02 Apr Parasites in Chinese Medicine; What the Gu?
Parasite infection might seem like a fairly obscure health condition, or maybe something you’d most often see in animals, but with global travel becoming much more common, and climate change broadening the areas in which these organisms can survive, we are seeing more people present in clinic with these conditions, or perhaps presenting with a host of troublesome, seemingly-unrelated symptoms, which then turn out to fulfil the requirements for this diagnosis.
Lyme disease or tick born illness, common in Canada and United states is a good example; the spirochetal pathogen is very elusive and so small that it is hard to discover with modern methods of diagnosis. We have a lot of patients where their case history makes them a shoe-in—they’ve been to Nepal, or India, or Latin America; they had amoebic dysentery; they took Flagyl and since that time their health has never been good.
Some of the symptoms associated with parasite infection may include:
- Chronic Digestive upset – bloating, cramping, loose stools or constipation, nausea/reflux/vomiting, etc, excessive or poor appetite, strange cravings or aversions
- Mental issues – fogginess, depression, poor memory and concentration, unpredictable mood changes, restlessness, constantly changing mind/opinions, getting obsessed with their condition, chaotic thoughts, hallucinations, tendency to lack commitment to beneficial therapies or relationships (self-sabotage)
- Low immunity – easily gets opportunistic infections
- Low energy/exhaustion, poor sleep/insomnia, dark circles under eyes
- Neuromuscular – muscle soreness/heaviness/weakness, wandering body pains, physical heat sensations, cold night sweats, photosensitivity
- In addition, there may be mystery symptoms that evade clear diagnosis, history of acute protozoan infection (regardless of whether antibiotics were administered) and a history of travel to tropical regions, or areas with poor food hygiene
Chinese Herbal Medicine has a recognised diagnosis which correlates strongly with modern parasite infestations and devastation of gut bacteria. It was traditionally known as “Gu Syndrome”.
Historical and Modern Gu
Historically ‘Gu’ in this context means possession, so named because changes in the individual’s personality were noticed when they were afflicted, and on resolution of the problem, they returned to their normal selves. In modern times, Gu syndrome may correlate with chronic fungal, protozoan and/or viral diseases commonly seen in infections such as blastocystis hominis, candida albicans, diatamoeba fragilis, entamoeba histolytica, and other parasitic infections.
Medical treatment of parasites
Medical treatment for a parasitic infection revolve around antibiotics. In most cases in Australia Flagyl (metronidazole) is initially prescribed, when presenting to your GP with post-trip diarrhoea. In some cases Flagyl alone is effective, but in many it is not. More and more reported cases of failures due to antibiotic resistance, therefore, it is suggested that Flagyl may be ineffective in achieving complete eradication (4). See here more evidence that Flagyl is potentially not the best frontline treatment;
- The unfortunate thing is that most GPs will give a course of metronidazole which only makes things worse. Professor Tom Borody, founder of the Centre for Digestive Diseases. Australian Doctor Magazine. 5 June 2015.
- From these studies though, it is apparent that different subtypes show different susceptibility patterns and that metronidazole is not the most effective treatment for Blastocystis infection. In Vitro Antimicrobial Susceptibility Patterns of Blastocystis. Antimicrobial Agents and Chemotherapy. August 2015 Volume 59 Number 8. T. Roberts et al.
- Metro. should no longer be considered the first line treatment therapy prescribed. Treatment failures in chronic Blasto. infection. Roberts et al. Journal of Medical Microbiology 2014 (4)
Flagyl is the most commonly prescribed drug to treat Blasto. and D.fragilis. Warnings about significant Flagyl treatment failures first appeared in the medical literature in 1991:
- Through anecdotal reports, it has become evident that there are a significant number of treatment failures with metronidazole. Blastocystis hominis Past & Future. Clinic Micro Reviews. C.H. Zierdt. Jan 1991 (4).
It is important to seek out a doctor or integrative doctor who will prescribe the correct course of treatment.
Chinese Medicine treatment of Gu
Treatment in Chinese Medicine varies from both Western medicine and naturopathic medicine in that generally these modalities base their treatment on the simplistic assumption that parasitic micro-organisms represent a type of excess that needs to be killed off. Drugs like Flagyl, Nystatin and Diflukin, as well as alternative products based on grapefruit seed extract, walnut skin extract, capryllic acid and the like, may improve the situation temporarily but are commonly ineffective in killing the parasitic infection.
However from a Chinese Medicine perspective many of these ineffective treatments over long periods of time weaken a patient’s constitution. For example some research has documented that strong anti-parasitic drugs, although at first successful in eliminating the bulk of invaders from the digestive tract, can force yeasts and protozoan organisms to become systemic and wreak havoc in the body’s more internal organ tissues (See, for instance, N.E. Beckage, “Endocrine and Neuroendocrine Host-Parasite Relationships,” Receptor, Fall 1993, pp.233-245; G.F. Mitchell, “Co-Evolution of Parasites and Adaptive Immune responses,” Immunology Today, 3/1991, pp.A2-A5; and Felipe Kierszenbaum, ed., Parasitic Infections and the Immune System, Academic Press, 1994).
Chinese Medicine recognises that parasites are systemic conditions “like oil that has seeped into flour” and thus require a complex therapeutic regimen that continues for months or even years (even beyond the antibiotic treatment), so prospective patients need to prepare for a long-term commitment to this therapy. Modern research is beginning to confirm that entrenched parasites form a complex symbiotic bond with all aspects of our system, and are generally keyed into vital pathways of our immunological and hormonal response networks. To undo this critically balanced equilibrium between maximum parasite success and continuing host survival is difficult, as the two systems move as one. Some of our food cravings, for example, may actually reflect the nutritional needs of our parasitic hitchhikers.
Standard Chinese Herbal Medicine approaches to disease with a 5-pronged attack. Each prescription contains multiple herbs aimed at:
- Killing parasites
- Dispersing toxic by-products and biofilms of parasites
- Calming the spirit and restoring sense of self
- Building up energy and blood
- Increasing circulation of blood, energy and fluids
In addition, the herbs being used are regularly rotated, so that the parasites cannot build up a tolerance and thus reassert their hold on the individual. This broad, deep, and varied treatment approach often brings results where other efforts have failed. Gu treatments can be used alongside or post antibiotic treatments, often making the that treatment more effective.
There is a documented history of Gu therapy relieving these life-affecting health conditions, and when both patient and practitioner are committed to the course of treatment, there is cause for optimism, which is no small matter for individuals who may have been afflicted with these unpleasant symptoms for years.
It is important to note that in most cases of parasites, we play an integrative role working with your doctor, specialist or integrative GP. Often we work with antibiotics or when antibiotics have failed. If you are not working with one we will recommend one. We also recommend stool testing through Clinical labs.
Simon is a Chinese Medicine practitioner at Balanced Life Health Centre. He treats a variety of common (and not-so-common) health concerns using acupuncture, Chinese herbal medicine and related therapies. He has a gentle, friendly manner, and employs in-depth questioning to try to get to the root of your health issues, before embarking on a customised treatment plan. To book an Appointment with Simon click Here
- Heiner Fruehauf webinar & Class notes; Gu Syndrome: Unique strategies for the treatment of Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, Fibromylgia, Lyme disease, Parasites and Other Chronic Inflammatory Conditions (Found here; https://www.healthyseminars.com/bio/heiner-fruehauf)
- Heavenly Qi podcast; Found here http://www.heavenlyqipodcast.com/hq24-gu-syndrome-with-heiner-fruehauf-part-1/
- Interview; An In-depth interview with Heiner Fruehauf. Found here; https://classicalchinesemedicine.org/lyme-disease-an-in-depth-interview-with-heiner-fruehauf/