If you're truly worried about intestinal parasites, check in with a doctor instead.

By Korin Miller
May 06, 2021
Advertisement

Intestinal parasites are one of those things plenty of people are incredibly freaked out about, but—thankfully—never have to deal with. Still, if you hear about a hack that could help you know if you have a parasite, it's understandable that you might want to look into it.

Papaya-Seeds-to-Poop-Out-Parasites-GettyImages-1131530601-AdobeStock_157195733
Credit: Getty Images / AdobeStock

That's what a TikTok user named Ramena (@ramenasaidwow) did. According to Ramena, she heard on TikTok that eating papaya seeds can help get rid of parasites. "So I was like, hmm. I wonder if I have any bugs up my butt?" she said in a post that's gone viral, while scooping up papaya seeds with a spoon. "That's not bad," she said, after tasting a papaya seed. She then put a whole spoonful in her mouth and pronounced it "disgusting."

"That tasted like dry erase marker and it was absolutely disgusting," she said, before adding that she'll "let you guys know if I poop out any worms!"

In a follow-up post, Ramena said she ate "half a papaya worth of seeds, which I don't think I was supposed to do." She then said she "pooped three times in a couple of hours" and that she "pooped out one parasite so far."

In a later post, Ramena advised people to "definitely, definitely check with your doctor before trying anything." Why? She said she had "really bad heartburn" and was "so nauseous."

Ramena said in a final post that she "did pass another parasite." She said she knows it's a parasite because "it looks very, very different from your stool," noting that they "looked like a worm shape."

It's understandable to have questions after all of that. And, while it seems wild to eat papaya seeds to try to pass parasitic worms, this isn't totally out of left field. Here's what you need to know, plus why experts say you probably shouldn't try this at home.

Where does the idea that papaya is anti-parasitic come from?

While there's plenty of health stuff on TikTok that's completely made up, this one has some basis in science. Research has shown that papaya seeds may kill some forms of parasites—but it's far from robust.

A small, older study published in the Journal of Medicinal Food had 60 children in Nigeria with intestinal parasites either drink a beverage made from dried papaya seeds and honey or just eat honey. When their poop was examined seven days later, the researchers found that "significantly more" children who had the papaya elixir had their stool cleared of parasites veresus those who just had honey. "Air-dried papaya seeds are efficacious in treating human intestinal parasites and without significant side effects," the researchers wrote.

But that's where the research into papaya seeds and intestinal parasites ends.

So, should you be eating and swallowing papaya seeds by the spoonful?

Experts don't recommend it. "This has not been shown to be effective outside of a clinical trial setting," infectious disease expert Amesh A. Adalja, MD, senior scholar at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security, tells Health. There is data that suggest that "certain foods have compounds in them that might have the ability to kill certain parasites and cause them to be expelled from your body, but there's no definitive data to suggest you should alter your diet to make it anti-parasitic," he says.

There's also this to consider: It's really uncommon for someone in the US to develop intestinal parasites. "The average—or unaverage—American person doesn't have any parasites," William Schaffner, MD, an infectious disease specialist and professor at the Vanderbilt University School of Medicine, tells Health. "Doctors in the US are not taking care of patients who have intestinal parasites, unless those are people who recently came from the developing world."

Dr. Schaffner calls the idea of eating papaya seeds to kill a potential intestinal parasite, "a treatment in search of an illness which doesn't exist," adding, "I would not endorse this."

What can happen to your body if you eat papaya seeds?

So, you technically can eat papaya seeds—but it's unclear whether you'd actually want to, and not only because of their spicy, pepper-like flavor.

Ramena said she felt pretty sick after eating the papaya seeds, and that can happen, Gina Keatley, a CDN practicing in New York City, tells Health. In particular, swallowing a bunch of seeds could upset your stomach.

There's really no nutrition value to this either. "Swallowing the seeds whole will not allow your body to access any nutrients other than non-soluble fiber," Keatley says.

How can you know if you have intestinal parasites?

Again, this is really not something you need to stress about. But, just in case you're wondering, the Mayo Clinic says you might experience the following if you have an intestinal parasite, like tapeworms:

  • Nausea
  • Weakness
  • Loss of appetite
  • Abdominal pain
  • Diarrhea
  • Dizziness
  • Salt craving
  • Weight loss and inadequate absorption of nutrients from food

As for Ramena's claims that she actually saw parasites in her poop, Dr. Schaffner is doubtful. "You can't, as a lay person, look at your stool and say, 'That's a parasite,'" he says. "That's a notoriously incorrect assumption. Many parasites are too small to see." The exception, he says, is a type of intestinal worm called ascaris. "They're as large as your pinky and there's no mistaking them," Dr. Schaffner says.

What's a safer thing to do if you think you might have intestinal parasites?

See your doctor. They may want to run a few tests, including analyzing your poop, to see if there are any signs that you have an intestinal parasite. Just know that you probably don't. "Most infectious disease doctors have taken care of patients who thought they had intestinal parasites and didn't," Dr. Adalja says.

If you do, in fact, have some kind of intestinal parasite, Dr. Adalja says it will be treated with an anti-worm medication ivermectin or albendazole.

Overall, though, there's no reason to stress about your risk of developing an intestinal parasite. "This is not a major public health problem in the U.S.," Dr. Adalja says. So if you recently added papaya to your shopping cart for this purpose, feel free to put it back—or just eat the flesh of the fruit.

To get our top stories delivered to your inbox, sign up for the Healthy Living newsletter