UPDATE: The following article outlines my successful treatment of Blastocystis and Dientamoeba fragilis using herbal medicine. Since writing this article, and thanks to mentoring from Dr Jason Hawrelak, I have come to see Blastocystis as less of an issue in most people. Please be sure to read my updated thinking on Blastocystis before assuming it is causing all of your gut issues (much like I did!). Ok, now onto herbal treatment options for Blastocystis.
Anyone who has been reading this blog will know that I have been struggling with Blastocystis homins and Dientamoeba infections since contracting them, four years ago, in the Byron Bay hinterland. More on my story here.
Today I’d like to share my herbal treatment For Blastocystis hominis and the success in finally treating both Blastocystis hominis and Dientamoeba with herbal medicines.
I have included a table of contents for you if you are looking for a specific answer. That said, I would highly recommend reading the entire article, especially if you are considering treating your Blastocystis infection.
- First Off What Is Blastocystis?
- Is Blastocystis really to blame here?
- Antibiotics for Blastocystis. Maybe not?
- Herbal Attempt for Blastocystis Infection – Number One
- Herbal Treatment For Blastocystis Number Two
- Continued Herbal Treatment for Blastocystis infection
- Retesting after Blastocystis treatments
- Still Symptomatic after clearing Blastocystis
- To Those Struggling With Gut Issues
- Work With Me
- References and Resources
First Off What Is Blastocystis?
Blastocystis spp. (also known as Blastocystis hominis) is a protozoan parasite that may be responsible for a range of different symptoms in people including abdominal pain, diarrhea, constipation, fatigue and skin rashes. Surprisingly there are some people that have a Blastocystis infection and show no symptoms (1).
We have had some difficulties categorising this unicellular organism.
At various times it has been classified as a cyst of a flagellate, vegetable, yeast, and fungus and finally landing on the protist classification (2). It also has the ability to take a whole range of different forms from vacuolar, granular, and ameboid, cyst, avacuolar, and multivacuolar (3) with the ameboid form suspected as causing the most symptoms in infected people (4).
Is Blastocystis really to blame here?
This is the million dollar question.
I have spent a lot of time researching and speaking to experts on the subject of Blastocystis trying to get to the bottom of that very question. Originally I thought that Blastocystis was an outright pathogen and should be treated in anyone that came back with a positive stool test. After years of looking into it I now think that there is one of two things going on here.
Number one. You may have contracted a particularly virulent ‘strain’ of Blastocystis and this may be the cause of all of your gut symptoms. This is definitely possible and certain strains of Blastocystis have been found and do cause symptoms.
Number two, and possibly…maybe.. more likely. Blastocystis has come back on your stool test and you have blamed this particular bug for what is really some other gut condition hiding behind it. Things like bacterial overgrowths in the small intestine (SIBO) and large intestine may be the real issue here. Other things to be on the look out would be food intolerances (coeliac disease is a big one) and possibly leaky gut.
Classic symptoms that would lead me to think your symptoms are being caused by another gut issue would be things like
- Bloating and distention shortly after you eat a meal – Classic symptoms in SIBO
- Blood or mucus in your stool – Possibly IBD or other inflammation driven gut issues.
- Food intolerances, headaches and brain fog – Pointing towards leaky gut and possibly SIBO again.
From my perspective these symptoms and more point to a wider state of gut dysregulation. If you are presenting with these symptoms then Blastocystis may not be your number one priority to treat.
This second option makes Blastocystis a harder bug to treat because we aren’t 100% sure that it is causing your symptoms. A healthy approach to this particular conundrum would be to keep your mind open to other possible issues that could be causing your gut symptoms and not to focus solely on Blastocystis clearing as your main objective.
Ok. Now that little disclaimer is out of the way let’s cover how I managed to clear my Blastocystis infection.
Antibiotics for Blastocystis. Maybe not?
I have tried a number of different approaches to eradicate the bugs from my gastrointestinal tract.
The first attempt was the front line approach from conventional medicine. Metronidazole, brand name Flagyl here in Australia had very little impact on the gut infections.
I am not a huge fan of antibiotics but I figured take them, get rid of the bug and then rebuild. Since then I have come across dozens and dozens of people that have tried Metronidazole with no success. There have been case studies showing an increase in the cyst count for Blastocystis spp. after taking it. I have been speculating on how this might come about. Antibiotic resistance is a real issue with gut infections. My thoughts are that many Blastocystis strains are resistant to Metronidazole and the antibiotic cleared the gut for them to take hold.
With such dismal results I turned to herbal medicine and changed my diet considerably (article on that part coming soon).
Onto herbal treatment for Blastocystis hominis number one.
Herbal Attempt for Blastocystis Infection – Number One
For my first 90 day herbal treatment for Blastocystis I combined bereberine HCl with a herbal mixture which included a number of very obscure herbs from the Amazon.
The herbal formula was from Raintree Formulations and contained a number of very unusual Amazonian herbs
After the herbal treatment I felt better and my gut symptoms improved dramatically.
At that time I was already familiar with the importance of retesting. Lo and behold my stool testing came back showing both the two protozoan bugs were still there.
Not only that but after about a month or two of feeling normal again my gut symptoms came back but this time with some non-gut related symptoms including
- Brain fog
- Food allergies
UPDATE: circling back after years of studying gut issues I suspect that I had SIBO and large bowel bacterial overgrowth (dysbiosis) the whole time. SIBO relapse rates are high, especially when the root cause has not been addressed. If I had focused on the SIBO issue from the start I could have possibly saved considerable money, time and effort. A word to the wise…
At this point I was concerned with the state of my microbiome. I have seen a number of different cases where people continually blast their guts with antibiotics and strong antimicrobial herbs in an endless attempt to eradicate the infections.
With this in mind I turned towards a rebuilding approach. I focused on different prebiotics including lactulose, fructo-oligosaccharides and different colonic foods like green tea polyphenols. I also began consuming more probiotics including Saccharomyces cerevisiae boulardii a potent probiotic that has been shown to treat Blastocystis effectively in some people.
Thankfully Amazon.com supplies the best researched strain of this particular probiotic which you can find here.
The rebuild phase is important.
Building up my reserves and caring for my gut flora helped when I took the second round of herbal antimicrobials.
Onto herbal treatment for Blastocystis number two.
Herbal Treatment For Blastocystis Number Two
Herbal treatment for Blastocystis number 2.
At this point I was feeling pretty good. I still had issues with different foods including gluten and dairy but my digestive symptoms had improved immensely.
This time I opted for a very different herbal approach.
Instead of taking berberine HCl I opted for herbs high in berberine and other similar alkaloids. The thinking behind this approach involves the drug-resistant methods that many infectious organisms use to avoid being killed by the antimicrobials.
Berberine as an extract is one molecule (as seen below). It is true that most of the research points to it as the most efficacious and ‘active’ but there are dozens of different berberine like alkaloids in herbs such as coptis and goldenseal.
It has been suggested that these similar molecules have a synergistic effect, almost overwhelming the microbe’s ability to process them.
With that in mind I opted for herbs such as Goldenseal, Barberry and Coptis. Other herbs in the mix included Wormwood, Black Walnut and Garlic. The Naturopathic tradition has a number of overarching principles. One of these is to support the different body systems during a herbal treatment or intervention.
Thinking along these lines immunomodulating herbs such as Cat’s Claw and antioxidants such as Olive Leaf are helpful.
The herbal mix, called GI SYNERGY came in very convenient capsules and was formulated to address fungal, bacterial and parasitic infections.
Even with all this in mind my second herbal attempt failed to eradicate the two bugs.
Onto herbal treatment for Blastocystis number three!
Continued Herbal Treatment for Blastocystis infection
At this point I was getting quite frustrated.
I even spent some time considering another round of antibiotics (different ones this time). I had seen a number of people pursue the antibiotic route with no success. Some even ending up taking the triple therapy that the Centre for Digestive Diseases recommends in Sydney, Australia, still with no luck in eradicating Blastocystis.
With this in mind I stuck to the herbal antimicrobial approach. For the third time I repeated herbal attempt number two, using GI Synergy, but I extended the treatment.
I also changed a number of things including
- Upping my garlic consumption – sometimes eating cloves of crushed garlic and at other times sticking to the garlic capsules (my favourite one here).
- Lactulose – this prebiotic helps to acidify the gut. It boosts beneficial bacteria in the colon, increases short chain fatty acid production and reduces the ability for Blastocystis and Dientamoeba to produce their protease enzymes which protects them from our secretory IgA antibodies. For more information check out an article dedicated to this incredible prebiotic here.
- Probiotics – I focused on taking probiotics daily including, S. boulardii, Lactobacillus rhamnosus and Bifidobacterium lactis Bi-07
- Biofilms – While I haven’t seen any quality research on Blastocystis forming biofilms this does not mean that they don’t. For the third attempt I threw everything I had into the mix. This included nattokinase, green tea polyphenols (high in catechins) and serrapeptase in rotation.
After the herbal treatment I was very keen to retest. Waiting the 4-5 weeks before retesting was difficult but as recommended by a number of different clinicians it is better to wait to let the dust settle.
Retesting after Blastocystis treatments
At this point I am well aware of the importance of retesting after treatment. I learned this very big lesson the hard way by thinking I had killed the infections and not retesting the first time. After a few months my gut symptoms came back with a vengeance. It still took another month or two to realise and get tested again!
After one round of standard antibiotics, multiple rounds of herbal treatment for Blastocystis, half a dozen tests and retests my last PCR stool test came back clean and clear for Blastocytsis and Dientamoeba fragilis.
Still Symptomatic after clearing Blastocystis
Here’s the problem. And I hope you’re still here reading this bit, it’s important.
Even after successfully eradicating Blastocystis and Dientamoeba my symptoms still started creeping back after 2-3 months.
Again, coming back to the high SIBO relapse issue, I think that small intestinal bacterial overgrowth was always the issue.
A proper SIBO evaluation revealed methane dominant SIBO. This form of SIBO has differing symptoms and treatment approached which you can read up on in the Methane Dominant SIBO Treatment Plan article.
The interpretation from the SIBO test doctor says that no SIBO is present. Many clinicians, including myself, would consider this positive due to the 10ppm rise in hydrogen (seen in the glucose test at the 30 minute mark).
There is also evidence here of colonic methane production. This is not always an issue, but in symptomatic people may need to be treated.
So, completing the proper evaluation, which I wish I had done before the endless Blastocystis treatments, I ordered a microbiome assessment of the large intestine.
The results showed considerable dysbiosis (even after all of the herbal antimicrobials, prebiotics and probitoics!) with elevated Methanobrevibacter smithii, Bilophila wadsworthia and Desulfovibrio species.
Why is this relevant.
Well the elevated Methanobrevibacter smithii in the large bowel is the same bug responsible for most methane SIBO cases. It produces methane and slows transit time, a major cause of many SIBO cases.
Both Bilophila and Desulfovibrio produce hydrogen sulfide which is slowly being recognised as a contributor in SIBO cases. Excess hydrogen sulfide production, from these bacteria, has been shown to damage the gut lining and may be implicated in inflammatory bowel disease progression. That’s pretty big news. For a deeper dive on that subject I would recommend reading – Hydrogen Sulfide Bacteria – Implications for Leaky Gut and IBD
In the image above, taken from my Ubiome report post successful Blastocystis treatment, showing overgrowths of hydrogen sulfide producing bacteria.
Unfortunately Ubiome has gone out of business.
Thryve is stepping up to fill in the gap left by Ubiome. Their gut test offers much of the same information and uses the same technology (a major plus!). For the time being they are my recommended microbiome assessment testing provider, although I wouldn’t recommend their probiotic formulations just their gut testing.
To Those Struggling With Gut Issues
If you have read this far then I’ll bet you are struggling with gut issues. Maybe you already know that you have a parasite infection and have tried antibiotics or a herbal treatment for Blastocystis.
Many people have emailed me asking for help with their health issues. Currently I am still a student of herbal medicine (counting the days until graduation) and as such am unlicensed and can’t give any direct advice. It absolutely breaks my heart because I know how it feels.
I’ve been there. I also find it incredibly hard to recommend a specific clinician to help. Most of the ones I would recommend are booked out and are not accepting new clients. Others are still take the nuke the gut approach which can be just as destructive as broad spectrum antibiotics.
What I can do in the situation I find myself in is keep researching the complexity of gut health and keep publishing articles. In this way I can share what I’m learning and hopefully help anyone out there that needs it. I now know that a herbal treatment for Blastocystis is possible and that gives me hope for anyone out there struggling with this difficult to treat bug.
Work With Me
Treating gut infections can be complicated. As I outlined above it took me years of trying before finally clearing Blastocystis and Dientameoba. In the process I may have done more harm than good.
I know I am not the only one who has struggled for years with digestive problems. Many of you fine folks have been in touch with stories of repeat rounds of antibiotics and herbal medicine and still have all the symptoms of poor gut health.
Currently I am offering free 15 minute consultations from mid December on. These mini-consults are designed to see if we are a good fit and if I think I can help you and your digestive health issues. If you would like to be added to the wait list for your own mini-consult then please get in touch here.