplements are not regulated by the government and do not need to be proven safe before they are marketed. You can never be sure about what you're ingesting, its potency, its safety, and how it's going to interact with other drug therapies; thus, they should be used with caution.
Also, individuals should be aware that many of the herbal weight-loss and cleansing teas such as the one used in this program can produce harmful effects, such as nausea, vomiting, cramps, diarrhea, dehydration, and mineral imbalances, and that long-term use can upset colon function. Teas such as Laci Le Beau Super Dieter's Tea contain around 50% senna leaves, a powerful herbal laxative, but are not required by the Food and Drug Administration to carry any warning label or statement because they are considered food supplements. Since the teas are not regulated by the FDA, the exact amount of senna and its potency is unknown to consumers.
Naturally, the body empties its waste once it has absorbed the required food and calories it needs for energy through the small intestine. But by taking any form of laxative on a daily basis, individuals will cause their body to lose needed nutrients and fluids and also fall out of a natural rhythm. Continued use of products for "internal cleansing" can lead to bloating, cramping, dehydration, and disturbances and imbalances in electrolytes (such as potassium and calcium, which ensure healthy teeth, joints, bones, nerve impulses, blood sugar levels, and the delivery of oxygen to the cells of the body). More severe side effects may include cardiac arrhythmias, heart attack, kidney problems, and even death.
It is possible for individuals to experience withdrawal symptoms when they cease such programs, including abdominal cramping, mild to severe constipation, bloating, mood swings, and general feelings of fatigue, but Natural Medicine Associates says these can also be taken as "symptoms" of parasitic infection. Your health problems may be a result of the treatment, not actual predatory parasites.
Credentials and Credibility
In hopes of gaining some credibility and authority (with the ultimate goal of talking consumers into purchasing this expensive product), the newsletter throws around names of doctors, medical specialists, and organizations purported to be "well-known" parasitic experts. There is a Dr. Ross Anderson, "one of America's foremost parasitic infection specialists," but the newsletter fails to list his affiliation and credentials. In my attempts to find more information about Dr. Anderson, the only references I was able to locate were in similar parasitic propaganda.
Also, the newsletter quotes a Dr. Peter Wina of the Walter Reed Army Institute of Research, though I was unable to find any mention of him on the Walter Reed Army Institute of Research's website. Then there is Dr. Frank Nova, "Chief of the Laboratory of Parasitic Diseases of the National Institute of Health." Actually, Dr. Louis Miller is the Chief and Dr. Franklin Neva is Section Head of the NIH's Opportunistic Parasitic Diseases Section. And remember the Royal Academy of Physicians of Great Britain I mentioned earlier? There is a Royal College of Physicians, but no Royal Academy in Great Britain.
Perhaps these are innocent mistakes, but if the authors of this newsletter were not able to stay current and report such small details accurately, why trust that everything else reported is accurate and factual?
Yes, there are parasites among us, but the situation is not as dire as the one painted by the Secrets of Robust Health newsletter and Natural Medicine Associates. According to the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) division of the National Institutes of Health, parasites do affect millions of Americans but disproportionately affect those with already weakened immune systems, such as people with AIDS. It is difficult to ascertain the exact incidence of parasitic disease in the United States, since doctors are not required to report most types and cases to the Centers for Disease Control.
Some of the diarrheal diseases Americans experience are the result of parasites that live inside the intestinal tract. Examples of intestinal parasites include visible worms, such as tapeworms and pinworms, and microscopic organisms, such as Giardia lamblia. But parasites are not only found in the intestinal tract. Parasitic diseases, such as malaria, are blood-borne and indigenous to tropical climates. Common non-intestinal parasites found in the U.S. include the sexually transmitted parasite T. vaginalis (which affects up to three million women) and lice (pubic, body, and head). No amount of colon cleansing will ever rid your body of these non-colon-inhabitating pests.
Individuals may acquire parasites by eating raw and undercooked food and by drinking water. Parasites are also transmitted by insects (as is the case with malaria), by household pets, or even person to person through unsanitary habits and poor hygiene. Finally, by traveling outside of the United States, individuals put themselves at greater risk for parasitic infection and its subsequent spread.
Coping with the Real Parasites
If you think that you are have acquired a parasite, then you should consult your doctor and be tested. One way to test for a parasite is by giving a stool sample, which is then analyzed by a laboratory. The Centers for Disease Control recommend that three or more stool samples, collected on separate days, be examined by a laboratory to look for the parasite or its eggs. Oftentimes, this is the most effective method of diagnosis. A blood test can also detect some parasites.
Eliminating the parasitic infection is the key to relieving symptoms. You don't have to purge your body of all fecal matter to rid yourself of the nasty beast. Antiparasitic drugs are available through your doctor, and you can fight parasites by making changes to your diet or adding "friendly" bacteria to your gastrointestinal tract.
There are a number of preventive measures that you can follow to reduce your risk of acquiring a parasite. According to the NIAID, individuals should wash their hands before eating and after cleaning up or playing with pets. Also, fully cook meat, do not eat in places that appear unsanitary, and avoid water from uncertain sources.
Finally, if people offer you suspicious-sounding cure-alls, remember to beware of human parasites.
For more information about parasitic infections, visit the NIH's MedlinePlus website at: http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/parasiticdiseases.html
March 9, 2003
The real parasites are the snake oil profiteers who suck dollars out of the wallets of the unwary consumers they half scare to death with their biobabble. Pounds of non-transient fecal material in a colon? Sounds like a bunch of c**p to me.
April 30, 2003
On the other hand, my whole family and I loved the product that the newsletter advertised. We saw parasites with our very own eyes and all sorts of garbage coming out of us. Let's keep it in perspective the above, just like the article itself, is only one person's opinion, that's all. I have another friend who didn't see parasites but after using the product recommended felt significantly better. I think that for the sake of fair and balanced journalism, you should not discard this response just because it doesn't agree with your point of view.
August 2, 2003
As an individual who has endured FDA-approved drugs for almost every ailment know to man, without a cure, I think it is hypocritical to label all alternative treatments as scams. I recently began a colon hydrotherapy program and have had wonderful results. I don't have to worry about having an FDA-approved drug recalled because of its side effects, either, since the active ingredient is filtered water!
While I do think that there are some "programs" out there that are ridiculous, I believe that it is irresponsible to throw all therapies that aren't "modern medicine" into the sewer. As for the non-transient fecal matter claim, colon hydrotherapy machines have clear viewing tubes so that this matter is visible. Trust me, it can't be a bad thing to get rid of some of the debris I saw. Do a little more research about a therapy before trashing it.
New Orleans, LA
September 1, 2003
I haven't tried any of the programs, but I am thoroughly researching them, and thus I found your article. All I know is that my little girl (seven years old) does have worms (pinworms). She has taken two different kinds of medicine, and they have failed to rid her of the worms. She has suffered for four years and I had taken her to the doctor, many times, and they could not even diagnose her. I saw the worms. The doctor gave her medicine but it did not kill them, because when she had a bowel movement her stool was full of live, moving worms. I bought some Pin-x and the worms in her stool were now, at least, not alive. Everyone in my family has the same problems, constipation and incomplete evacuation. My daughter's health has been compromised.
My point is that I always thought that "colon cleansing" and "parasite cleansing" were quackery. I couldn't believe people actually were so stupid. Now I know that I was the stupid one. There were dead worms in every one of my family member's stool after we took the prescribed medicine. Did we kill them all? I don't know, so colon cleansing doesn't sound like such a bad idea. It is not quackery after all. And I want everyone to know that this is real.