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Can Probiotics Prevent Parasitic Infections?

Dr. Kristie Leong

It’s frightening to imagine the prospect of intestinal parasites taking up residence in your gut; but the reality is that intestinal parasitic infections are not uncommon. Two of the most well-known parasites to infect the intestines are Giardia and Cryptosporidium. These parasites are found in both wild and domesticated animals and can infect humans - particularly those with weakened immune systems.

One of the largest outbreaks of intestinal parasites occurred in Milwaukee, Wisconsin in 1993 when the drinking water was contaminated with Cryptosporidium. Over 400,000 people were taken ill by the unpleasant effects of intestinal parasites - a situation few in Milwaukee want to see repeated. The good news is a new study shows that probiotics may help to protect the intestines against the effects of intestinal parasites.

The Effects of Probiotics Against Intestinal Parasites: A Study

This study which was published in the journal Cell Host and Microbe showed that probiotic bacteria recognized and launched an immune response against a parasite known as Toxoplasma gondii which laboratory mice were infected with. It appears that when probiotic bacteria are present in the intestines, their presence led to an immune response against the parasitic invaders, preventing them from attaching to the gut wall and leading to infection.

What About the Effects of Probiotics on the Human Gut?

This positive effect of probiotics was seen in mice, but there’s growing evidence that probiotics may help to protect the human gut against infection with bacteria and parasites. Not only do probiotics appear to increase the immune response to these foreign pathogens, but they also have an anti-inflammatory effect which helps to stabilize the overall gut environment. 

The Effects of Intestinal Parasites: Toxoplasma

The particular bacteria, Toxoplasma gondii used in this mouse study is one that can be passed to humans through infected cat feces. It’s estimated that over thirty percent of the population carries the Toxoplasma parasite. Most people have mild symptoms when first exposed and are then immune, but it can cause serious problems for people with compromised immune systems and pregnant women. A pregnant woman infected with Toxoplasma during pregnancy can pass it to her unborn baby with serious repercussion. This is why women who are pregnant are advised to avoid changing the cat litter box.

The Effects of Probiotics: A Positive for the Gut?

Could probiotics give an additional layer of protection against the effects of intestinal parasites? More human studies are needed, but eating more probiotic rich foods may be a plus when it comes to protecting intestinal health. Good sources of probiotics are fermented foods such as miso, aged cheese, sauerkraut, tempeh, and kefir. Yogurt with active yogurt cultures is also an excellent source. Some breakfast cereals and energy bars are also fortified with probiotics.

The bottom line? Adding these foods to your diet could turn out to be a cheap insurance policy against intestinal parasites.

Health Disclaimer. Copyright ©2009-2018. Dr. Kristie Leong is a family practice physician and medical writer. Published with permission.