Blastocystis hominis is, and always will be a subject of interest for me. Acute infection with this little protozoan bug, along with bacterial infections was my first experience with ongoing sub-par health. For an introduction to this parasite see here.
Since writing this article I have had success treating my Blastocystis hominis parasite infection.
Over the years my thinking around treatment ideas have changed. Originally it went something like this
While this may seem overly simplistic to anyone who has done antibiotics and only felt worse it is the general approach of many practitioners, including functional medicine, naturopaths and herbalists. Delving into the complexity of the human body and the intricacies of our gut microbiome it became clearer and clearer that the approach of “find and kill” can lead some unfortunate people down the path of diminishing returns, not to mention diminishing gut flora.
Recently I came across a paper looking into the use of one particular and well researched probiotic in the treatment of Blastocystis hominis in children displaying symptoms including
- Abdominal pain
The randomised, single blinded control trial compared Saccharomyces cerevisiae var. boulardii CNCM I-745 to the standard treatment, an antibiotic called metronidazole, and a third group with no treatment at all. The treatment intervention lasted for 10 days.
Probiotic Treatment for Blastocystis – Results After 15 Days
After 15 days taking a probiotic to treat Blastocystis hominis infections there were some surprising and exciting results.
The probiotic group experienced 77.7% clinical cure rate – this is based on the symptoms of the patients and not on stool analysis to confirm eradication of the parasite. Analysing the stool found that only 72.2% had cleared the parasite.
The antibiotic group experienced 66.6% clinical cure rate (based on symptoms and not stool analysis). Interestingly when analysing the stool the antibiotic group achieved a 80% clearance rate at 15 days. This is telling us that when patients took the antibiotics they cleared the parasite (80% of them) but many didn’t actually feel better (13.4% still had gut symptoms!)
The control group, receiving no treatment experienced only 40% clinical cure rate and 26.6% stool analysis clearance rate. While parasites such as Blastocystis can stick around and cause troubles for years there are some people that can naturally clear the infection. It could be that there immune system is more finely tuned to deal with these bugs.
Probiotic Treatment for Blastocystis – Results After 30 Days
Checking in at day 30 the results were very interesting.
The group of people that were taking the probiotic to treat Blastocystis hominis found
- 94.4% – cure rate based on symptoms. Meaning that 94.4% of the people taking the probiotic felt better and no longer had any gut symptoms.
- 94.4% – based on stool analysis. Meaning that 94.4% of the people no longer had evidence of Blastocystis in their stool.
The antibiotic group
- 73.3% based on symptoms. This is quite a bit lower than the probiotic group, all based in the symptoms reported from the patient. And remember that’s what it is all about. How is the person feeling? Do they still have symptoms?
- 93.3% based on stool analysis (interesting spread here). Again meaning that more people had reportedly cleared the Blastocystis infection but didn’t actually feel better.
The control group was treated with the antibiotic after day 15 so there was no data for them at day 30.
Assessing The Cure Rate For Blastocystis
It is worth noting that the trial seemed to screen for Blastocystis just one time when assessing the cure rates and this particular parasite has random shedding habits. Many clinicians that are familiar with Blastocystis recommend three separate stool samples on different days to assess infection.
The other very important point that very few people are talking about is the importance of the particular strain of probiotic used. Many will assume that because this particular strain of Saccharomyces cerevisiae var. Boulardii, the CNCM I-745 aka biocodex strain is helpful in the treatment of Blastocystis hominis that all strains of Saccharomyces cerevisiae var. Boulardii will be helpful. This is incorrect and research has looked into the differences displayed between different strains in the same species of probiotics.
Dr. Jason Hawrelak is the best source to dig into if you are interested in this subject. In a lecture he used the example of E. coli when talking about strain specificity. Some strains of E. coli are members of healthy flora and some can contribute to a wide range of symptoms including urinary tract infections.
More On The Probiotic Saccharomyces boulardii
The Therapeutic Advances in Gastroenterology published an interesting review on Saccharomyces boulardii in 2011 looking at some promising research done on the yeast in regards to a range of different chronic and acute diseases including
- Antibiotic-associated diarrhea
- Clostridium difficile infection
- Acute diarrhea
- Persistent diarrhea
- Enteral nutrition-related diarrhea
- Traveler’s diarrhea
- Helicobacter pylori infection
- Chronic diseases
- Crohn’s disease
- Ulcerative colitis
- Irritable bowel syndrome
- Parasitic infections
- Amebic colitis
- Blastocystis hominis
- Human immunodeficiency virus (HIV)-related diarrhea
While digging into each and every point they covered is beyond this article it is worth noting a few key points found in the literature on the use of Saccharomyces boulardii.
- It has the ability to reach the colon intact (although in reduced numbers)
- Has the ability to survive the body temperatures (rare for yeasts)
- Is naturally resistant to antibiotics, leading to recommendations for supplementing while taking antibiotics or even antimicrobial herbs
Unfortunately at the moment the biocodex strain of Saccharomyces boulardii (CNCM I-745) isn’t available in Australia but it could be worth looking into international shipping options until it is. Alternatively there are a number of Saccharomyces boulardii strains on the Australian market that may possibly have similar effects. The problem here is that there is no solid data to backup the available strains and it results in a ‘try and see’ approach.
Closing Thoughts. Can Probiotics Cure Parasite Infections?
This is the million dollar question. Can probiotics cure parasite infections.
It isn’t a clear yes or no answer.
Since writing this article I have been contacted by a number of different people looking for more information on the use of probiotics in gut infections. As my understanding on the complexity of the gut ecosystem has evolved I now look at the use of probiotics as just one of many approaches to treating gut infections, parasites and bacterial dysbiosis.
A balanced approach of nurturing the gut with prebiotics and probiotics and intervening with well chose herbal antimicrobials appears to have the most success, is best tolerated and minimised damage to the gut microbiome. All good things. For a general overview on the different approaches see – Gut Infections And How To Deal With Them
Now I would like to hear from you. Have you had any experiences with probiotics to help with your health concerns? Share your thoughts below.
References and Resources
- Blastocystis hominis – A Protozoan Gut Parasite
- Clinical efficacy of Saccharomyces boulardii or metronidazole in symptomatic children with Blastocystis hominis infection.
- Dr. Jason Hawrelak
- Efficacy and safety of the probiotic Saccharomyces boulardii for the prevention and therapy of gastrointestinal disorders