Bacteria, viruses, fungi, parasites—there are many types of harmful organisms and nearly everyone is affected at some point in their life. Different types of harmful organisms affect the body differently. Here, we’ll look at harmful organisms that affect well-being by targeting and disrupting gut health.
This is a good time to mention that you probably shouldn’t eat while reading this article. Just trust me.
What Are Harmful Organisms?
Harmful organisms are organisms that live off another organism by living on or in them. Essentially, the harmful organism takes up residence in the host organism. In this relationship, harmful organisms steal nutrients and release waste to negatively affect the overall health of the host organism. Harmful organisms are present everywhere, from developing nations to those considered first-world, and have plagued humans since the beginning of time; references even appear in some of our oldest written records.[2, 3]
What Is “The Gut?”
The human digestive tract is a complex system comprised of many parts that, together, function as a single unit. Organs, enzymes, bacteria (commonly referred to as the gut microbiota), and other components collectively make up what we know as “the gut.” In many ways, it is a model ecosystem.
One truth I’ve observed again and again is that gut health is closely tied to overall health. When your gut is vibrant, so are you. When it’s not, neither are you. In fact, when gut function is disrupted, every part of the body is negatively affected. It’s a reality that makes gut-targeting harmful organisms especially devastating.
Which Harmful Organisms Affect the Gut?
The gut is home to many organisms. Most, like probiotics, are absolutely essential to your health, others are detrimental. The two most common organisms that prey on the gut are protozoa and helminth worms.
Protozoa are microscopic, one-celled organisms and there are about 70 species that can affect humans. Some protozoa can form protective “shells” called cysts that allow them to lay dormant for years before striking. Cysts even enable protozoa to survive externally, which means they can transfer and infect new hosts.
Helminth worms are a bigger threat in terms of both species (nearly 300 types can affect humans) and size (adult helminths range in size from under a millimeter to over a meter in length). That’s not a misprint—over a meter, in your body.
Until recently, it was believed that there are two major varieties of helminth worms—roundworms (nematodes) and flatworms (platyhelminths). Flatworms include tapeworms (cestodes) and flukes (trematodes).[7, 8] Researchers have also discovered an entirely new type of helminth called ropeworms. Ropeworms can grow to a meter long and have a lumpy, rope-like shape. They are often mistaken for feces or mucus and go undetected.