Parasites are organisms that live on or inside humans or other organisms from which they obtain nutrients to survive. There can be many different types of parasite worms living in human bodies. Some are microscopic while others can be seen quite easily. These parasites or their eggs can be found in the environment, in the air we breathe, in the water we drink, or in the food we eat. These parasites may be pathogenic or non-pathogenic. Pathogenic parasites cause harm because they consume the nutrient of the host, invade body tissues and cells, and produce toxic waste, which makes people sick. Moreover, most parasites also require a host to complete their life cycle. One third of the world’s population is infected with one or more species of intestinal parasites – easy victims being children. These infections impair children’s growth and development. Studies have shown an association between parasitic infection and under-nutrition, iron deficiency anaemia, stunted growth, poor school attendance and poor performance in cognition tests.
Modes of transmission People can become infested by intestinal parasites through:
- Walking barefoot on soil contaminated with faeces of humans, dogs, cats, etc.
- Eating raw or undercooked pork, beef or fish that are infected.
- Eating contaminated raw food, fruits and vegetables.
- Eating food prepared by infected handlers.
- Drinking contaminated water.
- Poor hygiene or sanitation.
- Contact with infected persons (sexual contact, kissing, sharing drinks, shaking hands, or sharing toys).
- Inhaling dust that contains parasitic eggs or cysts.
- Playing with or picking up pet litter contaminated with parasitic eggs or cysts.
The symptoms and signs of intestinal parasitic infestation can be variable and include: dyspepsia, diarrhoea, weight loss, fatigue, abdominal cramping and pain, constipation, nausea, vomiting, loss of appetite, irritable bowel syndrome, anaemia, joint and muscle aches, fever, rash, frequent colds and influenza, cough, itching anus, blood and/or mucus in the stools or foul smelling stools and visible worms in the stools, itching on the genitals and grinding of teeth in sleep. Sometimes these parasitic infestations can be life-threatening in people with severe impairment of immune function.
The parasitic infestations, particularly roundworm, threadworm and giardia can be treated with a single herbal drug named Palasha beeja powder along with maintenance of hygiene and following certain do’s and don’ts:
- Persons suffering from worm infestation should avoid excess intake of sweet and sour foods, milk, leafy vegetables, and non-vegetarian diet.
- Suppression of natural urges of vomiting, passing stools and day-sleeping should be avoided.
- Foods made up of bitter, pungent and astringent items, honey, alcoholic beverages, garlic, chenopodium leaves, sesame oil and mustard oil are beneficial.
- Keeping digestive fire proper is essentially required to prevent the development of intestinal medium favourable for parasites and worms, for which healthy eating habits and timely meals are important.
Dose and mode of administration The dose for adults is 2 to 3 grams twice a day. Children may be given 500 mg to 1 gram of the drug twice a day. This dosage form may be given on an empty stomach for 5 to 7 days continuously with honey or jaggery, rice water, butter-milk or warm water. It may also be given in a single dose up to a maximum of six grams in adults and three grams to children on an empty stomach.
Precautions and safety aspects
- No side or toxic effects are reported in literature with recommended dose of Palasha seed.
- Women desirous to conceive and pregnant women should not use this drug.
- As Palasha seed powder is bitter, astringent and hot in potency, large doses should be avoided. Large doses may cause nausea, vomiting and abdominal colic.
- A high dose can occasionally cause nephrotoxicity (4) and anaemia. Liver, lungs and spleen congestion can also occur with a very high dose.
- The seed suspension has shown teratogenic effects in rats5; therefore in pregnant women it should not be used. However, short term use of this medication may be safe for the baby if a nursing mother is taking it.
The following measures can help prevent parasitic infestation:
- Washing hands before eating and after using the toilet.
- Wearing gloves when gardening or working with soil or sand because soil can be contaminated with eggs or cysts of parasites.
- Do not allow children to be licked or kissed by pets that are not de-wormed regularly.
- Wash fresh vegetables and fruits thoroughly.
- Avoid eating raw meat, which may contain Giardia lamblia.
- Very sweet food items should not be taken in excess and regularly.
Reference – Traditional Herbal Remedies for Primary Health Care