A parasite is an organism that feeds off of another host and usually enters the body through contaminated water or food. Not all parasites will make you sick, but some can lead to parasitic infections, which can cause serious illness and require medication to treat. Natural remedies such as parasite cleanses claim to have the same effect as medication, but the research behind this is still lacking.
Green Matters talked exclusively with Lena Bakovic, MS, RDN, CNSC of Top Nutrition Coaching all about parasite cleanses, and whether or not they are ever needed for kids. Please note that this article is not medical advice, and you should speak to a doctor for questions about your child's health.
What is a parasite cleanse for kids? Is it ever necessary?
A parasite cleanse is a method of trying to remove parasites from the body using natural remedies such as herbs, supplements, probiotics, or changes in diet. Examples of parasites include lice, tapeworms, roundworms, and hookworms.
If left untreated, parasites can lead to severe health issues and even affect one's reproductive system, behavior, and more. Various blogs and other sources across the internet assert that natural parasite cleanses for kids can be highly effective. For instance, the Ecowiser blog states that "the importance of a parasite cleanse for kids cannot be underestimated."
However, not all research supports this.
Lena Bakovic, MS, RDN, CNSC, tells Green Matters exclusively: “A parasite cleanse is very similar to other cleanses that are marketed and not regulated or approved by the Food and Drug Administration. The scientific research to support the efficacy and safety of these cleanses is insufficient.”
According to Healthline, the research to support parasite cleanses is limited, and participating in cleanses that don’t have enough scientific backing could be unsafe and lead to unknown side effects.
"I would encourage folks to exert caution before proceeding and investing in parasite cleanses and declining medical advice," Bakovic tells Green Matters. "Because these cleanses are not regulated or tested properly, there is no definitive method to support their safety."
How can you cleanse kids from parasite exposure?
Again, this article should not be taken as medical advice, and you should always talk to a healthcare professional about receiving proper treatment for parasites.
First and foremost, if you or your child has a parasite, it’s recommended that you go to a doctor to receive treatment and solutions. Bakovic tells Green Matters: “This may include taking an antibiotic if needed or a different medication targeted towards the specific parasite. A physician will also be able to identify the proper medical diagnosis.”
When it comes to the natural cleansing methods, Doctor of Naturopathic Medicine Emily Dashiell wrote for Verywell Health that various natural supplements and foods are sometimes also recommended to help support your body's natural defenses, including probiotics, berberine, wormwood, garlic, and foods high in vitamin A and beta-carotene. She also notes that some natural medicine practitioners recommend removing sugar and refined grains from one's diet when dealing with a parasite.
While making the above dietary changes is likely safe for most people, like Bakovic, Dashiell warns that those concerned their child may be suffering a parasitic infection should go to a physician rather than rely solely on natural methods. "A natural approach may be appealing, but there is limited scientific evidence to support the use of these regimens," she wrote.
Bakovic also points to the importance of diet when protecting from parasites. She tells Green Matters: “From a nutrition standpoint, I think it is important to focus on a diet that is rich in a variety of fruits and vegetables, whole grains, and high in fiber content which will support digestive/gut function.”