Team GR: We know how important gut health is and how much it impacts individuals with autism, but what about parasites? We asked Dr. Anju Usman Singh to give us all the details.
In Conversation with Anju Usman Singh, MD
Can you explain the role parasites play? Why are individuals with autism so susceptible?
It is evident to many parents and clinicians that many of the abnormal behaviors, like verbal stimming, aggression, biting, and hyperactivity we see in patients with autism may be related to issues in the gut.
A key issue in our patients is the lack of a diversity of beneficial micro-organisms in their GI tract called the microbiome. This lack of diversity in the microbiome is thought to affect the development of the immune system as well as the nervous system in a young child.
We are finding that autistic individuals are more susceptible to overgrowth of bad bacteria, bad yeast and potentially bad parasites. The cause of this is most likely multifactorial and can include issues such as mother’s microbiome, C-section babies, formula fed infants, early antibiotic use, toxin exposures that affect the GI tract, like glyphosate and aluminum and lead are possible culprits.
What are they exactly and how do parasites differ from yeast (and overgrowth, like Candida)?
Parasites differ from other organisms because they live in or on their host and get food from or at the expense of the host. They go through various stages in their development from an egg, to a larvae to an adult.
Most parasites enter the body through contaminated or uncooked food or water. Some enter through a tick bite. They can then lay their eggs inside their host. When the eggs hatch and grow, they become larvae and then migrate to different organs in the host. Their reproduction cycle often occurs at the time around a full moon or new moon.
What are some common types?
There are three main classes of parasites that cause disease in humans:
- Protozoa – microscopic, one celled organisms, usually transmitted thru contaminated food or water or through the bite of a mosquito or sand fly. e.g. Entamoeba, Giardia, Cryptosporidium
- Helminths – multicellular, large, can not survive in humans in the adult form. These have three main groups:
- Flatworms – including trematodes (flukes) and cestodes (tapeworms)
- Thorny-headed worms
- Roundworms (nematodes) – e.g. pinworm, Ascaris
What recommended labs should we run to test for parasites?
A stool test to look for ova (eggs) and parasites can be done, but it is difficult to find parasites residing in lymphatic vessels or in other organs. And multiple samples may be needed.
Antibodies to specific parasites can be tested. For example, Toxoplasmosis Ig G Antibodies
EIA (enzyme immune assay) can detect certain proteins in the stool or serum e.g. Giardia EIA.
What are some commons ways to combat parasites?
Treatment for parasites depends on the type of parasite. There are a variety of anti-parasitic drugs that can combat the various types of parasites.
Drugs like metronidazole, tinidazole and paromomycin can treat specific types of protozoa. Drugs like mebendazole, pyrantel, ivermectin and praziquantel can treat various types of worms and flukes.
Herbs such as clove, black walnut, neem and wormwood can also be helpful. Because of the various stages of development that the parasites may be in repeat treatments and pulsing protocols can be beneficial as well.