It all began with a gurgle.
My family and I had just returned from a wilderness survival course about ninety miles outside of Spokane, during which we had learned minimalist fire-making skills, shelter-building, self-made adhesives from coal, sap, and clay, primitive weapon skills, small animal trapping, wilderness first aid, and much more.
And of course, we learned to filter water from the creek nearby our camp, primarily using old plastic water bottles stuffed with sand, ground-up charcoal from the campfire and leaves, just like this.
Heck, I was so impressed with my handy little self-made water filter that I probably consumed over sixty ounces of water from that alone…
…and I highly suspect that at some point that little filter didn't quite do the trick against the microscopic parasite Giardia.
Anyways, back to that gurgle.
I was sitting at the kitchen table, finishing up a bit of sweet potato and bratwurst dinner I'd made fresh after returning from camp when the tiny gurgle in my gut happened. I'd felt a bit tired and rundown all day, but had attributed that to three days of wilderness survival. However, after the gurgle, I got a bit lightheaded.
So I pushed myself away from the table and went upstairs to lay in my bed for a bit and read.
There was that gurgle again. It felt like a pocket of gas.
Naturally, I tried to fart.
And I realized halfway through that fart that there was plenty more than just gas coming out.
I stumbled to the bathroom and experienced the most disturbing bout of foamy, gassy diarrhea I've ever had. Things went downhill fast from there.
Based on follow-up stool testing results I got a few days later, I had become infected with the dreaded parasite Giardia. In this article, I'll tell you exactly what I did to get rid of my Giardia (without the use of antibiotics) and to support my gut health after the ravaging intestinal inflammation that Giardia produces.
What Is Giardia?
Giardiasis is a diarrheal disease caused by the microscopic parasite Giardia. It is transmitted when a human or any other animal ingests cysts shed by other infected humans or animals.
These cysts are usually acquired from fecal-contaminated water, food, or even inanimate objects like a door handle or, say, a dollar bill someone was handling right after they took a sans-hand-washing giant poo.
A parasite is an organism that feeds off of another to survive, and Giardia definitely fits that category. Once a human or animal (for example, cats, dogs, cattle, deer, and, of course, beavers – which give Giardia it's famous “Beaver-Fever” moniker) has been infected with Giardia, the parasite lives in the intestines and is passed in feces. Once outside the body, Giardia can sometimes survive for weeks or months, and it can be found within every region of the U.S. and around the world.
Giardia infection can cause a variety of very painful and disturbing intestinal symptoms, which include:
- Foamy, fatty, and stinky diarrhea that comes frequently and violently (AKA “peeing out your butthole”)
- Horrible smelling gas or flatulence that clears a room instantly
- In the case of any well-formed poops, greasy stool that can float
- Intense stomach or abdominal cramps that got so bad for me it felt like someone was digging a knife into my stomach
- Upset stomach or nausea
- Chronic fatigue and a feeling of weakness in the muscles
- Dehydration and weight loss
Giardia was first described in 1681 after Dutch microscopist Antonie van Leeuwenhoek observed the protozoan in one of his own nasty diarrhea stools…
“…wherein I have sometimes also seen animalcules a-moving very prettily…albeit they made a quick motion with their paws, yet for all that they made but slow progress.”
Van Leeuwenhoek is actually describing what is now called in scientific literature a “Giardia trophozoite”.
Here's what this gut-ravaging supervillain actually looks like… just as you'd imagine…
…like something out of a science fiction horror movie:
Once the little Giardia cysts emerge, the Giardia trophozoites use their flagella tails to swim to the microvillus-covered surface of the duodenum and jejunum sections of the small intestine, where they attach to your gut cells (enterocytes) using a suction-like disk located on their front surface. Damaging lectins on the surface of Giardia bind to sugars on the surface of enterocytes, which damages microvilli, and significantly halts nutrient absorption. Rapid multiplication of these trophozoites (literally becoming billions and billions of count strong over the course of hours and days) eventually creates an actual physical barrier between the enterocytes and the intestinal lumen, further interfering with nutrient absorption.
This entire process leads to gut cell damage, villus death, intestinal hyperpermeability (leaky gut), and brush border damage that causes a reduction in digestive enzyme secretion, direct damage to the intestinal mucosa.
Oddly enough, some people get a Giardia infection and have no symptoms at all, or don't have symptoms for weeks, months or even years. But in most people, symptoms of giardiasis may last 2 to 6 weeks. Occasionally, symptoms last longer. As a matter of fact, chronic, long-term irritable bowel syndrome, bowel dysfunction, intestinal damage and gastric upset can last for years, even decades, after the infection occurs.
Scary stuff, eh?
Why Not Just Take Antibiotics For Giardia?
So why didn't I immediately jump into a regimen of common antibiotics used to treat Giardia, such as metronidazole, tinidazole, or nitazoxanide?
Frankly, this is not only a fast-track to create antibiotic resistance bacteria (which doesn't do the rest of the world a great service), but these things aren't as effective as you'd think.
For example, metronidazole has been associated with recurrence rates as high as 90 percent, and the prevalence of clinical metronidazole resistance may be as high as 20 percent.
In addition, common side effects of the most popular antibiotics used to treat Giardia are almost as bad as Giardia itself, and include:
- Nausea, vomiting, loss of appetite, and stomach pain
- Diarrhea and constipation
- Unpleasant metallic taste
- Rash, itching
- Vaginal itching or discharge
- Mouth sores
- Swollen, red, or “hairy” tongue
- Generalized chronic fatigue and drowsiness
- Significant muscle weakness and full-body tiredness
Instead, after speaking to several of my very well-informed physician friends in the realms of naturopathic medicine, allopathic medicine, gastroenterology, and Ayurvedic medicine—along with reviewing an extensive body of literature on Giardia (including the very helpful, well-researched article Giardiasis: Pathophysiology and Management by Dr. Jason Hawrelak)—I opted to pull out as many stops as possible to naturally rid my body of Giardia and support my gut health after the post-Giardia damage without the use of antibiotics or medications.
Using the strategy you're about to discover, within three days of the first onset of symptoms I was back on my feet and at about 75% function, and within five days, was pain-free in the gut with normalized bowels. By seven days after the first onset of symptoms, I was performing hardcore workouts and felt absolutely amazing.
Now I know you're wondering, so here's exactly what I did…
The Natural Giardia Treatment I Used
The following are the exact herbs and dietary components that have the best research behind them for killing Giardia via a variety of mechanisms.
1. Garlic – Chop into small pieces and consume regularly throughout the day to maximize allicin intake. This is better than buying pills, although if you do go with pills, Allimax is the best brand. Allicin has very good anti-giardial activity, specifically against giardia. Garlic may also stimulate mucosal production of nitric oxide synthase (the enzyme that produces NO), thereby increasing the release of NO by enterocytes, which may also have direct giardiacidal effects.
2. Insoluble fiber – Insoluble fiber intake has been demonstrated to markedly increase the relative number of goblet cells along the GI tract and significantly enhance luminal mucin levels in the small bowel. This may partly explain how fiber can prevent and treat Giardia infections. In my case, I chose sweet potatoes, carrots, hazelnuts, flaxseed powder, pumpkin seeds and papaya seeds (both of which have anti-parasitic activity). Because the gut is very sensitive during giardia, I did not eat the nuts or seeds whole but instead blended them with the flaxseed powder to make a nut butter that I ate with organic canned sweet potato and mashed carrots. Whenever I ate during the day, I'd typically just have a few tablespoons of this, along with the collagen yogurt and bone broth (see below).
3. Probiotics – Probiotics may interfere with Giardia infection through a number of mechanisms, including competition for adhesion site in the gut, competition for nutrients that would otherwise be utilized by pathogens (such as glucose) and stimulation of the immune response. I chose the SEED probiotic due to its encapsulation technology that resists breakdown in the acidic environment of the stomach, and also the prebiotic fiber, which can help in the same way as the insoluble fiber. You can listen to my podcast with the chief researcher for SEED here, and you can also click here to get SEED, and use discount code: BEN15 for a 15% discount. I timed this separately from any anti-bacterials, and also separately from any charcoal or clay (you'll read about both below), so for me, this usually meant taking probiotic capsules immediately upon waking on an empty stomach.
4. Oregano – There is very good antigiardial activity of many herbs, particularly those rich in flavonoids and tannins. I used Kion brand Oregano, which has very high carvacrol content (80.12% to 80.46%). Carvacrol is the primary active component of oregano, but is notoriously low in most store-bought brands.
5. Berberine & Oregon Grape Root: Berberine salts and extracts have demonstrated in vitro inhibitory activity against Giardia trophozoites and berberine sulfate in particular has been shown to induce morphological damage to Giardia trophozoites, including the appearance of irregularly shaped vacuoles, swollen trophozoites, and the development of glycogen deposits. For the first two days, I harvested Oregon Grape Root (along with small amounts of the anti-parasitic leaf Wormwood, that I put into tea), because Oregon Grape Root acts in a nearly identical manner to berberine, but this harvesting and chopping process eventually became exhausting while trying to manage the Giardia, so after two days I switched to 4g/day of Thorne Berberine capsules. I took this in mid-morning, and early evening.
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There’s a saying, which I’m probably somewhat bastardizing, that “all the natural plant medicine you need can be found in a 100 acre radius around you”. Well, long story short is that it appears over the weekend survival course I have come down with Giardia. I’ve been unable to get off the toilet all day! But here’s a perfect example of nature medicine: the Oregon grape root on my property is currently growing like weeds. While the small bitter berries, which you see here, are very low glycemic index and quite rich in flavonols and polyphenols (like blueberries on steroids), what’s more interesting to me is that the root is chock full of a dark-yellow berberine-like compound that is a fantastic natural anti-parasitic, anti-fungal and anti-bacterial. So, armed with a roll of toilet paper in my pocket “just in case” the Giardia struck, I went out harvesting for the root, which you can see in the series of photos that accompany this post. I’ll take this back, shave it, and simmer it with bone broth, ginger and sea salt for tea, then pair that with hefty doses of Kion Oregano, rest and sunshine. To me, this is better than checking into Urgent Health and getting on antibiotics! #plants #plantmedicine #foraging #polyphenols #berries #survivalskills #harvesting #KionIRL
How I Managed The Nausea & Diarrhea From Giardia
At times, the stomach upset and nausea from Giardia makes it feel like someone is digging a shiv into your stomach, and the diarrhea is, well, as mentioned earlier, some of the most upsetting, nasty, foul-smelling, foamy, liquid stuff that's ever going to come out an orifice in your body.
1. Nausea. For the nausea, I kept things pretty simple: I chewed on ginger root and liberally used peppermint essential oil on my upper lip and also rubbed into my abdomen. Sure, there are plenty of other helpful tips for nausea, colds and flus that I talk about in posts like this and this, but I had enough trouble as it was trying to do all the rest of this while still keeping myself twenty feet from the nearest bathroom, so I kept this part of things pretty simple.
2. Diarrhea. For the diarrhea, and to assist with sopping up the toxins generated by Giardia, both bentonite clay and activated charcoal can be effective. What I did was two twelve ounce glasses a day of water mixed with a heaping tablespoon of bentonite clay and also a heaping tablespoon of activated charcoal powder. I timed this separately from my other supplements because these can interfere with absorption of other supplements. I found the most effective times to take them were mid-afternoon and late evening. As you can probably imagine, this doesn't taste very good, so I added a dropperful of liquid butterscotch toffee stevia to the mix.
How I Supported My Gut Health After The Giardia Damage
Of course, as you've already read, not only does the gut become damaged during the Giardia infection, but if you don't make attempts to repair the damage afterward, you can suffer the ravages of the infection, including irritable bowel syndrome, for years and years after getting Giardia.
Here's what I did about that:
1. 3 shots of “Restore” liquid each day. This supplement, which I talk about in this podcast with Dr. Zach Bush, contains lignite, which has protective effects on the intestinal barrier). You can get it here and use code: BEN15 for a 15% discount.
2. One serving of colostrum per day. This also helps to seal the lining of a leaky gut, particularly in athletes. My order of colostrum didn't arrive until after the Giardia symptoms were gone, but I began it right away. Based on my discussion with the Renegade Pharmacist here, it appears that it's best to dissolve the colostrum in your mouth to maximize the absorption of its growth factors. This is the brand I used because it's chemical-free with no artificial compounds.
3. No dairy. Giardia impairs the body's ability to digest lactose, the form of sugar found in milk, cheese, and other dairy products. So I avoided dairy like the plague.
4. Collagen yogurt. I stirred together two cans of organic coconut milk, crushed and mixed in 10 of these “L. Reuteri” tablets (a trick I learned from Dr. William Davis, and first reported on it here), a teaspoon of sugar, and 10 scoops Ancient Nutrition collagen (you can use code: BEN for 15% off any order). I then let this sit in a food dehydrator at 110 degrees F for 24 hours. This brown goo was very tasty and very nourishing to my gut. L. Reuteri is a powerful bacteria. It reduces multi-organ inflammation while rapidly replenishing the gut microbiota.
5. Upgraded Bone Broth. Each day, I had at least two cartons of Kettle & Fire Bone Broth, but upgraded it with Dr. Thomas Cowan's burdock root extract (use code BEN to get 15% off on your order) and powdered turmeric (both of which have anti-parasitic activity), along with black pepper to increase absorption of berberine and also for the inhibition of parasitic activity that piperine has, and a hefty pinch of my favorite salt for rehydration.
I also used an oral form of BPC-157 in my protocol. More on that below.
Fringe Natural Giardia Treatments (Immune-Boosting Peptides I Used That Most People Don't Know About)
What I discovered about peptides for bacterial and parasitic infections actually surprised me quite a bit. If you don't know what peptides are, then you'll need to listen to my epic podcast with Dr. William Seeds this Saturday on these peptides and many others (click here to sign up to be notified as soon as it's released) and also to my podcast with Jean Francois Tremblay on all things peptides.
1. LL37. LL37 is one peptide that can be incredibly effective for gastric inflammation, parasites, SIBO, and a variety of other bacterial infections. I had my physician order me peptides from a high-quality source (in this case, Tailor Made Compounding) and injected 200mcg (20 IUs) of LL37 2x/day, subcutaneously in the abdominal region.
2. TA1. Thymosin Alpha 1 (TA1) is the second peptide I used, at 1.5 mg daily (50 IUs) also subcutaneously. This one hits the immune system hard and helps to repair the intestinal lining with the above supplements. It can increase the innate immune response and upregulate natural killer cells to bring in more direct defenses to battle the parasite and the inflammation at the same time, upregulating the immune system's ability to recognize foreign invaders and phagocytize compounds, and release cytokines, chemokines, and proteases to destroy parasites.
So LL37 and TA1 in combination will activate macrophages to destroy Giardia. These are the “big guns”, folks.
3. BPC-157. Finally, I used Body Protection Compound 157 (BPC-157), which is the most powerful gut supporting peptide out there, at 500 mcg injected as two daily 250 mcg doses, subcutaneously into the abdomen. Taken orally (you can get it oral form here and use code BEN for 15% off) or as an injectable, it is very efficacious for a wide variety of gut issues.
The Anti-Parasitic Biohacks I Used
There are a few other techniques, or so-called “biohacks” I used that I couldn't find too much research on, but that I think helped quite a bit.
1. Pulsed Electromagnetic Field Therapy (PEMF). Using my Pulsecenters PEMF unit, I placed the paddles for 20 min, twice per day, over my abdomen at a Power of 100 and frequency of 9.9. This is based on some evidence that extremely low-frequency PEMF may have some amount of anti-parasitic activity.
2. Daily Myer's Cocktail from FastVitaminIV. These IVs are a combination of magnesium chloride, calcium gluconate, thiamine, vitamin B6, vitamin B12, calcium pantothenate, vitamin B complex, vitamin C, and dilute hydrochloric acid. Every day, in an attempt to get the vitamins that my gut wasn't restoring, I self-administered a 30mL push IV of this cocktail. You can listen to “How To Get Your Own Vitamin and NAD IVs, The Truth About Umbilical Stem Cells, Peptide Injections & Much More With Dr. Craig Koniver” to learn more about this tactic.
3. Probiotic Enema. Five days after the infection began, when the diarrhea was completely gone, I did a probiotic enema retention to repopulate my ravaged colon. As gross or off-putting as it may sound, you can repopulate your good gut bacteria by sticking a tube up your butt and funneling probiotics into your colon – very much like a coffee enema, but performed with probiotics rather than a cup o’ joe. My friend Matt Gallant is a professional poker player and biohacker who has created a recipe for a probiotic enema, which he introduced to me in the podcast “Probiotic Enemas, Digestive Enzyme Myths, Breathing 10 Kilograms of Oxygen, Low-Protein Diets & More!”. It maximizes absorption by minimizing the distance that the probiotics have to travel through the digestive tract, bypassing the acidity of the stomach and mainlining the bacteria directly into the colon.
For this enema recipe, you will need:
- One liter of coconut water
- Five capsules of Matt’s P3-OM Probiotics
- A large glass jar with a lid, such as a mason jar
Mix the coconut water and P3-OM capsules and blend well with a fork, whisk or latte frother. Pour the whole mixture into the glass jar and put the lid on it. Let the mixture ferment for three to six hours, depending on room temperature, as warmer temperatures help speed up the process. You can even leave it overnight. You should eventually see bubbles in the mixture. If you don’t, then let it sit out until you do. Once the whole probiotic bath is cultured and you can see bubbles, keep it refrigerated until you are ready to use it. To administer the enema, you will need an enema kit. I prefer this stainless steel one. Once the mixture is administered, hang upside down from an inversion table or yoga trapeze or lay on your back with your legs up against the wall for about 20 minutes to let the mixture soak in.
So that's it!
Rather than having debilitating Giardia for weeks, suffering from a ravaged gut for months or years, or having to put up with all the side effects of anti-Giardia antibiotics, I instead took the aforementioned measures to beat it naturally and felt back to 100% just one week after that first tiny gurgle.
I wrote this article because anytime something happens to me and I figure out how to deal with it in a unique and natural manner, I love to share the information with others so they can benefit too. And I hope or a loved one has.
I know you probably have plenty of questions, or perhaps your own Giardia tips or Giardia experiences or Giardia natural treatments to add, so if you do, please leave your thoughts and feedback in the comments section below and I promise to reply.