Parasites in Raw Seafood


I got the courage to start eating raw foods – not from the above video, that’s just really cool stuff that Asians do – but from reading Weston Price, Aajonus Vonderplanitz, and seeing all the sushi restaurants in my neighborhood. The two figures both advocate that raw food is easier to assimilate, that it contains more nutrients and enzymes, and that it can be particularly healing for those in need of a healing diet. Well, years ago I did need a healing diet so I tried it.  I started out a little trepidatious but Aajonus’ book assuaged my fear of pathogens as did the wisdom of tradition.

Fermentation Protects From Potential Pathogens

Traditionally, people have eaten raw animal foods along with fermented foods such as traditionally prepared soy sauce, vinegar, fermented dairy, fermented vegetables, or any of the thousands of raw  traditional fermented foods. The beneficial organisms they contain help kill off the pathogens, if they happen to be present. That coupled with an ancestral diet will generally keep us free of food borne illness.

We should not fear pathogens. We should simply be stronger than them.

I turned my head to fear, then, and followed a new path to health. I consumed raw dairy and a few different fermented raw juices which I made at home. But the most important thing I did to avoid illness from raw meats and seafood was to avoid modern foods, so as to keep my internal terrain undesirable to invaders.

Kids Can Eat Raw Meat Too

My daughter, who was one at the time, joined me on the raw food journey. I had started her on solids at about 7 months following a grain free Weston Price style diet but she was getting constipated, so I decided to try something new with her too.

Raw meats did wonders for her digestion and as a baby she never put up a fight; she loved raw food. Some of her favorites were raw scallops, raw pink shrimp, and raw liver (she also had a lot of raw dairy back when we lived in California). Now her favorite is raw ground beef. For her I always froze the raw foods first because baby’s immune systems are not as strong as adult’s.

At this point we’ve been eating raw meats and seafoods (and never ever washing our hands or counters after touching raw meats) for 4.5 years.

In all these years my daughter has never shown any sign of infestation.

Types of Pathogens in Seafood

Not that the pathogens matter a whole lot as long as you take proper nutritional precautions but I’m not going to lie to you, seafoods often carry parasites. Most of them aren’t too harmful, though. Our bodies usually get rid of them with diarrhea (if they manage to survive our stomach acid).

Clams and oysters can cause hepatitis if taken from polluted waters. Salt water fish can cause anisakis simplex which is a parasitic roundworm. Salmon can carry a tapeworm called diphyllobothrium. Fresh water fish such as carp, pike, and whitefish can all carry parasites. Mackerel and squid are highly susceptible to anisakis (this is why sushi restaurants serve mackerel soaked in vinegar which kills the parasite and they always freeze the squid which also kills the parasite). Cod is also often high in anisakis.

In scallops there are two types of vibrio. The vulnificus strain is quite rare and can infect you through an open wound. Although, those infected by this strain usually have weakened immune systems to begin with. The other strain of vibrio is also found in oysters which most of us eat without flinching. The virus is self-limiting so it usually is killed by fever and diarrhea within a few days.

Most seafood out there can harbor some kind of parasite which can potentially harm us!

The media gets a hold of a few fatal instances, which are incredibly rare in proportion to the number of people who don’t get ill eating seafood, and suddenly we should all be afraid even though the chances of this happening to us are worse than the chances of getting food poisoined at an American restaurant (no raw food there but it happens all the time).

Fear of Pathogens Since Going Primal

Terrain matters more than the million possible offenders on the planet. Are you still protecting yourself from germs or do you trust your body will take care of you? Do you still fear getting sick from bacteria and viruses and avoid people that are sick, or are you confident you’re not going to get that cold and flu that’s going around?

Maybe I’m wrong about all this and I hope I don’t kill any dearest readers or their children. It could happen, though. Any one of us could get sick from something we eat (but there is actually more instance of food poisoning from cooked food than from raw). For a person eating a Paleo diet, however, our chances are slim. Disease needs a nice feeding ground and we’re not it.

We have strong stomach acid levels that will kill just about anything on contact, and we have a strong and massive army of bacteria to protect us from invaders.

Of course every single piece of sea food is not contaminated and a parasite can’t infect you if you don’t eat it, but in 4.5 years between my daughter and I (and many friends and family who followed right behind me in this) one of us must have eaten a parasite – think of the odds – and we’re fine.

It’s not the pathogen; it’s the terrain.

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  1. I live in Japan and have friends who are commercial fishermen, so on weekends we sometimes go snorkelling. There’s nothing in the world like hand-picking sea urchin or abalone, washing them on the boat with sea water and eating them fresh.

  2. Nice video.

    Being of Latin descendentcy we would have carpaccio on occasions. I always felt like it was such a special treat! I’m sure that the beef for the carpaccio was not grass fed. We never ever got sick. Now I am a fan of sashimi. Not the same as in the video but raw nonetheless. :)

  3. I have always been healthy as the proverbial horse. Never had allergies. I have been Paleo for a few years now.

    A few weeks ago I ordered two wild salmon. Caught on a Thursday in Alaska and FedEx’d to me cold arriving on Friday.

    I have eaten wild salmon innumerable times and fileted them more times than I can count.

    Within an hour of finishing the job I was in convulsive pain, with a heart rate near 200bps with labored breathing, itchy skin everywhere, covered in hives with weak joints and overall weakness (crossfit guy who deadlifts 450). I was in anaphylactic shock. That was a long night. Lots of particularly violent vomiting and diarrhea.

    To shorten the story I found out the next day that I had an infestation of anisakis simplex. The salmon I had bought had not been flash frozen to -35 degrees. If it had been I would have been fine.

    Anisakis is out there in Pacific fish but it isn’t wildly prevalent but hardly uncommon but most fish guys flash frozen so it is a non issue.

    Anisakis is bad for everyone – my wife got very sick but not as sick as I did. A small section of the population that has immunoglobulin E sensitivity has an anaphylactic reaction to Anisakis.

    The moral of the story? Not sure. Make sure your wild Pacific fish has been flash frozen to -35 (then eat raw) or cooked.

    I will still eat raw seafood (and meat) but now that I have had that reaction I am told by a doctor that if I get exposed again to Anisakis my reaction will be faster and more severe which I can hardly imagine because now looking back on it I was starting to feel bad within a minute of working with the fish but didn’t connect the events.

    I dont wantto start walking around with an epi-pen.

    Anyway…I became quite the expert since on Anisakis Simplex.

    all questions answered!

    • Wow! That must have been a wildly unexpected experience. I feel your pain.

      About five years ago I had a severe allergic reaction to shrimp. I’m not allergic to shellfish at all but on this day apparently I was. My house was broken into and the guy tried to kill me. My ex-husband and I were beaten pretty badly and life was just in a total uproar. We didn’t know the guy. We lived in suburbia. We had a brand new baby.

      When I returned from the hospital (briefly, to gather a few things and flee) I ate some shrimp that was leftover in the fridge and immediate had the most brutal reaction I have ever had before or since. Nothing like that has ever happened. I had diarrhea, the reddest, most swollen hives on every inch of my body. I was sweating, couldn’t sleep, just felt like I was dying.

      My immune system was shot that day, obviously – I was in constant panic mode long after the event – and something about the shrimp just set it off.

      There are things out there that can hurt you and sometimes you cannot anticipate them or protect yourself from them. Sounds like it could have been anything, Matt. You can’t know what you’re about to have a severe allergic reaction to before you have one.

      Do you know, is anaphylactic reaction to Anisakis Simplex common?

      • If at some point in your life you have an allergic reaction then you say “Ok, I’ll find out what else I might be allergic to…”

        But being 38 and never having a problem I just assumed that I was pretty much free and clear. And who had ever even heard of Anisakis Simplex?

        The anaphylactic reaction to Anisakis is not common according to the research that I have now read extensively. Immunoglobulin E sensitivity is rare in people (less than 10% of population) and only those with IGE sensitivity have that reaction.

        From what I understood 10 people a year die from anaphylactic response to Anisakis larvae and the chemical reaction when they attach to the body.

        In the midst of the attack I didn’t think I was going to die, but I wasn’t sure I was going to live either. I was just in this middle state of just existing in that severe reaction, working to breathe and the next minute was just a mystery to me.

        Regardless, the oysters I eat are mostly from the ocean off Long Island that I get from a farmers market. I live in NYC. So I am not living in fear but Anisakis and I can’t hang out and play anymore.

  4. Now I want raw oysters.

  5. Interesting discussion – I’m not all the way to all raw, besides oysters and the occasional tartare, though I’ve always preferred blood-rare beef, young poultry, etc. Seviche is a favorite of mine – it’s “cooked”, but in lime juice not with heat, and it’s delicious, fresh tasting, and a wonderful texture. I’ve only every had food poisoning from French fries from a chain restaurant – go figure.

    • That’s actually not surprising at all!

      On the topic of food poisoning, I thought it would be prudent to point out that people tend to think they are poisoned with raw food because we are led to believe by our doctors and the media (who know very little on the subject) that raw food is the only thing that can poison us. So, you head to the doctor with your stomach ache and they ask you what raw food you ate. You think really hard and say, “Well I forgot to wash my hands after cooking chicken, maybe?” or “I had a couple of raw oysters as an appetizer to my burger, fries, and cheesecake.”

      In reality, cooked meat is a breading ground for bacteria far more so than raw meat. As soon as a food is cooked it becomes a veritable science project. Cooked meat leftovers harbor more bacteria and more potentially harmful bacteria than raw meat.

  6. I live in Seattle and we have amazingly fresh seafood, and I love sushi, so I’m more afraid of raw meat than raw seafood!

    • Conditioning I suppose… well, and the fact that most of our meat is grain-fed, feedlot crap, not fit for human consumption. But it’s quite another thing when it is meat from free roaming animals.

  7. If the animal has eaten grains or soy then its flesh will not be safe, especially raw. Animal consumption of grains and soy causes the proliferation of acid resistant pathogens that will survive our stomach acid and can cause enormous grief, because they they tend to be especially viral and resistant to medication. It is vital that the animals that we eat have consumed their natural foods by foraging.

    Ciao, Pavil

    • That’s a great rule of thumb in general. When eating raw meat or seafood. If it’s not raised on its native diet, don’t eat it raw (or cooked).

  8. So you had one allergic reaction to shrimp and then never again? That gives me a little hope that maybe someday I won’t be allergic to shrimp anymore. The last time I accidentally ate some, I was eating all the grains and sugar and vegetable oil I could and sick from everything. Also I didn’t manage stress very effectively.

    That would be great to eat shrimp!!

    • Jennifer,

      That was a singular instance, though. It’s not every day that your husband is shot, your own ribs broken, and your life torn out from under your feet while you’re responsible for breast feeding your baby.

      But they do say that as we heal our immune systems, our allergies CAN resolve. So maybe there’s hope for you. :)

      • I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to minimize your experience in any way. I just had never thought that maybe my allergies weren’t “The way I am forever” and maybe could be altered with lifestyle changes. I never had reactions to shrimp until I got with my abusive ex-husband (and never ate them again) so I was just excited that maybe there was a different option. Again, I’m sorry for any offense.

        • Oh my gosh you didn’t offend me at all! :) I didn’t mean to come across that way. I was just saying that when something happens that causes such a huge rush of adrenaline and other hormones weird things can happen. Sounds like maybe the same thing might have been going on with you too. An abusive husband would cause constant stress which would wear down your immune system and leave you susceptible to allergies so, yeah, there is hope for you!

  9. Even healthy grass fed beef gets parasites. There are scientific papers on that exact topic–look it up. Also, I have worked on grass fed beef farms with excellent grazing practices–their cows also got parasites. You are essentially playing a numbers game. I am actually very interested in your choice to eat raw meat and that is why I am commenting here. Do you have any thoughts on the fact that healthy, well raised grass fed, hearty immune system cows (and humans) can and do get parasites whose eggs then reside in the meat? This is a major concern for me and I am very interested to hear your comments.

    • I realize that grass eating, free roaming cows can get parasites. Even healthy, primitive humans get parasites. It’s not that I expect never to ingest a parasite. No way. I expect in all these years I probably have a number of times. Who knows how many, really. I’ve eaten a lot of raw meat and sea food and this simply isn’t a clean world we live in. So what’s the deal then?

      As I understand it, if you do not eat a modern day diet, parasites won’t invade you in the same way. Parasites, bacteria, viruses, are an important part of our ecosystem. Parasites can be very useful to animals (and humans) because they feed on nasty material. So if you’re a relatively healthy cow or human and a parasite shacks up with you, it will eat all the dead and rotten tissues and then once that’s all gone, it will go on its way.

      The absence of parasites can be considered a bigger problem than having a parasite. Our clean and sterile world is where the problem really is. Our bodies would be much cleaner if we 1. didn’t eat crap food, and 2. had parasites to take care of whatever little junk is in our systems.

      That is an amazing and kind of scary thought at first. It took me a year or more to digest that idea but as my body got healthier it started to make sense to me. If my digestive system is clean, if all my cells are healthy, parasites have very little to feed on and what they do feed on will only take care of us in the end.

      Aajonus Vonderplanitz claims it is this truth about parasites which saved him from cancer. Nasty bugs eat nasty stuff and that can only improve our health. The problem with parasites then is that if we are really unhealthy and we’re essentially a playground for them we will be in huge trouble. The key is to keep a clean terrain and you and parasites will have more of a symbiotic relationship. When that relationship is over, it will go on its way.

  10. How long sure you freeze seafood before eating it raw? 14 days as well like with beef?

  11. should*

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