Giardia is an intestinal parasite that can cause upset stomach, loss of appetite, stomach cramps, loose or watery stools (diarrhea), vomiting, bloating, excessive gas, and unpleasant sulfurous burping.
Giardiasis (AKA “Beaver Fever”) is a very widespread illness that can cause long-lasting problems for some people while for other people it seems to be nothing more than a minor and transient annoyance.
While the initial infection is usually fairly easy to eradicate with simple antibiotics, the organism can cause damage to the cells that line the intestine. This can result in altered absorption of nutrients and medications, and also can cause derangements of other important functions of the gut. Nutrient and vitamin deficiencies and other widespread problems can result. Development of lactose intolerance is common and may become permanant.
It is also thought that Giardia infection in some people may precipitate IBS (Irritable Bowel Syndrome) which can further impair digestion and assimilation of nutrients.
If you feel that you may be infected, the place to start is to find out for sure.
You will want to ask your doctor for testing: Immunologic enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay (ELISA) testing is available and provides a 90% or better detection rate.
If you are infected then a course of treatment with a simple and relatively safe antibiotic called metronidazole is usually quite effective.
Whether you are infected or not, and especially after treatment, supportive care for your bowel will be important.
Prevention of giardia infection is straightforward: handwashing before any handling of food is the first line of defense. For those travelling in the wilderness or where water purity and quality are suspect, boiling water for a full minute minimum is the gold standard of didinfection – and chemical purification (usually with iodine) and filtration can also be effective.
Research has shown that the herb Berberine can be effective in the treatment of giariasis and other protozoan infections:
“Based on these findings, it appears that the berberine compounds may be useful as chemotherapeutic agents against the 3 parasites tested. (Giardia lamblia, Trichomonas vaginalis and Entamoeba histolytica)”
Referenced from: Kaneda Y1, Tanaka T, Saw T. Effects of berberine, a plant alkaloid, on the growth of anaerobic protozoa in axenic culture. Tokai J Exp Clin Med. 1990 Nov;15(6):417-23.
For more detailed questions, Dr. Myatt is available for Brief Consultation and can help you to understand your illness and your treatment options.