Blastocystis hominis: Living with it, how I recovered + how to prevent it

Woah. The last 2 years have been an uphill battle for me to achieve perfect health again after playing host to Blastocystis hominis (Blasto) in mid-2018.

CW: this isn’t going to be a pretty post. I’ve been putting it off for a few years because it’s not a very comfortable topic to write or read about. However, it may help someone. So, for that reason, it’s worth it. I also wrote this before the news of COVID-19 becoming a global pandemic. Sorry to overburden you with more health-related information. Oops. While parasites and coronavirus are very different, some of my experiences could be useful for prevention and healing across the board. So, for that, you’re welcome.

On another note: none of the information in this article acts as medical advice. I am not a qualified health professional. Please do not use the opinions of a blogger on the internet as medical advice and instead, consult your GP or a qualified health professional.

Now, let’s get to the nitty-gritty.

 

What is Blastocystis hominis?

According to nsw.gov.au, “Blastocystis hominis is a species of one of the most common human intestinal organisms. Blastocystis species are found in people throughout the world and higher numbers are reported in developing countries.”

There’s a lot of conflicting information out there. Researchers are still debating over whether or not Blastocystis is a health concern and if it even needs to be treated. Even my doctor said that GPs generally don’t know much about it. Which is absurd for me to think about, considering it’s one of the most common parasites a human can get.

The NSW government health website says, “It’s not certain how Blastocystis is spread” and the SA government health website goes on to say that, “There is a great deal of debate about whether Blastocystis causes illness or not.” And, according to Mayo Clinic, “Researchers don’t fully understand the role Blastocystis hominis plays”.

So, what does anybody know about anything?! Not much, apparently.

Anyhow, here are the facts:

  1. Blastocystis hominis is a single-celled parasite. Meaning it’s not visible to the naked eye. Unlike many other parasites, you can’t visibly tell that it’s there.
  2. It lives in the gastrointestinal tract of infected folk.
  3. It’s probably transmitted through infected food and water (I’d believe that, personally).
  4. Not everybody gets symptoms.
  5. Symptoms usually include diarrhoea, abdominal pain and vomiting, amongst other things. I’ll get to my own specific symptoms in a bit.
  6. There are no proven treatments.

While patient recovery/improvement has been shown even without any treatment, this wasn’t an option for me. The symptoms associated with Blasto, that I started experiencing, were beginning to affect my health and my ability to live to my full potential.

 

How Blastocystis started for me

I first got symptoms of Blasto a couple of weeks after I got back from the Tasi Travels Travel with Purpose Trip to Timor-Leste (it would have been about August 2018). It was an awesome trip. I did almost everything ‘right’ in terms of staying safe and healthy on travels. I drank only from the big, purified water drum at our accommodation, kept my mouth closed when washing (there wasn’t really a ‘shower’, so to speak), ate no meat or animal products (makes it easier when you’re vegan!), and bought my water purifier bottle with me to save on plastic and purify my water as much as possible.

However, I could’ve done better.

On the Island we visited (Atauro), we had no other choice than to eat from the buffet at our accommodation. There was literally no other food on the island than what our hosts were providing us. So naturally, I didn’t know how they washed the veggies I was eating or where any of the food was sourced from. I also recently learned that the purifier I used for parts of my trip wasn’t the best I could’ve bought.

There isn’t much information about the prevalence of Blasto in Timor but this 2019 study found Blasto in 34.4% of a population in Indonesia (146 people out of a 424 data set). It says, “[Blastocystis] is thought to be a common parasite in Indonesia”. So, it would make sense if there was a similarly high rate in the neighbouring country of Timor-Leste.

It’s also just as likely that I had contracted the parasite even before or after my trip because Australia certainly isn’t immune.

 

My Symptoms

My symptoms seemed to match up with after my return from Timor-Leste. They went as follows: gastrointestinal pain, diarrhoea on and off for 3 months, nausea, fatigue, night sweats, loss of appetite, malnutrition, even looking like something had been eating away at me. Not to mention the inflammation. So much inflammation throughout my whole body. Inflamed skin, rashes, and redness. I think this was around the time that I also experienced my first migraine. Then, with the inflammation and fatigue came restlessness, nervousness, and anxiety. I constantly felt like my skin was crawling and, at times, I wanted to burst out of my body.

I gave my symptoms a solid 3 to 4 months before I even saw a doctor – putting it down to hormonal fluctuations or a food allergy, then testing the elimination of such foods from my diet. At one stage, I even thought that I ‘just’ suffered from an anxiety disorder that was making me cry in stabbing gut-pain every week. If I saw past me, I would slap her (and then give her a hug because the system that is supposed to help us is so screwed up).

Looking back, it’s ridiculous how frequently patient symptoms (and female experiences, to be a bit more specific) are pushed aside, making us question even ourselves (hysteria, anyone?).

Honestly, it was a shock to my doctor that I was still functioning after that length of time living with the symptoms I had. It says something about my resilience that I launched my business in October 2018 and kept my blog thriving during this period as well 💪

But, in November 2018, I finally had enough. My methods of diagnosis weren’t getting me anywhere. You see, I can be pretty stubborn, and I don’t often ask for help. I’ve also had an unfortunate history of doctors not believing me, which didn’t make the process emotionally easier. At all. However, after witnessing what I was experiencing every few days, my boyfriend convinced me to go to the doctor. Thanks, Glenn. That’s true love.

It says something about my resilience that I launched my business in October 2018 and kept my blog thriving during this period as well.

 

My Diagnosis

Look, if I hadn’t told the doctor I had recently been to Timor-Leste, she probably wouldn’t have tested for Blasto. I had a funny feeling that it wasn’t ‘just’ a food allergy or emotional distress and that it could be a parasite, which I made very clear to my doctor. So, if you think you might have a parasite, request a test.

First, I got a blood test, and everything was in tip-top shape. Apart from my iron stores, which were on the lower end of the spectrum, but that’s pretty damn good for having a parasite.

Next up: stool sample. I visited my doctor again about a week later. The results came back with a clear BLASTOCYSTIS found. I remember my doctor being a bit confused, pulling up information on the infection from her desktop computer as I talked to her about what to do next.

I was relieved that we found the cause of my pain and symptoms but I soon realised that this was only the beginning.

 

My Recovery

Blasto is often hard to get rid of. After my diagnosis, I read blog posts about peoples’ 2-year (or more) journeys in returning to perfect health. My main concern, after diagnosis, was towards reducing the time it took to get rid of the parasite and get back to good health.

Metronidazole

My doctor prescribed me an antibiotic called Flagyl (metronidazole). She noted that I should take it for the suggested time and see if my symptoms disappear. If so, the antibiotics will have worked and I shouldn’t worry about coming back for a second test. On the other hand, if my symptoms persisted, she suggested that I should definitely come back.

As far as I remember, I took Flagyl 3 times a day for about a week and it made me feel yucky. I think this was mainly die-off symptoms that I was experiencing, except on another level. Although I was taking quite a strong probiotic while I was on antibiotics, Flagyl really affected the bacteria balance in my mouth as well, as I ended up with a white tongue for a couple of weeks afterwards.

So, why, as somebody who promotes natural medicine and holistic alternatives, did I choose to take such a strong medication?

The simple answer: I was desperate.

That, and antibiotics seemed to be the most trusted method at killing this parasite at the time. While I rely on natural alternatives for prevention and for healing other illnesses, there was no evidence that natural medicine would work in this scenario and I didn’t have the time to trial and test my methods while risking my health declining even more.

However, after my prescription of Flagyl was finished, I did things my way. Double whammy. I thought, “Why not do all I can to ensure this parasite is gone for good?”

So, why, as somebody who promotes natural medicine and holistic alternatives, did I choose to take such a strong medication? The simple answer: I was desperate.

Natural Parasite Cleanse

To help get rid of the parasite, I took a course of Para Purge, which I ordered from iHerb (use my code for 5% off iHerb: ANM7131).

Para Purge is a “gentle blend of 15 whole herbs” which come in a bottle of 60 veggie capsules. The herbs used in this formula are all historically known to help treat parasites and heal the digestive system, such as black walnut hulls, neem leaf, and wormwood leaf. There are many similar cleanse systems out there, including Pure Planet’s USDA Certified Organic Parasite Cleanse, which I would probably choose now instead – if given the opportunity.

I followed the directions and took:

  • 2 capsules, twice daily, for 1 week
  • 3 capsules daily for 1 week
  • 1-2 capsules daily for 2 weeks

I think doing this cleanse straight after my antibiotics not only gave my body the extra push it needed but really boosted the healing process as well.

I’ve heard of many families doing a parasite cleanse on a yearly basis, just to stay safe and ensure that they’re not living with anything unwanted. This is probably something that I’ll be looking at doing. However, it’s best to check with your qualified health professional to see what is best and safe for you.

 

Fossil Shell Flour & The Beauty Chef Powder

To finish things off after my month of Para Purge, I discovered Supercharged Food Love Your Gut Powder, which is just a fancy name for naturopathic grade, organic fossil shell flour (amorphous silica). I did a similar routine to Para Purge with this one, taking the fossil shell flour in my smoothie or a glass of water. During the period of taking this powder, I added in The Beauty Chef’s BODY Inner Beauty Powder, too, which I used as an additional prebiotic and probiotic to help heal my gut.

 

The full 9 weeks of purging went as follows:

 

1

Purge: Flagyl

Heal: Probiotic (taken in between doses of Flagyl), prebiotic- + probiotic-rich foods

2

Purge: Natural Parasite Cleanse

Heal: Probiotic, prebiotic- + probiotic-rich foods

3

Purge: Natural Parasite Cleanse

Heal: Probiotic, prebiotic- + probiotic-rich foods

4

Purge: Natural Parasite Cleanse

Heal: Probiotic, prebiotic- + probiotic-rich foods

5

Purge: Natural Parasite Cleanse

Heal: Probiotic, prebiotic- + probiotic-rich foods

6

Purge: Food grade fossil shell flour

Heal: Probiotic, prebiotic- + probiotic-rich foods, The Beauty Chef Body Powder

7

Purge: Food grade fossil shell flour

Heal: Probiotic, prebiotic- + probiotic-rich foods, The Beauty Chef Body Powder

8

Purge: Food grade fossil shell flour

Heal: Probiotic, prebiotic- + probiotic-rich foods, The Beauty Chef Body Powder

9

Purge: Food grade fossil shell flour

Heal: Probiotic, prebiotic- + probiotic-rich foods, The Beauty Chef Body Powder

Please note that this is not medical advice. I am not a qualified health professional. This routine was entirely my decision during the time. I listened to the advice given to me by my doctor and other medical practitioners and decided what was best for me to do from there. Please consult your own qualified health professional for medical advice.

 
 

Natural body healing

There is so much information out there about how to ‘get rid’ of parasites, and little about the recovery afterwards. For me, healing was (and is) a whole and complete process. It was about staying in tune with how I was feeling to make sure I was on the right track.

While I was on different forms of parasite purge medication, natural or otherwise, for 9 weeks, it took a while for my body to really return to its normal state afterwards. My body may have purged the parasite but I was so thrown off balance for months.

In the months following my cleanse, I tried to cut down on sugar as much as possible (without driving myself insane). Parasites thrive on sugar. So, by avoiding what they love, I was essentially working to starve them.

I introduced even more fresh veggies (lots of garlic!), legumes, nuts, seeds (sunflower seeds, especially!), herbs and spices into my meals. I also began to learn more about prebiotic foods and how to get all the probiotics I need. Through nutrition, I worked to heal my body from the inside out.

My body may have purged the parasite but I was so thrown off balance for months.

 

Natural psyche healing

Although I only had Blasto for a few months, the damage it also did to my confidence to leave the house lingered. So, I worked on the psychological after-effects, too. I practised patience in getting out in the world again and, most importantly, trusting and being honest with those I was around.

I remember showing up to Limon Spa in late 2019 after a particularly bad morning and letting the ladies know what was going on. Luckily, they are all about natural health, too, and completely understood. They even made a herbal tea for me, to help. In the aftermath of Blasto, this is the kind of people I surrounded myself with. Understanding, nurturing, open. It’s the care and compassion my body and soul needed (*needs!).

Psychologically, having Blasto started to chip away at the trust I had for my body to persevere and keep me safe at all times, too. With Blasto, I became physically vulnerable and that was scary. So, I spent most of 2019 rebuilding my bond with my body. Yoga was a real catalyst for change here. Any sort of movement or soul-work to help me reattach and reconnect, really.

In a way, I am grateful for getting Blastocystis. It allowed for a real transformation in my relationship with my body and taught me how to care for myself, even if I do so now only a little bit better. Those small changes – nourishment, positive people, self-care + self-love – have now become habits, and I’m sure I will continue to reap the rewards of them well into the future.

Turns out, The Beauty Chef is right. Beauty really does begin in the belly – being able to enjoy the beauty of a full life, parasite-free, that is.

 
 

How to prevent Blastocystis

Travelling soon? Or just don’t trust your home city or town to keep you safe from Blastocystis hominis? There are a few changes you can make to prevent getting the parasite in the first place.

1. Purify your water.

Bring a good water purifier and use one at home, too. My friends at Senda Essentials are working to release their patented purifier (the WAYFARER) that’s perfect for travel and that I’d trust above all else. For your home, you can install a water filter tap (if you own your home!) or invest in a Southern Cross Pottery water purifier. It’s worth it.

2. Avoid untreated water.

Don’t drink untreated water and don’t open your mouth in the shower. In the worst-case scenario, if you don’t have access to a water purifier bottle, drink bottled water. I’d always recommend planning ahead, though, and bringing a purifier bottle to leave a cleaner, plastic-free trail.

3. Eat clean food.

Wash all your fruit and veggies when you bring them home. Don’t just rinse. A lot of people have touched your produce before it comes through your front door. I use Koala Eco’s certified toxin-free fruit and vegetable wash (and then pop them in my Swag bag to keep them fresher for longer­ – if you wanted an extra tip).

When travelling, don’t eat from the buffet if you have another option. Don’t assume it’s safe because everyone else is eating from it. It’s not worth it.

4. Don’t eat animal products.

I’m biased here, so it’s easier for me to recommend this. Most sources will say to choose well-cooked meat and avoid raw meats and eggs. If you want to eliminate your chances of getting Blasto or other parasites from animal products, the only way to do so is to avoid animal products altogether.

5. Stay balanced.

Stay healthy by managing your stress, eating well, reducing your intake of refined sugar, starch, caffeine, and alcohol, sleeping well, and staying hydrated. Maintaining a balanced lifestyle will prevent you from creating an ideal living space for parasites and will help your body combat parasites should you come into contact with them.

6. Wash your hands well.

Practise good hygiene. With the recent COVID-19, I think we’ve got this all drilled into our brains by now. Who knew that washing your hands could keep you safe from other infections, too? Shocker.

Have you had Blastocystis hominis or a similar parasite? What do you do to stay healthy and prevent parasites? Drop a comment, I’d love to help spread the conversation and education far and wide.

Molly

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