Can Certain Foods Kill Intestinal Parasites?
Whether they are pinworms, tapeworms, or microscopic protozoa like Giardia lamblia or amoebas, intestinal parasites are never beneficial. They attach to the lining of your bowels, typically living off the food you eat and damaging your intestinal cells. They may go unnoticed or cause nutritional deficiencies, diarrhea and other symptoms.
Prescription medications that kill the organisms are the mainstay of treatment for all intestinal parasites. Although many cultures have a long tradition of using foods to treat these infections, very few studies have been conducted in humans to confirm their effectiveness. Nevertheless, current research suggests that pumpkin and papaya seeds, some berries and some probiotics have antiparasitic effects in humans -- destroying or inhibiting growth or reproduction of these unwanted visitors.
Pumpkin seeds indirectly kill tapeworms.
Their antiparastic effects have been attributed to curcubitine, a substance that paralyzes tapeworms so they can no longer hold onto intestinal cells. A study published in the November 2012 issue of “Acta Tropica” found that a single dose of peeled raw pumpkin seeds caused tapeworms to be released into the stool in 75 percent of people with these parasites.
This increased to 89 percent when the seeds were combined with areca nut extract, a traditional Chinese medicine that also paralyzes tapeworms.
Pumpkin seeds are often followed by a laxative to help expel the worms from the intestines. Once released, the tapeworms will eventually die.
- Pumpkin seeds indirectly kill tapeworms.
- Their antiparastic effects have been attributed to curcubitine, a substance that paralyzes tapeworms so they can no longer hold onto intestinal cells.
Exercises for an Anal Fissure
Papaya seeds may also have antiparasitic qualities.
Their effectiveness has been attributed to the breakdown of parasites by papain, an enzyme in papaya seeds. In a study of 60 children published in the March 2007 issue of “Journal of Medicinal Food,” parasites were eliminated from the stools in 77 percent of those given a single dose of a combination of dried papaya seeds plus honey and only 17 percent of children given honey alone.
No subsequent studies of papaya seeds for intestinal parasites have been conducted in humans. Honey is useful to mask the bitter taste of papaya seeds.
- Papaya seeds may also have antiparasitic qualities.
- Their effectiveness has been attributed to the breakdown of parasites by papain, an enzyme in papaya seeds.
Various berries have been used as traditional remedies for intestinal parasites. Their effectiveness has been attributed to chemicals called polyphenols, which are found in all plants.
A laboratory study published in “Parasitology” in August 2011 reported that polyphenol-rich extracts from a number of berries killed G. lamblia. The most effective were strawberry, Arctic bramble, blackberry and cloudberry extracts, which were as effective as metronidazole, the standard medication for Giardia infections. Although studies in humans have not yet been conducted, the “Parasitology” study researchers noted that the concentration of extracts with the most potent antiparasitic effects would be easily achieved within the intestines of people eating these berries.
- Various berries have been used as traditional remedies for intestinal parasites.
- Their effectiveness has been attributed to chemicals called polyphenols, which are found in all plants.
How to Treat Intestinal Parasites in Children
Probiotics are live bacteria or yeasts with health benefits. They are found in foods such as yogurt, kefir and sauerkraut.
Laboratory and animal studies have reported that some probiotics kill certain intestinal parasites, although these effects are limited and poorly understood.
Very few human studies have evaluated the use of probiotics for this purpose. A study published in the July 2006 issue of the “Scandinavian Journal of Infectious Diseases” reported that a combination of the yeast Saccharomyces boulardii plus metronidazole was more effective than metronidazole alone in treating the parasite G. lamblia. Likewise, a study of 50 children in the June 2009 issue of “The American Journal of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene” found that the same combination was more effective than metronidazole alone in clearing the amoeba Entamoeba histolytica from the intestines. While dietary supplements are the most common way to obtain the probiotic Saccharomyces boulardii, it may also be found in certain types of kombucha, a fermented drink.
- Probiotics are live bacteria or yeasts with health benefits.
- Likewise, a study of 50 children in the June 2009 issue of “The American Journal of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene” found that the same combination was more effective than metronidazole alone in clearing the amoeba Entamoeba histolytica from the intestines.
Considerations and Warnings
Although numerous other foods have been touted to kill intestinal parasites, no quality human research has confirmed this. Garlic, onions, coconuts, figs, dates, chicory, avocado seeds, ginger, black pepper and pomegranates are examples of foods shown to promote antiparasitic activity in laboratory or animal studies, but the effectiveness of these foods not yet been properly evaluated in humans. More research is clearly necessary, but it is questionable whether any food will ultimately be determined to be more effective than medications. It is more likely that certain foods may be useful additions to, but not replacements for, drug therapy. If you suspect that you have intestinal parasites, see your doctor. Do not treat this condition on your own. Also talk with your doctor before making any significant dietary changes, as excessive intake of almost any food may cause problems.
Reviewed by: Kay Peck, MPH, RD
- Although numerous other foods have been touted to kill intestinal parasites, no quality human research has confirmed this.
Exercises for an Anal Fissure
How to Treat Intestinal Parasites in Children
Probiotic Dosage After Antibiotics
Antibiotics That Kill or Reduce Parasites
List of Good Bacteria
Best Fruits for Anti-Parasite Diet
Should I Take a Probiotic Every Day?
Home Remedies to Get Rid of Intestinal Parasites
Mushrooms That Are Antiviral
- Acta Tropica: Usefulness of Pumpkin Seeds Combined With Areca Nut Extract in Community-Based Treatment of Human Taeniasis in Northwest Sichuan Province, China
- Journal of Medicinal Food: Effectiveness of Dried Carica Papaya Seeds Against Human Intestinal Parasitosis: A Pilot Study
- Parasitology: Differential Effectiveness of Berry Polyphenols as Anti-giardial Agents
- Journal of Parasitology Research: Probiotics for the Control of Parasites: An Overview
- Scandinavian Journal of Infectious Diseases: Saccharomyces Boulardii and Infection due to Giardia Lamblia
- The American Journal of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene: Clinical Efficacy of Saccharomyces Boulardii and Metronidazole Compared to Metronidazole Alone in Children With Acute Bloody Diarrhea Caused by Amebiasis: A Prospective, Randomized, Open Label Study
- Parasitology Research: In Vitro Sensitivity of Blastocystis Hominis to Garlic, Ginger, White Cumin, and Black Pepper Used in Diet
- Parasitology Research: The Effects of Different Plant Extracts on Intestinal Cestodes and on Trematodes
- Experimental Parasitology: Pomegranate (Punica Granatum) Peel Is Effective in a Murine Model of Experimental Cryptosporidium Parvum
- BMC Complementary and Alternative Medicine: Antiprotozoal and Antimycobacterial Activities of Persea Americana Seeds
- Kiani H, Haghighi A, Rostami A, et al. PREVALENCE, RISK FACTORS AND SYMPTOMS ASSOCIATED TO INTESTINAL PARASITE INFECTIONS AMONG PATIENTS WITH GASTROINTESTINAL DISORDERS IN NAHAVAND, WESTERN IRAN. Rev Inst Med Trop Sao Paulo. 2016;58:42. doi:10.1590/S1678-9946201658042
- Haque R. Human intestinal parasites. J Health Popul Nutr. 2007;25(4):387-91.
- Waller PJ, Bernes G, Thamsborg SM, et al. Plants as de-worming agents of livestock in the Nordic countries: historical perspective, popular beliefs and prospects for the future. Acta Vet Scand. 2001;42(1):31-44. doi:10.1186/1751-0147-42-31
- Neag MA, Mocan A, Echeverría J, et al. Berberine: Botanical Occurrence, Traditional Uses, Extraction Methods, and Relevance in Cardiovascular, Metabolic, Hepatic, and Renal Disorders. Front Pharmacol. 2018;9:557. doi:10.3389/fphar.2018.00557
- Okeniyi JA, Ogunlesi TA, Oyelami OA, Adeyemi LA. Effectiveness of dried Carica papaya seeds against human intestinal parasitosis: a pilot study. J Med Food. 2007;10(1):194-6. doi:10.1089/jmf.2005.065
- Grzybek M, Kukula-koch W, Strachecka A, et al. Evaluation of Anthelmintic Activity and Composition of Pumpkin (Cucurbita pepo L.) Seed Extracts-In Vitro and in Vivo Studies. Int J Mol Sci. 2016;17(9):1456. doi:10.3390/ijms17091456
- Ekanem AP, Brisibe EA. Effects of ethanol extract of Artemisia annua L. against monogenean parasites of Heterobranchus longifilis. Parasitol Res. 2010;106(5):1135-9. doi:10.1007/s00436-010-1787-0
- Lepczyńska M, Białkowska J, Dzika E, Piskorz-ogórek K, Korycińska J. Blastocystis: how do specific diets and human gut microbiota affect its development and pathogenicity? Eur J Clin Microbiol Infect Dis. 2017;36(9):1531-1540. doi:10.1007/s10096-017-2965-0
- Travers MA, Florent I, Kohl L, Grellier P. Probiotics for the control of parasites: an overview. J Parasitol Res. 2011;2011:610769. doi:10.1155/2011/610769
- Ekanem AP, Brisibe EA. Effects of ethanol extract of Artemisia annua L. against monogenean parasites of Heterobranchus longifilis. Parasitol Res. 2010 Apr;106(5):1135-9.
- Grzybek M, Kukula-Koch W, Strachecka A, et al. Evaluation of Anthelmintic Activity and Composition of Pumpkin (Cucurbita pepo L.) Seed Extracts—In Vitro and in Vivo Studies. Battino M, ed. International Journal of Molecular Sciences. 2016;17(9):1456.
- Imanshahidi M, Hosseinzadeh H. Pharmacological and therapeutic effects of Berberis vulgaris and its active constituent, berberine. Phytother Res. 2008 Aug;22(8):999-1012.
- Mahmoudvand H, Saedi Dezaki E, Sharififar F, Ezatpour B, Jahanbakhsh S, Fasihi Harandi M. Protoscolecidal Effect of Berberis vulgaris Root Extract and Its Main Compound, Berberine in Cystic Echinococcosis. Iran J Parasitol. 2014 Oct-Dec;9(4):503-10.
- Okeniyi JA, Ogunlesi TA, Oyelami OA, Adeyemi LA. Effectiveness of dried Carica papaya seeds against human intestinal parasitosis: a pilot study. J Med Food. 2007 Mar;10(1):194-6.
- Rouhani S, Salehi N, Kamalinejad M, Zayeri F. Efficacy of Berberis vulgaris aqueous extract on viability of Echinococcus granulosus protoscolices. J Invest Surg. 2013 Dec;26(6):347-51.
Reem H. Ibrahim is a nutrition consultant, pharmacist and prospective holistic health care practitioner with an extensive professional and educational background in the pharmaceuticals and health care sector. She earned her M.B.A. degree in 2008 and has published works for the IFRC Health and Care Forum, the Geneva Health care Forum, and Near East Media Publications.