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Does Your Inflammatory Gut Problem Stem From Blastocystis?

An image of a woman holding her gut in painBlastocystis, microscopic parasites that live in humans, can cause inflammatory health issues relating to your gut. Many people with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) may have this or a similar intestinal microbe to blame. However, having Blastocystis in your body does not necessarily mean you will become ill. Many people with this microbe do not seem to develop problems or symptoms, although this could be due to the diverse types of this parasite. If it is a possible problem for you though, it's important to know what steps you can take to get to the bottom of this infection and avoid spreading it.

What Is Blastocystis?

Blastocystis is quite common in your digestive tract flora. This parasite is found in people across the globe. In most cases, it causes no harm. Once defined as a single species, research has since found that what we term Blastocystis consists of varied species. While scientists have not yet determined what the various Blastocystis types do, they do feel that a few types may be harmful and others beneficial.

Twelve Blastocystis sub-types have thus far been identified in humans. This is done through small-subunit ribosomal RNA gene analysis. Blastocystis is found in all mammals, including humans, and birds. Blastocystis, one of the most common parasites on the globe, belong to a larger family of organisms known as Stramenopiles which are also referred to as Heterokontes. Water molds, algae, and diatoms are all included in this group. Stramenopiles are a branch of the Chromalveolata that contains both unicellular and multicellular protists.

In the past, Blastocystis found in humans was called Blastocystis hominis. However, now the consensus is that it should be referred to as Blastocystis spp (several species) because of their diversity and that they are found in different animal species as well.

The various symptoms experienced from a Blastocystis infection may relate to the molecular data on the specific type. While it is common for people to have one Blastocystis subtype in their gut, it is also common to find many different combinations. This could account for diversity in symptoms and the difficulty in addressing them. Appropriate therapy for a specific subtype is often only possible after testing.

Currently, there is still much debate about the pathogenicity of Blastocystis. Some studies suggest a connection between the parasite and health issues, while others do not. Most of the studies conducted thus far have discrepancies and a more detailed investigation into the matter is suggested.

Where Do Blastocystis Parasites Most Commonly Occur?

Literature suggests Blastocystis occurs more frequently in developing countries. This may result from contaminated food or water, poor hygiene, and more frequent exposure to animals. But this parasite also occurs in the United States, according to studies on stool samples. It seems more prevalent in farming areas where people are more in contact with farm animals.

Risk of Infection

Researchers are not 100% sure how Blastocystis spread, but it does seem that certain population groups are more susceptible to infection than others. Although scientists have noticed an increase in infection in those areas without proper sanitation or where personal hygiene is deemed inadequate, they have also found other factors that could increase your risk.

A study in Indonesian participants, for example, found those with human immunodeficiency virus infection and AIDS had a higher risk of such an infection. Another study conducted in Turkey found that participants with cancer also seemed to have a higher frequency of Blastocystis infection. Studies on people with traveler’s diarrhea showed a higher prevalence of Blastocystis in their stool samples as well. Furthermore, studies suggest you are more at risk when constantly exposed to animals, have children in daycare, or when exposed to contaminated food or water,

Symptoms of Blastocystis Infection

An image of a person heading to the toiletWhile many people with this type of infection show no symptoms, others do. The most common symptoms include the following:

  • Abdominal pain
  • Diarrhea
  • Bloating
  • Flatulence
  • Nausea
  • Anorexia

Although Blastocystis does not commonly move into your bloodstream or spread to other parts of your body, there are exceptions. In the case of two patients, Blastocystis has been found in deep tissue. But both individuals had coexisting conditions pertaining to their gut lining which could have resulted in it spreading. There are also reports of allergic cutaneous lesions resulting from an infection that show improvement after addressing the Blastocystis infection. This may be due to a compromised immune response, although literature is unclear how this could happen.

Many of the symptoms of this type of infection relate to irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). IBS is one of the symptoms of adrenal fatigue and points to an imbalance of flora in the gut. This is often one of the symptoms of adrenal fatigue. While literature does not suggest that Blastocystis causes IBS, it does show that this parasite is present in many IBS cases.

Identifying Infection

To identify a Blastocystis infection, you first need to take a stool sample. Stool samples should be placed in an airtight container in your refrigerator until able you are to drop it off.

Blastocystis is a polymorphic organism, so it has different variations that result in diverse types of individual members of the same species. The four Blastocystis variations are vacuolar, cyst, granular, or amoeboid in form.

Different techniques can be employed to test for this parasite. This includes a smear stained with trichrome, a concentration technique that uses ethyl acetate, or an in vitro culture. By amplifying Blastocystis -specific DNA using a polymerase chain reaction, you can identify different Blastocystis subtypes as well.

Most laboratories do not report on Blastocystis infections because of the widely held view that they are nonpathogenic.

If a stool test does not indicate the presence of Blastocystis, an endoscopy may be required, where a tube with an attached camera is used to examine your digestive tract. This procedure usually occurs under sedation.

Although not commonly used, there is also a blood test available that tests for Blastocystis.

Blastocystis and Your Inflammation Circuit

Literature suggests Blastocystis could cause intestinal inflammation. Inflammatory bowel disease and IBS are both connected to this type of infection. Furthermore, there is a close correlation between adrenal fatigue, a condition in which your adrenals fatigue due to chronic stress, and chronic inflammation.

Inflammation is your body’s response to any type of pathogen or toxin invading your body. In this case, Blastocystis. Inflammation is your body fighting a threat so that it can heal. Inflammation that you are aware of may cause pain or redness and swelling in a specific area which goes away later.

But sometimes inflammation has no immediate signs. This chronic low-level inflammation simmers in your body for a lengthy period before manifesting any symptoms. Most people with Blastocystis infection tend to fall under this category. Likewise, this is common with adrenal fatigue.

Blastocystis usually affects your gut first, as do most inflammatory diseases. The permeable gut lining is designed to allow whatever benefits the body to cross over into the bloodstream. Pathogens do not cross this barrier. Except if your gut lining becomes damaged. And this is usually due to gut issues that cause this damage. The minute holes in your gut that allow ‘good’ things through stretch, allowing bigger particles to cross as well. This allows ‘bad’ particles to move into your bloodstream and spread to other parts of your body. In this way, inflammation becomes systemic and could affect different body systems without you even being aware of the situation.

Symptoms of Inflammation Issues

This is how Blastocystis that causes damage to your gut lining could cause gut health issues like IBS or lead to inflammatory health issues in other parts of the body as well.

Common symptoms associated with IBS include:

An image of a woman in bed holding her stomach in pain

  • Anxiety
  • Fatigue
  • Constipation / diarrhea
  • Headaches
  • Joint pain
  • Bloating
  • Stomach pain

Furthermore, many health issues have an aspect of inflammation including heart disease, arthritis, asthma, autoimmune disease, diabetes, skin conditions, and frequent infections.

Addressing the Infection

Addressing Blastocystis is complicated because of the diversity of the microbes. Ideally, your doctor would determine the exact Blastocystis genotype in a stool sample and do a further evaluation for coinfections with any other possible pathogens.

Medication for Blastocystis

In general, literature shows that many people respond well when using metronidazole or trimethoprim-sulfamethoxazole for secondary pathogens. However, the use of these and other antimicrobial agents do not guarantee complete Blastocystis eradication.

Research also indicates that it is difficult to determine whether a certain medication worked because Blastocystis found in stool samples after a period of recovery may also indicate reinfection.

Natural Remedies for Blastocystis

Herbs and probiotics both have a possible role in managing Blastocystis infection.

Garlic may suppress Blastocystis growth. In studies, it compared favorably to metronidazole. Other herbs that may be of benefit in addressing Blastocystis include ginger, white cumin, and black pepper.

Other herbs address parasitic infections, although their efficacy has not yet been evaluated against Blastocystis. These include holy basil, cloves, sage, tansy, oregano, anise, wormwood, and a host of others.

Probiotics are also a possible way to boost gut health. Because a Blastocystis infection starts in the gut, addressing gut health should be a priority. Probiotics like Saccharomyces boulardi may help restore gut flora health by helping to balance the various gut constituents.

Do remember, though, that any herbs or new foods in your diet may have toxic effects, unexpected effects for your body, or interfere with medications. So before taking this approach, it is always a good idea to consult with your healthcare practitioner.

Current Thinking on Blastocystis Care

The verdict is still out amongst those in conventional medicine as to whether one should use medications to address this type of infection. Medications may cause significant side effects, while many people with this infection show no visible symptoms. Also, many with this infection show other culprits in their stool samples that could contribute to their health issues, if any. The thought is that, by addressing these rather than Blastocystis, you may see a significant improvement in your health if any symptoms do manifest.

Taking a natural approach, on the other hand, would involve promoting gut flora balance to minimize inflammation as far as possible. This may also provide adrenal support and promote overall health.

How to Minimize Risk of Blastocystis Infection

This parasite, found in fecal matter, spreads by ingestion. So always wash your hands with warm water and soap after going to the bathroom, changing a child’s diapers, and especially before handling any food. Also, avoid touching possibly contaminated food or water, and wash, peel, or cook all your raw fruits and vegetables before eating them.

In Closing

If you suspect Blastocystis is the cause of your stomach or other health issues, here is what you can do about the situation:

An image of probiotic foods

  • Make sure to follow proper hygiene so that you do not spread it to your loved ones.
  • Incorporate more garlic, ginger, black pepper, and probiotics into your diet.
  • Talk to your healthcare professional about the possibility and ask about testing for other potential culprits as well.

Please take note that, whatever course of action you decide to take, please do so under the advisement of your healthcare professional. They may suggest taking stool samples to find out whether Blastocystis is to blame for your symptoms.

Many people in the Dr. Lam Coaching program have Blastocystis infections that worsen their adrenal fatigue. If you would like to know more about this infection or want to know more about adrenal fatigue, please give us a call at (626) 571-1234 for a free initial consultation. You can also request a callback here.

© Copyright 2022 Michael Lam, M.D. All Rights Reserved.

Dr. Lam’s Key Question

Blastocystis may contribute to chronic inflammation which is associated with many health issues that relate to adrenal fatigue. So yes, due to this inflammatory response, it could increase your risk of adrenal fatigue. Taking preventative steps and reducing inflammation could help reduce your risk.

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