A parasite cleanse is any diet, supplement, or other detox product that is intended to eliminate parasites from the body without using prescription medications.
Many companies go so far as to recommend these cleanses for just about anyone, without a doctor ever diagnosing them with a parasitic infection.
Many natural plants and compounds may help the body clear out parasites. However, in cases where a person does not have a parasite, they will do very little.
In this article, learn more about parasite cleanses and what the evidence says about whether they are effective.
There is a myth in some natural health circles that argues that the vast majority of people have parasites, and, therefore, need parasite cleanses. This presumption is untrue.
However, well-known parasitic infections such as malaria are a global epidemic. Malaria alone kills over 660,000 people each year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Most of these deaths are young children in sub-Saharan Africa.
Many parasitic infections are also possible in the United States. The CDC calls these neglected parasitic infections and include several statistics for their occurrence in the U.S.:
- More than 60 million people have chronic Toxoplasma gondii infections, which is one of the most common parasitic infections in the world.
- Trichomoniasis is a very common sexually transmitted parasite that affects about 3.7 million people.
- More than 300,000 people live with the Trypanosoma cruzi infection.
- At least 1,000 people visit the hospital each year for cysticercosis, or pork tapeworm.
- At least 14% of the population has come into contact with Toxocara or roundworms, typically from dogs or cats.
However, some manufacturers of parasite cleanses and other detox products may inflate these numbers. Many makers of parasite cleanse products will go so far as to say everyone should do a parasite cleanse once or twice a year, with or without evidence of them having a parasite.
In reality, the only people who need treatment for parasites are the people who have parasitic infections. Anyone who is concerned they have a parasitic infection should speak to a doctor.
There is little research on whether commercial parasite cleanses are useful. Many of the people who try these products likely do not have a parasitic infection.
However, some parasite cleansers may be effective for people who do have an infection. For example, wormwood is the main ingredient in many parasite cleansing products, and it contains powerful antioxidants and other helpful compounds.
A recent study in the Journal of Helminthology showed that wormwood reduced dwarf tapeworm levels in a similar way as a leading antiparasitic medication in animal studies. These results are promising, but the researchers call for more tests before recommending wormwood as a treatment.
In the study, 800 participants with schistosomiasis received either the standard medical treatment (praziquantel) or one of two types of wormwood tea.
Those who received the wormwood tea cleared the infection faster and experienced fewer side effects than those who took standard medication.
Plants often have natural defense compounds built into them that work to protect the plant from infections, as well as ward off bugs and other invaders.
Many plants and herbs contain compounds that may have an antiparasitic effect in laboratory testing and other studies.
Therefore, manufacturers of parasite cleanses claim that many plants may kill parasites in the body as well, including:
- oregano oil
- black walnut
- diatomaceous earth
- grapefruit seed extract
- Oregon grape
- olive leaf
Many natural sources have similar effects to standard medications for parasites and show promise as antiparasitic tools. However, it may be difficult to tell if they are effective when many people using at-home parasite cleanses do not have any underlying infection.
Countless anecdotes appear online about people’s experiences with parasite cleansing diets and how much better they feel afterward. While people may feel better, the effects may have more to do with the general tips of a cleansing or detoxing diet.
Cleansing diets or programs will often require a person eats a supportive diet while taking the product. This diet may include avoiding greasy, processed foods and eating natural, whole foods.
Some parasite cleansing diets ask the person to avoid specific types of foods, such as gluten, dairy, or pork. Diets may also include the use of anti-inflammatory herbs and spices, such as garlic, turmeric, and ginger.
These dietary changes alone may be enough to cause a noticeable change in a person’s body, as they are moving to a cleaner and more healthful diet.
The ingredients in the detox product tend to be very high in antioxidants, and many can easily cause a reaction in the digestive system. People often mistake these effects for what they call “parasitic die-off.”
After a round of these herbs, some diets will suggest adding supplements to restore the digestive system, such as prebiotics and probiotics.
Some research suggests that probiotics may also help reduce the risk of parasitic infections or help treat them.
Many parasite cleanse diets may make a person feel better simply by eliminating processed and greasy foods and introducing healthful probiotics and antioxidants.
However, some cleanses ask a person to consume only one type of food for a prolonged period.
Common symptoms of a parasitic infection include:
- general fatigue
- mental fog
- stomach pain
- skin symptoms, such as rashes
- having diarrhea while traveling
- unexplained weight loss
- passing worms in the stool
However, many of these symptoms appear with other digestive health issues. Anyone experiencing these symptoms should see a doctor for a full diagnosis.
In some cases, parasites clear up on their own, especially in a person with a healthy immune system.
If the parasite causes concerning symptoms or may cause complications, doctors will likely order an antiparasitic medication that kills the parasite.
Some people choose natural methods to clear their body of a parasite. Certain ingredients in these products may show promise in clearing parasites.
The authors of a 2013 study note that many natural products show promise as antiparasitic treatments. However, there is not enough research to suggest them as cures yet.
While individual ingredients may work in laboratory studies, there is little proof that commercial cleansing products kill parasites.
A person can have a parasitic infection, even if they do not experience symptoms. However, there is no evidence to show that people self-diagnosing and using parasite cleanses benefit from these products if no parasite is present.
The methods behind many cleansing programs typically involve the person switching to a whole foods diet, eating supportive herbs, and improving their digestive health.
The switch to a more healthful diet overall may produce many of the positive effects people note when taking parasite cleanses.
Anyone concerned about parasites or the possibility that they have a parasitic infection should see a doctor.