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Obesity and Weight Management

Can parasites trigger starvation mode?

05/17/2007

Question:

I`ve had trouble for years with Candida (Overbloom?) and other gastric type parasites. Very slowly I`ve gained far too much weight while not eating a lot. My common response is, I only look like I eat a lot. What is the relation between RMR and intestinal Parasites?

Answer:

Parasites are one of the leading causes of malnutrition in the world. In the US, parasitic infestations that result in weight problems are rare. Our most common gastrointestinal parasite is Giardia, a small intestinal infection that can be uncomfortable and for some cause weight loss, but generally is cleared with or without treatment within a few weeks. Having a parasite is most commonly associated with weight loss, not gain, because the parasite shares the host's food or causes sufficient discomfort that it blunts the appetite. There is no direct stimulation or slowing of the resting metabolic rate from a parasite within the GI tract.

However, parasites are different from other forms of infection in the gastrointestinal tract. Bacterial infection with Helicaobacter pylori can cause ulceration in the stomach, for example. The infection that you mentioned, Candida, is a yeast that can also cause some local irritation in the GI tract. But in neither of these cases does the infection increase weight gain. Occasionally, GI upset can be calmed by the presence of food. So some individuals eat to lessen the discomfort somewhat.

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Response by:

Robert D Murray, MD Robert D Murray, MD
Clinical Professor of Health Behaviors & Health Promotion
Retired Professor of Human Nutrition
College of Medicine
The Ohio State University