Chagas disease (American trypanosomiasis) obtained its name from the Brazilian physician Carlos Chagas, who discovered it in 1909 (1). The disease is caused by the parasite Trypanosoma cruzi, and infection typically occurs when humans are bitten by infected insects known as ‘kissing bugs’. Scientists estimate that it affects as many as 8 million people in Central South America and the disease is on the rise in the United States. The symptoms of Chagas disease can be very mild flu-like symptoms to severe gastrointestinal and heart problems. However, our home remedies for Chagas disease can fight the symptoms and keep the parasite at bay.
Chagas Disease Transmission
The parasite is usually transmitted to humans from an infected insect after it feasts on human blood. The bugs responsible are called Triatomine bugs, otherwise known as ‘kissing bugs’. They are attracted to carbon dioxide as we breathe so they gravitate to the face, biting our lips and cheeks as we sleep.
Upon consuming blood, they usually leave behind infected feces, which can enter the human body through the bite wound, mouth or eyes (3).
Humans can also become infected by the Trypanosoma cruzi parasite via a blood transfusion, an organ transplant, congenital transmission (from a pregnant mother to her baby), exposure to the parasite within a laboratory or clinical setting, and by consuming any uncooked food that has been contaminated with feces from infected insects.
Lactating mothers can also transmit Chagas disease through her breast milk if her nipples are cracked, or if it contains some of her blood (4). The disease is not airborne, and cannot be transmitted through casual contact with infected animals or people.
The disease is not airborne, and cannot be transmitted through casual contact with infected animals or people.
Symptoms of Chagas Disease
The range and severity of Chagas disease symptoms vary according to the age of the individual when he or she was infected, alongside the varying virulence of the different strains of the T. cruzi parasite (5).
There are two broad phases of Chagas disease, which can both be either symptom-free or life-threatening.
The acute phase occurs throughout the first few weeks or months after the infection, and is typically unnoticed since it can be symptom-less.
When symptoms are present, they are typically mild and non-unique:
- loss of appetite.
Acute Chagas disease is often diagnosed via the emergence of the Romaña’s sign: a noticeable swelling of the eyelids due to the bite wound or infected feces, or due to an allergic reaction to multiple bites (6).
The disease can also be identified via a physical examination, e.g. through tell-tale signs such as a slight enlargement of the spleen or liver, swollen glands, and the presence of a localized swelling that marks the parasite’s entry into the body.
These symptoms usually resolve on their own accord within a few weeks or months, but the infection can persist for much longer if no treatment is administered.
In some rare instances, individuals with compromised immune systems (e.g. young children and adults with HIV etc) can experience dangerous and potentially fatal symptoms such as severe inflammation/infection of the heart muscle (myocarditis) or brain (meningoencephalitis) (7).
The chronic phase of Chagas disease
With the chronic phase, on the other hand, the infection can be silent for decades or an entire lifetime. Many patients may not know they even carry the disease.
On average, however, 30% of infected individuals risk developing a number of severe complications. These complications can be divided into (8):
- heart complications (e.g. an enlarged heart, cardiac arrest, an altered heart rate)
- intestinal complications (e.g. an enlarged esophagus or colon) which creates difficulties with eating and defecating.
Turmeric has many health benefits and is a fantastic home remedy for Chagas disease.
It contains a compound called curcumin which is responsible for giving turmeric its distinctive yellow coloring.
It is antioxidant, anticarcinogenic, anti-inflammatory, anti-infectious immunomodulatory and antiangiogenic properties make it a potent home remedy for Chagas disease.
A 2012 study published in Parasitology Research established that curcumin inhibited parasite invasion and reduced parasitemia in mice infected with T. cruzi (10). It also decreased the parasitism of infected heart tissue, thus promising to alleviate the infection and infiltration of the heart and liver.
Furthermore, the infected mice which were treated with curcumin demonstrated a 100% survival rate (as opposed to their untreated test study counterparts, which had a 60% survival rate).
While more studies are needed to firmly demonstrate curcumin’s efficacy in treating humans infected with the T. cruzi parasite, its potential to ameliorate the symptoms of Chagas disease are promising.
To benefit from its anti-parasitic properties, you can add turmeric to your daily diet by incorporating it in your cooking, or by consuming curcumin supplements.
- Purple coneflower extract
Purple coneflower extract (Echinacea purpurea) has been used as a form of traditional medicine to treat various types of infections and wounds by the indigenous communities of North America.
Scientific studies have established that purple coneflower extract has several antiviral, antimicrobial and immune-modulatory activities which can suppress the proinflammatory responses of cells to viruses and bacteria.
A 2012 study published in the Journal of Biomedical Biotechnology discovered that purple coneflower extract demonstrated anti-Trypanosoma parasite activity within in-vitro cells (besides noting that more research is needed to understand its mode of action on specific parasites) (11).
To use purple coneflower as a home remedy for Chagas disease, simply consume purple coneflower in the form of teas, liquid extracts, dried herbs, or as capsules and pills.
- California mugwort
California mugwort (Artemisia douglasiana) is also known as Douglas’s sagewort or dream plant.
A 2008 study published in the Journal of Analytical Methods in Chemistry found that natural compounds found in the plant (called “sesquiterpene lactones” exhibit “antitumor, anti-inflammatory, analgesic, antiulcer, antibacterial, antifungal, antiviral, antiparasitic, and insect deterrent” properties (12).
These compounds from California Mugwort was found to induce cell death in the infective trypomastigote form of Trypanosoma cruzi, besides exhibiting anti-inflammatory and gastrointestinal benefits.
While further research is needed on the efficacy of California mugwort consumption in alleviating the symptoms of Chagas disease (as well as its potential for drug development), you can purchase it from a herbalist to benefit from its medicinal properties.
- Suriname cherry
The Suriname cherry is also known as the Brazilian cherry, Cayenne cherry, or Cerisier Carré, and is widely used by traditional communities in South America and the West Indies as medicine due to its antimicrobial and biological activities.
Studies have shown that it is an effective home remedy for Chagas disease. A 2012 study published in the Journal of Experimental Parasitology found that its extract demonstrated potent anti-Trypanosoma activity (13).
The edible fruit of Eugenia uniflora is a botanical berry, which can be consumed for its anti-parasitic properties. It is also a good source of vitamin C and vitamin A.
- Black walnuts
Black walnuts (Juglans Nigra) have long been used as an antiparasite home remedy and are particularly effective against digestive parasites such as toxoplasmosis.
Black walnuts contain compounds called “naphthoquinones”, which demonstrate antiprotozoal activities against T. cruzi and other pathogens responsible for common tropical diseases.
A 2015 study published in Molecules discovered that extract from black walnuts was able to inhibit the activity of T. cruzi, presenting evidence for its use as a home remedy against Chagas disease (14).
Black walnuts can be consumed whole, or as supplements (2-3 times throughout the day).
While homeopathic remedies and herbs can help prevent the T. cruzi parasite from proliferating in your body and alleviate some of the symptoms, they should not be used as a substitute for professional medical treatment.
Do consult your doctor to ensure that any home remedies for Chagas disease you consume are compatible with your prescribed medication, any existing health complications, and treatment plan.
- Reduce the amount of exposed skin, wear protecting clothing and apply insect repellent
- Be sure to sleep in well-constructed accommodation when traveling
- Invest in bed nets and protective tents when traveling in Latin America (9)
- Ensure that all the food you consume are safeguarded from foodborne transmission
- Cook your own food thoroughly to be certain that it is pathogen-free
- If you live in a high-risk area, be sure to fix or seal any cracks or openings in your walls, windows, roofs, and doors
- If you have pets, keep them indoors at night since they can also be bitten and infected
- Visit your doctor immediately if you suspect you have been bitten by a kissing bug
- Do not drink water from lakes or streams, or any untreated water that may be contaminated with insect feces or other waterborne diseases such as amebiasis or leptospirosis.
- Avoid consuming any raw fruits, raw meat or raw vegetables when traveling in Latin America
- Seek medical attention if infected especially if you are pregnant, breastfeeding, or have an immune problem or have heart disease.