Parasite Cleansing: worth the hype or just another fad?

Written by: Krista Swann


Healf Journal

The thought of parasites living in your intestines might seem off-putting, but it is surprisingly common. You may not even be aware that you have one, as some can cause no symptoms at all. Other parasites, however, can lead to debilitating issues including abdominal pain, loose stools, nausea, gas and bloating. These require intervention.

A parasite cleanse is one way of tackling them and uses both supplements and dietary changes to help kill the bad bacteria that parasites live off. But what exactly is involved and more importantly, do they work?

Krista Swann is a Registered Nutritional Therapist at Integral Wellness , specialising in cardiometabolic health and with a special interest in gut and hormone health. She explains what parasites are, why you might look to do a cleanse & whether we should be in the first place.

Parasites are organisms that rely on their host (you) to survive. They infect and live on or within the blood, tissues, or intestines of the host, and can affect the host's health and well-being. In some cases, though, parasites have been shown to be beneficial to health. Blastocystis spp subtype 4 (ST4)  for example can increase the population of beneficial bacteria, whilst producing immune cells that are beneficial to the gut.

There are 3 main classes of parasites, but for the purpose of this discussion, we will be focussing on the intestinal parasites which include Protozoa and Helminths. Helminths  are the most common intestinal parasite and include roundworms, flatworms and tapeworms. Protozoa are one-celled organisms with a complex internal structure. Both types can interfere with the digestion, absorption, and nutritional status of the host.

Transmission mainly occurs through ingestion of contaminated food and water, often due to poor sanitation. It is also possible to contract intestinal parasites from soil, pets and surfaces, so regular handwashing before meals may reduce the risk.

What’s involved in a parasite cleanse?

  • Parasites thrive off sugar, so restricting foods high in carbohydrates including wheat, grains as well as cakes, sweets, and foods with sweeteners, is an integral part of the protocol. Whilst gluten itself is a protein, this protein acts as a binder to a lot of high carbohydrate-containing foods such as pizza and pasta, so eliminating gluten is often recommended.

  • Foods with antimicrobial properties are encouraged. These include leafy green vegetables , onions, garlic and herbs  such as ginger, parsley and cinnamon.

  • Antioxidant-rich foods contain compounds called polyphenols that provide antioxidants and anti-inflammatory properties that support your gut health and encourage beneficial strains of bacteria to grow and thrive. Adding in foods that support the good bugs, can help to crowd out the bad guys!

  • Consuming whole foods is advised and avoiding ultra-processed foods which are highly refined and usually high in sugar.

  • Antimicrobial supplements are also recommended. The most common ones include one or a combination of the following:

  • Garlic ( Allium sativum )

  • Barberry ( Berberis vulgaris )

  • Goldenseal ( Hydrastis canadensis )

  • Oregon grape ( Berberis aquifolium )

  • Anise ( Pimpinella anisum )

  • Wormwood ( (Artemisia annua) )

  • Curled mint ( Mentha crispa )

  • Black walnuts ( Juglans nigra )

The benefits of a Parasite Cleanse

Antiparasitic medications are prescribed by doctors for treating parasites, but these medications can often come with unwanted side effects including dizziness, nausea, headaches, abdominal cramping, bloating and diarrhoea, Ironically, some of which you may already be experiencing with a parasite.

There are studies which show that taking a more natural approach and using herbs can be an effective form of treatment, with less of the side effects. Wormwood,  has been shown to reduce dwarf tapeworm levels in a similar way to antiparasitic medication. Berberine  has also been shown to have anti-leishmanial activity. 

There are also studies showing that consuming antimicrobial foods  including garlic, onions and herbs may also be effective in killing parasites. 

A few things to consider…

A lot of the symptoms that you get from having a parasite are similar to many other digestive conditions such as IBS, hiatus hernia, diverticulitis and even Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), so if you do experience any of these symptoms, ensure you have the right diagnosis (which needs to be done either by a stool or blood test) before embarking on such a restrictive diet.

Although cutting out ultra-processed foods, minimising sugar and encouraging antioxidant-rich foods can be beneficial for health, there is very little guidance on much else! Carbohydrates are a vital macronutrient and a main source of energy. If you are cutting them out without knowing how to support energy levels, this could leave you feeling exhausted and depleted. Detail of what should be added in to your diet is lacking and there’s very little mention of the other two macronutrients, protein and fats.

A personalised approach is needed…

There are so many factors to consider when addressing the root cause of your digestive symptoms, aside from eliminating the parasite itself. If you’ve had a parasite for a long time, this can leave you with low levels of certain nutrients such as zinc, selenium, and vitamin A (the full list is endless).

There may also be bacteria imbalances and inflammation in your intestines which require support and can affect your tolerance to certain food groups. Garlic for example is anti-microbial which is encouraged on a parasite cleanse, but often people with digestive issues struggle with garlic, and it can often make symptoms worse.

Some herbs such as oregano and garlic can lower blood sugars and blood pressure, so if you’re taking medication for these conditions, these need to be monitored. It’s also necessary to point out that anti-microbial supplements, although more natural, work in a similar way to antiparasitic medication. They are not just targeting the bad bugs, but they will also wipe out a lot of the good guys, which can affect everything from digestive symptoms to hormones, to mood so they are not recommended long term.

The verdict

Whilst a parasite cleanse, maybe a more natural way to eradicate a parasite, it does involve restricting certain food groups and the herbs can have powerful effects on the gut microbiome (both good and bad). It perhaps comes down to the individuals’ symptoms and the type of parasite they have as to whether such an extreme protocol is warranted.

When making drastic changes to your diet it’s vital that you do so under professional guidance from a registered nutritional therapist who can ensure you are meeting your daily nutritional needs as going it alone can be dangerous, and you may be doing more harm than good. 


This article is for informational purposes only, even if and regardless of whether it features the advice of physicians and medical practitioners. This article is not, nor is it intended to be, a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment and should never be relied upon for specific medical advice. The views expressed in this article are the views of the expert and do not necessarily represent the views of healf