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Are Parasites a Root Cause for Hypothyroidism?

A look at the relationship between parasites and hypothyroidism.
Are Parasites a Root Cause for Hypothyroidism?
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Functional medicine tells us that there are many root causes of diseases, especially autoimmune conditions. While our genetics play a part, certain environmental triggers can worsen health conditions or even act as primary triggers. One of these factors in patients with autoimmune Hashimoto’s thyroiditis and hypothyroidism is parasites. 

Parasites are relatively common, and many people do not even know they are infected unless they have obvious symptoms. While the thought of having a parasite sounds scary, in this article, we’ll explain more about parasites, how they could be a potential root cause of problems with your thyroid gland, how to test for parasites, treatments, and ways to reduce your exposure.

What are parasites?

A parasite is an organism that lives on or in a host organism (such as an animal or human). Three main types of parasites can cause disease in humans: protozoa, helminths, and ectoparasites.

Protozoa are microscopic, single-celled organisms that can survive alone or live as parasites. They can multiply in humans and are transmitted through contaminated food such as raw or undercooked animal protein, fruits, vegetables, contaminated water, or person-to-person contact. Certain types of protozoa live in the bloodstream or tissue of humans and are usually transmitted through mosquito or sandfly bites.

Helminths are larger, multicellular organisms generally visible to the naked eye in their adult stages. Unlike protozoa, they cannot multiply in humans. Types of helminths include tapeworms, thorny-headed worms, and flatworms. These worms tend to reside in the gastrointestinal tract, bloodstream, lymphatic system, or subcutaneous tissues (the deepest skin layer closest to the muscle.)

Ectoparasites refer to organisms such as ticks, fleas, lice, and mites. These parasites attach or burrow themselves into the skin and remain for long periods.

The role of parasites in hypothyroidism

Do parasites cause Hashimoto’s or hypothyroidism? Experts believe that it’s possible.

Parasites can potentially cause an autoimmune condition. Autoimmune diseases occur when the immune system mistakenly attacks healthy cells and tissues. As foreign invaders, parasites can trigger an immune response in an individual’s body. This immune response can sometimes lead to chronic inflammation, disrupting the immune system’s normal functioning. This disruption may result in developing an autoimmune thyroid condition like Hashimoto’s thyroiditis. However, it is important to note that not all parasitic infections lead to autoimmune diseases, and the exact mechanism by which parasites may trigger autoimmune responses is still being studied.

One specific parasite has been seen in patients who develop hypothyroidism and/or thyroid nodules. This parasite is of the helminths group, meaning it’s a type of worm.

Schistosomiasis is a type of disease caused by a parasitic worm. It has been shown to interfere with thyroid hormone uptake, reducing the thyroid gland’s ability to produce adequate thyroid hormone, resulting in hypothyroidism.

One case looked at a patient with a parasite called Blastocytis Hominis, which resides in the digestive tract. He also had positive antibodies for Hashimoto’s Disease. After he was treated for the parasite, thyroid antibodies were reduced, and thyroid levels improved.

Another study examined the connection between Blastocystis infection and Hashimoto’s disease. They divided the patients into three groups:

1. Patients with Hashimoto’s disease and no Blastocystis

2. Patients who had both Hashimoto’s and Blastocystis

3. Patients who didn’t have either condition.

Initially, researchers noticed that at baseline, thyroid antibodies were the highest and thyroid levels the lowest in those with Blastocystis infection. Those with Blastocystis infection were given treatment, and they saw a significant improvement in thyroid test results, as well as reduced antibody levels and less active autoimmune thyroid disease.

Symptoms of parasitic infection

As mentioned, you may develop symptoms of a parasite infection. They can appear immediately or a long time after infection. While symptoms vary, the most common ones include:

  • Diarrhea
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Abdominal pain
  • Unexplained weight loss
  • Increased appetite
  • Muscle aches
  • Fever
  • Chills
  • Insomnia
  • Fatigue
  • Weakness
  • Skin rash
  • Rash or itching around the rectum or vulva
  • Passing a worm in your stool

How to test for parasites

If you have unexplained symptoms, your doctor might ask you some screening questions to see whether exploring the possibility of a parasite would be appropriate. These questions include:

  • Are your symptoms constant, or do they come and go?
  • Have you traveled recently, especially internationally?
  • Do you live near wooded areas or areas with tall grass?
  • Do you have pets that spend a lot of time outdoors and simultaneously spend time indoors in shared spaces such as the bedroom or kitchen?
  • Have you eaten any raw or rare animal meat?
  • Do you drink unpasteurized milk or juice?

If your doctor decides to move forward with exploring the possibility of a parasite, there are several different methods of testing available to assess for parasites.

Stool testing helps check for parasites in the gastrointestinal tract. If a stool test cannot determine the type of parasite, other tests for parasites include enteroscopy or colonoscopy. These techniques use a long thin tube with a small video camera attached to the end that looks inside your body at your large intestine. Some parasites -- particularly those that live in the bloodstream -- can be detected by blood tests. Other parasites might be better detected through imaging such as an X-ray, MRI, or CT scan. These imaging tests will scan your organs and assess if there are any lesions or damage.

How to treat parasites

Parasites are usually treated with medications. The type of medication depends on the specific parasite infestation. Some common drugs used as part of an anti-parasitic protocol include anthelmintics, antimalarials, antiprotozoals, and antifungals. These medications are taken orally or applied topically, depending on the specific parasite.

It is crucial to follow the prescribed treatment plan diligently. Parasitic infections often require multiple doses of medication over a specific duration to ensure complete eradication. Skipping doses or stopping treatment prematurely can lead to the re-emergence of the parasite or the development of drug-resistant strains.

Along with medication, supportive care may be necessary to alleviate symptoms and aid recovery. This may include over-the-counter pain relievers or anti-inflammatories to reduce discomfort, fluids to prevent dehydration, and a healthy diet to boost the immune system.

For travelers visiting parasite-prone areas, taking prophylactic medications and following preventive measures specific to the destination is also crucial.

How to reduce parasite exposure

Supporting your immune system can complement drug treatment and help rid your body of parasites more quickly while also strengthening your system to defend against further parasitic infection. Some of the most potent anti-parasitic foods can be found in your kitchen! These include raw garlic, pure honey, pumpkin seeds, carrots, beets, and fibrous foods. Getting adequate nutrients such as vitamin C and zinc is also essential.  Drinking plenty of filtered water (not tap, unless filtered) is also a great idea.

  • In addition to utilizing food as medicine, practice these tips and tricks to help prevent parasitic infections:
  • Always wash your hands before you eat, after handling raw meat and fish, after using the restroom, and after cleaning.
  • Do not drink water from lakes, ponds, or streams. Always be sure to drink clean filtered water or boiled regular tap water.
  • Always cook red meat to the recommended internal temperature. Purchase a meat thermometer to help ensure safe cooking temperatures. Avoiding undercooked or raw foods, especially meat, seafood, and eggs, can reduce the risk of contracting parasitic infections.
  • When traveling through woody areas, humid environments, or grassy fields, wear long-sleeved shirts and pants and protect yourself with bug repellent.
  • After spending time outside, check your hair, beltline, back, and backs of legs and arms for any insects that may have attached to you. 
  • After taking your animals outside, check their fur using a fine-toothed comb, and give them flea and tick prevention treatments regularly.
  • Practice safe sex by wearing condoms. Condoms help to stop the spread of a parasite that causes a specific strain of STI.

A note from Paloma

Thinking about parasites in the context of your Hashimoto’s or hypothyroidism can be somewhat overwhelming. Paloma is here to help! If you have any questions about your potential root causes, we invite you to connect with one of our thyroid-savvy Paloma doctors. They’re always ready to help you map out a treatment plan and provide answers and solutions to get you on the path to thyroid healing and true wellness.

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CDC - Parasites - About Parasites. Published February 25, 2019.

‌Trichomoniasis: Causes, Symptoms, Diagnosis, Treatments, Prevention. Cleveland Clinic.

‌Intestinal parasites Information | Mount Sinai - New York. Mount Sinai Health System.

‌Raizada N. Helminths and Endocrinology. PubMed. Published 2000.

El-Zawawy HT, Farag HF, Tolba MM, Abdalsamea HA. Improving Hashimoto’s thyroiditis by eradicating Blastocystis hominis: Relation to IL-17. Therapeutic Advances in Endocrinology and Metabolism. 2020;11:204201882090701. doi:

‌El-Zawawy HT, Farag HF, Tolba MM, Abdalsamea HA. Improving Hashimoto’s thyroiditis by eradicating Blastocystis hominis: Relation to IL-17. Therapeutic Advances in Endocrinology and Metabolism. 2020;11:204201882090701. doi:

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Neeyaz Zolfaghari

Holistic Nutritionist and Nourishment Coach

Neeyaz Zolfaghari is the founder of Unspoken Nutrition, a nutrition and lifestyle brand dedicated to helping others find and create harmony with their daily habits to support their wellbeing and ‘health’. Her journey began over a decade ago, when she was diagnosed with two autoimmune diseases. Knowing what she learned from her upbringing, Neeyaz turned to nutrition as the first pillar of her healing. As her body began to heal on a physical level, she began to learn how our minds, bodies and souls are all innately connected.  

Now as an Integrative Nutritionist and Patient Advocate, Neeyaz offers the people she works with the support, guidance, and tools they need in order to live a fulfilled life. While Neeyaz initially endeavored to make a difference at the individual level, her vision grew to embrace broader community impacts. She is currently pursuing her Masters in Public Health, serving as a testament to her unwavering commitment to instigate change on a grander scale.

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