Are Parasites Affecting Your Mood?

Do you notice fluctuations in your moods throughout the month? Do you assume that they may be due to PMS or stress? Could there be something else in your body causing you to have ups & downs? Find out in this week’s episode of Integrative Wellness Radio with Dr. Nicole and Brooke!


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Hey, there. Welcome back to another episode of integrative wellness radio. You are listening to Brooke Scheller, the functional medicine nutritionist, and Dr. Nicole Rivera. We both work together at integrative wellness group in Belmar, New Jersey. Today we're going to be talking a little bit about the connection between parasites and your mood. If you're listening, and you are someone who experiences maybe an up and down mood fluctuation, maybe you go back between some level of depression, maybe some level of being really happy and then dropping back into that depression state, maybe having some anxiety or other type of irregular moods. Maybe you think that it's related to your hormones, or it's related to some type of genetic component that depression runs in your family.

One of the things that we find commonly is the incidence of parasites affecting someone's, not even just digestive system, but maybe different areas of the body and possibly causing some mood disturbances. We want to give you a little bit more information about that today. To arm you with a little bit more information to help you heal naturally.

Dr. Nicole, why don't you tell us a little bit more about what parasites are and how we could possibly be exposed to them.

Dr. Nicole:
Well, the definition of parasites I think can be somewhat broad. There is definitely parasites that can exist in the gut, the gastrointestinal system. There is parasites that can exist within other parts of the body. Everywhere from the reproductive organs to the bladder to the liver. Really the list goes on, and there is a lot of potential for getting exposed to these different types of parasites with just our every day diet.

The parasites I think that we most commonly hear that it could be from fish, or it could be from under cooked meats, but nowadays there's a lot more opportunity to get exposed to parasites just outside of that. Unfortunately I think our water supply is actually one of the biggest culprits for parasite exposure. We're all typically drinking water, and some of us might be drinking tap water at times just because it's more convenient. Most parasites are passed through fecal oral route. Pretty much what that means is feces contaminating something, especially something like water, and then that essentially getting into our systems through our mouth.

With all of the different run off that comes from different farms or even just if we're living in a city coming from the sewage plants and what not, it can definitely contaminate our water supply and cause us to get exposed to parasites. Yes, fish and under cooked meat can definitely be a big part of it. Also our pets. We all love them, and we usually let them lick us in the face, but unfortunately they are licking parts of their body that potentially could have contaminated feces on it. If they are licking us in the face we could potentially be getting exposed to parasites from our pets as well.

Definitely a lot more avenues we can get exposed than maybe we would think. It's not to live in fear or always be nervous that you're getting exposed to parasites, but it's choosing better quality food, making sure you're drinking purified water, and then also making sure that you're keeping up with bathing your pet and making sure your home is sanitized as well.

What symptoms might be associated with someone who might have a parasite or parasites? You know, we talked a little bit about mood, and we'll get further into that, but that's not the only commonly associated side effect.

Dr. Nicole:
I actually love going through this because when I'm in a consultation with a patient and they say something that kind of puts up the red flag for me to think that parasites might be part of their puzzle, I start asking questions and they often look at me funny and are like why are you asking me this? There's a lot of symptoms that you would never really think would be associated with parasites, but they are. One of them as an example is grinding your teeth. I think that a lot of people can relate to that. They either have had a history of grinding their teeth or they were told by their dentist, I think you're grinding your teeth maybe when you're sleeping, or they have a history of TMJ which is dysfunction in the joints of the jaw that can also be potentially because they're grinding their teeth and just don't realize.

That's definitely something that has been associated with parasites. Parasites being in the system, especially in the gastrointestinal system. Also, when you're talking about parasites in the gut there's a lot of manifestations that can be happening in that system in itself. One of the most common things that we will see is loose bowel movements. Especially if you "eat the wrong thing." If somebody eats maybe something too heavy, or they eat a lot of cream sauce, or whatever the case may be. I don't want you to think if you're someone who's gravitating towards constipation that without a doubt parasites are ruled out. We do have some people that kind of fluctuate between the constipation and loose bowel movements which is what we call IBS, but that can also be a culprit of parasites as well.

Another big one is actually finding undigested food in your stool. I know not everybody is necessarily looking, but you can definitely find undigested vegetables especially when it comes to leafy greens. You can also find undigested seeds. They're actually not seeds. They're actually the eggs of the parasites, but it would look like a sesame seed.

A lot of people will say that they see that, but they haven't actually eaten sesame seeds, so they're confused as to where that's coming from, and that could be the culprit there.

Dr. Nicole:
Yes, definitely. The undigested food in itself, I kind of make a joke and say, well parasites, they don't like vegetables. I'm kind of not kidding at the same time. You're not going to be breaking it down, primarily because the parasites are thriving off of more of the processed sugars and carbs. It's something that they prefer.

In addition, itchy skin is a big one. I know that nowadays we kind of blame it on allergies or did I eat the wrong thing. If you are having itchy skin, or you're having hives, or you're having weird blotchy rashes that are popping out on your body that can definitely be an association with parasites as well. Usually the response is triggered by something that you're eating that is irritating the parasite, but the itchy skin, especially hives, is very much associated with having parasites in the system.

What are some diagnoses that may be associated with parasites? Kind of building off of that last ...

Dr. Nicole:
Like I mentioned before, you do have some people that are gravitating towards loose bowel movements, so that might be classified as IBS or irritable bowel syndrome D which is diarrhea. Then there is other people that might be gravitating towards the true IBS which is the fluctuation between constipation and diarrhea or loose bowel movements. Ulcerative colitis is a condition where there's massive inflammation in the colon. Then there's Crohn's which is also something in association with inflammation in the gut as well, but it could be in the small intestine, it could be in the colon, and it also means that there is kind of spots of healthy tissue, but then there's also spots of inflammation.

Both of those conditions I do treat a lot, and I have never really found one of those cases that didn't have some type of imbalance in their gut. I would say about 90 percent of those people did have parasites in their system. Another really big one is diverticulitis. I have actually never treated a case of diverticulitis that did not have parasites associated with it. Because the parasites are one of the culprits for causing such pain and cramping in the abdomen which is a big symptom of diverticulitis, and you get told oh you're having a flair. What's really happening is something has either caused the parasites to be irritated, or it is actually a time when maybe eggs of the parasites have hatched, and you have a new infestation. That will induce a lot of cramping and abdominal pain.

I think it's important to note that those diagnoses don't usually come without some type of bacterial or yeast over growth also. I think that's another kind of important thing to mention is that parasites are definitely a part of the picture, but there is usually coupled with that some type of yeast bacteria. They all kind of flourish together. One of the things that I did want to mention was talking a little bit about low stomach acid because our digestive tract, if you think about it, it's a full tract. Everything is connected. It goes in your mouth, down through your esophagus, into your stomach, and then starts into the intestines.

One of the biggest things is our stomach acid is really there to help protect us from any type of bacteria or parasites. If you have low stomach acid maybe those things aren't getting killed off. They're slipping down into the intestinal tract, and then they're starting to grow there and thrive there. I think low stomach acid is an eye opener for a lot of people because a lot of people who are experiencing some type of indigestion or heartburn or reflux symptoms is typically because they're having low stomach acid. Not that traditional what we think of a high stomach acid.

If you're experiencing low stomach acid, indigestion, reflux, or have been diagnosed with gerd or something like that, you may be more susceptible to having these types of infections, or it could be coupled with you having an infection.

Dr. Nicole:
Interesting enough if you do have the diagnosis of indigestion, heartburn, gerd, the most common form of treatment is using proton pump inhibitors which are pretty much shutting down the stomach acid also. You're taking things like Tums, you've taking Prevacid, Prilosec, Zantac, whatever it is, so you're then also further exacerbating the situation. In addition, you are making yourself a lot more susceptible to different infections that can get into your gut.

Let's jump back into the mood thing because that's really the nitty-gritty of what we wanted to talk about today. Let's chat more about how the parasites can affect the up and down mood.

Dr. Nicole:
I think that we've all heard that term of people start to act crazy around a full moon, or if you have a friend or a family member and they're acting a little off.

They're turning into werewolves.

Dr. Nicole:
You go, oh it must be a full moon. It's so interesting because I grew up kind of saying that or hearing people say that, and I never really understood what it meant. It turns out that actually at times of the full moon is when parasites are the most sexually active, so pretty much they are growing and flourishing within your system, and you will usually find that your mood will suffer because of that. We always make jokes that they're very romantic.

It's definitely an important thing to consider because the biggest things that we hear in our practice is, oh, it was a full moon. Oh my God my sleep was terrible, or I was really moody. I really didn't feel like myself, or my gastrointestinal system was really acting up. Keep an eye on it because if you have those things coming up around a full moon you do need to consider that parasites are part of the puzzle for you. Then being able to get the right testing to figure that out for sure.

I think it's funny, too, because we often times think that it's correlating with maybe our menstrual cycle, so paying attention to wow is that falling around the same time? Are we playing it on PMS? Or is it this possibility of the parasites? That kind of leads me into asking you more about the hormone end of it because the parasites will affect our hormones.

Dr. Nicole:
Definitely. Yeah, I think as women it's very easy for us to blame our moods on hormones because of PMS, and it's kind of just the standard of, oh, if your hormones are off then you're naturally going to have ups and downs with your mood. It's a two part cycle, so you have these parasites that can be messing with your mood because it actually does mess with your brain and actually creates inflammation in the brain. In addition, if you do have long standing parasites in the gut, the gut and the brain work together. What naturally will happen is the endotoxins that are given off by parasites will actually start to shut down your hypothalamus and your pituitary function.

That is the gland of your brain that actually controls your entire endocrine system. It controls all of your hormones. When I say hormones I don't just mean sex hormones. I also mean thyroid hormones. I also mean stress hormones which is like adrenaline which gives us energy, and I also mean neurotransmitters which is the hormones made by your brain that allow you to feel good. They allow you to get proper sleep. The entire integrity of the hormonal system will be really, really impacted when you have these infections in your gut. You will really start to see a lot of things shift with your mood. You will see things shift from a hormone perspective of you might have irregular periods, you might have heavy bleeding, you might have a lot of irritability around your period. You will start to see kind of a snowball affect happen.

If somebody is listening and they experience some of these things ... They're listening and they're like oh my gosh that's me. I've got these hormone imbalances. My mood is up and down. I've got the hives. What is somebody going to do to find out more in terms of testing, in terms of management and treatment and all that?

Yeah, definitely. There's going to be some really key things that you can actually find thin blood. If somebody does have blood work that they have gotten recently, taking a look to see what the eosinophil levels are. Eosinophils is something that will be elevated in someone who is dealing with parasites. Eosinophils will also show that the person is experiencing food allergies that are due to the parasites. That's something also to consider if you are someone who is dealing with food allergies, or you've had a food allergy panel and you have a lot of different things showing up. You most likely have some type of infection in your gastrointestinal system, and it's most likely that it is parasites.

The top test is definitely going to be in relation to a stool sample. The stool sample is going to give us a lot of information about what is happening specifically in the gastrointestinal system. You're going to find anything from parasites to bacteria to yeast. This will give you a lot of clarity. The issue with the stool sample is it's not always extremely straight forward in the sense that 20 minutes after you have a bowel movement most parasites will actually self destruct. By the time your sample reaches the lab, which takes a few days, then they might deem your stool sample clear of parasites.

The other things that you may see in someone who has parasites is going to be inflammation which would show up in the stool sample. It would also be red blood cells. Microscopic red blood cells or white blood cells which are going to be due to a parasite infection. The other thing you may see is something called the secretory IGA which is going to be elevated above 200. These are all different things to consider. If you are someone who has had a stool sample in the past and maybe was told oh no, you don't have parasites, but you are relating to these symptoms. Because unfortunately they're not the easiest thing to diagnose.

When it comes to looking at the blood you can definitely test for different types of blood parasites as well that might be affecting the liver, the bladder, et cetera, but you would be able to do that through blood work, but you would have to get very specific on the things that you would be running.

How about in terms of management or treatment? I think that there's definitely a lot of parasite cleanses on the internet and parasite diets and things like that. What would be your preferred method of management?

Dr. Nicole:
I would definitely say you definitely need to do a combination of diet therapy as well as making sure that you are taking the right supplements. I know that there's a lot of different supplements out there that are for parasites. Artemisinin is really one of the best supplements that are out there. The thing you have to consider is you have to be very strategic on how you are helping your body to get rid of parasites because they do work in cycles. You will need to take supplements for a period of time, and then take a break. Which is really, really important.

The other thing, too, is if you relate to these symptoms and say, okay I'm just going to take parasite support, you might be completely missing an important part of the puzzle. Because you might also have bacteria. You might also have yeast in your gut. If you're able to know exactly what's in your system you could address everything all at once. The one disclaimer I'm make is in the past when I used to have such a focus on the gut, I used to make sure that I figured out what was happening in the gastrointestinal system, put people on the appropriate supplements. What I would find is some patients would respond really, really fast. They would pretty much have a clear follow up stool analysis in a month. Then other patients would actually, it would be 6 months and they still haven't seen much improvement. Especially when it came to retesting them.

You have to consider that the immune system is compromised in people that are not clearing these infections. The biggest thing with people that have a poor functioning immune system is typically they have heavy metals. Things like mercury, aluminum in their body and/or they have mold, as well. If you do embark on doing your own protocol, and you find that you're not having the most success, you need to consider what is burdening your immune system, and also work on that.

Great. If you are listening and you relate to this and you want to dive a little bit deeper with one of us we always offer a free 15 minute strategy session. You can do that by heading over to You can set that up with us. As always we very much appreciate it if you would head over to iTunes and subscribe. Also write us a rating and review. We look forward to talking with you soon.