Blastocystis hominis is a common gut parasite found here in Byron Bay, Australia and throughout the warmer climates of the world in general.
There is still debate on whether it is a problem bug.
If you are reading this then chances are you have found a Blastocystis hominis infection and are wondering what it is and what to do about it.
Read on learn more about this common gut bug.
What is Blastocystis hominis?
Digging into the research it appears that Blastocystis hominis has been a tough nut to crack.
Originally it was classified as a “harmless intestinal yeast” only to be reclassified as a protozoan when researchers had the ability to sequence the RNA (1). It is extremely common in the human intestinal tracts and has been debated for over 20 years as to whether it is a normal resident or a problem. That being said it is associated with many symptoms of illness (2).
Protozoan bugs are eukaryotic organisms making them much more complex compared to prokaryotes (bacteria and archaea.)
The headline for eukaryotic organisms is specialisation. Instead of a much simpler and smaller cell, eukaryotes have specialised internal organelles (3).
How Do You ‘Catch’ Blastocystis? – Routes Of Infection
The route of infection for Blastocystis is via the fecal-oral route.
Be cautious of any and all unfiltered tank water, especially in areas rich in wildlife.
It is quite simple to filter the parasite out so if you are considering living on tank water (as much of rural Australian’s do) then I would recommend a whole-house filter so that your shower, bath and washing up water is all properly filtered.
Personal note: I will always be interested in Blastocystis. In my late 20’s I moving to the Byron Bay area and contracting it from contaminated tank water.
I spent three years battling the bug.
I finally cleared it, but still suffer residual gut issues from the infection.
There have been numerous visits to multiple doctors. The first doctor ran the stool test that came back positive for Blastocystis hominis and then suggested
A) not doing anything as many doctors don’t consider it a parasite
B) Taking an antibiotic that had roughly a 60% chance of success (his words not mine)
C) If all else fails that there a triple therapy that was showing good success formulated by the centre for digestive diseases. Basically carpet bombing your gut from what I could make out.
Symptoms and Health Issues In Blastocystis hominis Infections
The list of symptoms associated with a Blastocystis infection is long including
- abdominal pain
- alternating diarrhoea and constipation…the list goes on (1).
Here it is important to point out that Blastocystis may not be causing these symptoms. There are very experienced gut savvy health care practitioners that think that Blastocystis is commonly blamed for all of these gut symptoms when in fact it could be any number of other gut issues like SIBO, coeliac disease, food intolerances and bacterial overgrowths in the large intestine.
How common is Blastocystis?
A study performed in Turkey in 2015 sheds some light on that question.
The researchers looked at over 50,185 patients that presented to the Parasitology Laboratory at Yuzuncu Yil University. From that sample 0.54% came back positive for Blastocystis hominis.
Of those 0.54% (n = 275) 70.2% presented with symptoms associated with B. hominis (abdominal pain, diarrhea, anorexia etc) (4).
I would agree that there is the possibility that B. hominis is simply a commensal organism (natural/normal resident of the gut) that becomes opportunistic under certain conditions.
Along with the laundry list of possible symptoms (food intolerance is interesting here) there have been comments that B. hominis could be linked to IBS.
A few interesting case studies outline remission in both hashimoto’s disease (autoimmune hypothyroid) as well as ulcerative colitis (a type of inflammatory bowel disease) when Blastocystis hominis was eradicated (5, 6).
These connections are less studied but I figured they were worth mentioning.
Testing for Blastocystis – Recommended Gut Testing
You really need to properly test if you suspect a parasite infection. If you don’t test you’ll be shooting in the dark!
There are a number of different stool tests available to screen for parasites.
One tests, offered by many doctors, and covered by medicare is what is called a PCR (polymerase chain reaction) test. It is quite sensitive and can detect fragments of DNA from the top 10 major pathogens (Blastocystis being one of them). It will also screen for a parasite called Dientameoba fragilis which is a common co-infection often found with Blastocystis.
Here is an example of a PCR stool test confirming Blastocystis hominis infection.
Combining this test with a comprehensive stool analysis (CDSA) will give you more information on other possible infections including bacterial overgrowths and fungal infections.
Natural Treatment for Blastocystis hominis Infection
Antibiotics scare me.
The more I learn the more I’d like to avoid them for anything short of absolutely necessary.
The drawbacks of antibiotic use but for the time being the headlines on why to generally avoid them include
- Disrupted gut microbiome
- Evolution of resistant super bugs when they are not 100% effective (remember the recurrence of blasto 6 months later from the study above)
- They are quite taxing on your body (immune system and liver particularly)
Now that’s not to say that herbal antimicrobials don’t tax your system.
Anything that knocks back microbes is going to have some negatives. One point that is essential in my opinion is first building yourself back up before moving into the killing phase. It is common for people to want the silver bullet that they can take and fix their gut.
Step 1 – Determine If Blastocystis is Really the Problem
First step is to find out if Blastocystis is really the problem that is causing all of your gut health issues. This step can be quite a bit harder than you might think. Practically it means eliminating everything else that might be the issue. A good case history is essential paired with some standard tests and maybe even some more advanced ones.
If SIBO is causing your issues instead of Blastocystis then we need to tackle that first. Often this will help to move you towards a healthy gut. Other possible issues to look into would depend on your symptoms. Gut malabsorption issues could stem from coeliac disease, non-coeliac gluten sensitivity and other food intolerances. There could be a large bowel bacterial overgrowth that needs to be dealt with too. All of these root causes could be to blame, not the Blastocystis infection.
Step 2 – If It is blastocystis Then what?
There are cases where Blastocystis is to blame. After all the legwork to determine other causes has been done and nothing has come back apart from Blastocystis then it is time to move on a naturally treat the bug.
Here we can focus on some antimicrobial herbs that help to reduce the bugs numbers without causing serious damage to the gut microflora in the process.
Herbal medicines that help to treat Blastocystis hominis infections include the following herbs:
- Oregano leaf and oil
- Olive leaf extracts
- Wormwoods (including Artemisia annua, Artemisia absinthium)
- Black Walnut
- Pomegranate husk tincture
- Probiotics have shown to be helpful as well. Especially the Saccharomyces cerevisiae var. boulardii CNCM I-745 strain.
- Green tea extracts help to modulate the gut ecosystem and improve the terrain
For a deeper dive into the herbal antimicrobials that have been successful see – Herbal Treatment For Blastocystis
Those Living With Blastocystis hominis Infections
I have spent the past two years battling Blastocystis hominis. In hindsight it may have been SIBO that I was really dealing with. I would take antimicrobial herbs and get better for a time (still had the Blastocystis infection) then relapse and my symptoms would come back with a vengeance.
It took three rounds of herbal antimicrobial herbs, a complete rehaul of my diet and a focus on biofilms to successfully treat Blastocystis hominis.
It was hard.
To everyone out there in the same boat I feel your pain.
This infection (and the handful of co-infections) has completely changed my life. Now I am on the track to completing my Health Science degree in Western Herbal Medicine so that I can help others who are in the same position I was in.
As I am still a student all I can do is share what I have (and am) learning on Blastocystis infections and hope that it helps.
Now I want to hear from you. What experience do you have with Blastocystis or other related gut infections. Leave a comment in the section below.
References and Resources