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Andy Nguyen
By Andy Nguyen October 10, 2022

Parasite cleanses are ineffective and harmful

If Your Time is short

  • Parasite cleanses are ineffective and can harm people’s health, according to an expert in parasitic diseases. 
  • Diagnosing and treating a parasite requires visiting a medical professional and taking specific antiparasitic medication.

There is no known cure for herpes, but an Instagram post claims that's not the case and that a parasite cleanse can do the trick. 

"Parasite cleanses" are widely shared on social media, and posts touting the cleanses claim without proof that many health issues, both real and imaginary, stem from parasitic infections. 

One Sept. 28 Instagram post claims that parasite cleanses "kill herpes by starving the parasites in the stomach," and the caption points viewers to a website selling the cleanses and other homeopathic treatments.

The video was flagged as part of Facebook’s efforts to combat false news and misinformation on its News Feed. (Read more about our partnership with Meta, which owns Facebook and Instagram.)

The video’s claims are rooted in pseudoscience. A parasitic diseases expert told PolitiFact the cleanses are ineffective and can harm a person’s health. 

What are parasites?

Parasites are organisms of varying sizes that can infect people and cause disease, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The three classes of parasites can infect humans through fecal-oral transmission, typically from food or water contaminated with fecal matter; from exposure to a parasite’s eggs or larvae as a result of poor personal hygiene or consuming contaminated food or water; and by burrowing into humans’ skin, such as with fleas, lice and ticks.

Despite the video’s claims, herpes is not a result of parasitic infection. It is caused by two viruses, herpes simplex virus type 1 and type 2, and spread by skin-to-skin contact with an infected area. 

Also contrary to the video’s claims, eczema and dandruff are not forms of herpes that are related to parasites; they are noncontagious skin conditions. It’s unknown what causes eczema, though environment and genetics may be contributing factors. Similarly, it’s unknown what causes dandruff. It’s believed that dry skin, oily skin, skin sensitivity or a yeastlike fungus may be factors

Can a parasite cleanse help?

Shira Shafir, an associate professor of epidemiology and community health sciences at the University of California, Los Angeles, said the cleanses do not include any ingredient capable of killing a parasite.

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They are considered herbal remedies and not pharmaceuticals, so the Food and Drug Administration doesn’t closely regulate the cleanses. The Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act of 1994 puts the burden of testing a supplement, its safety and the effectiveness of its remedy on the producer

"There’s nobody overseeing the ingredients that are in there and whether they are what they claim to be and whether they’re safe for human consumption," Shafir said.

She said the cleanses often cause an increase in bowel movements, which gives the illusion of expelling something harmful from the body. In reality, the parasite cleanses can harm a person’s gut and electrolyte balance. 

People using parasite cleanses are likely self-diagnosing and not infected with a parasite, Shafir said. 

Shafir said though the cleanses claim to treat parasitic worms, it is "exceptionally rare" to contract the worms in the U.S. and other developed nations.  In the U.S. and other developed nations, it’s much more common to get microscopic parasites through fecal-oral transmission.  

Diagnosing and treating a parasitic infection requires visiting a medical professional and taking an antiparasitic drug. The medications are highly effective and are prescribed in specific doses based on a person's weight and type of infection. 

Our ruling

A video shared on Instagram claimed parasite cleanses kill herpes by starving the parasites in the stomach. 

Parasitic cleanses don’t contain any ingredient that could kill a parasite, and the cleanses can harm a person’s health. 

We rate this claim Pants on Fire.

Our Sources

Instagram post (archive), Sept. 28, 2022

Facebook post (archive), Aug. 7, 2022

Black Vegan Shop, accessed Oct. 5, 2022

NBC News, "On Facebook, fears of parasites push people to post pictures of feces and pursue dangerous remedies," Nov. 19, 2019

Phone interview with Shira Shafir, Sept. 30, 2022

Food and Drug Administration, Dietary Supplements, June 2, 2022

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, About Parasites, March 21, 2022

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Parasites - Giardia, May 19, 2022

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Parasites - Soil-Transmitted Helminths, Feb. 2, 2022

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Parasites - Taeniasis, Sept. 29, 2020

Planned Parenthood, Oral & Genital Herpes, accessed Oct. 7, 2022

National Library of Medicine, Eczema, accessed Oct. 7, 2022

Mayo Clinic, Dandruff, accessed Oct. 7, 2022

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