The protozoan parasite Giardia lamblia is a major cause of waterborne enteric disease worldwide. Lectins are proteins that bind to carbohydrate (sugar) moieties. Potential targets for lectins are found on the surface of most single-celled organisms. Modest concentrations of wheat germ agglutinin (WGA) have been shown to inhibit G. lamblia excystation and trophozoite growth in vitro and can reduce cyst passage in mice infected with the closely related protozoan parasite, G. muris. Commercial preparations of wheat germ (WG) contain 13-53 microg of WGA per gram. We performed a double-masked, placebo-controlled study of dietary supplementation with WG in 63 subjects with giardiasis in Montreal and Lima (25 asymptomatic patients passing cysts; 38 patients with symptoms). Asymptomatic subjects received WG (2 g, 3 times a day) or placebo (cornstarch, 2 g, 3 times a day) for 10 days, followed by metronidazole (250 mg 3 times a day) for 7 days. Symptomatic subjects received metronidazole (250 mg 3 times a day) plus either WG or placebo for 7 days. Stool specimens were collected every day (Montreal) or every other day (Lima) for 10 days and on Day 35 for microscopic examination and coproantigen determination. Subjects kept a diary of symptoms for 10 days after recruitment. In asymptomatic subjects, both cyst passage and coproantigen levels were reduced by approximately 50% in those taking WG compared with the placebo group (P < 0.01 and P = 0.06, respectively). In symptomatic subjects, cyst passage and coproantigen levels fell precipitously in response to metronidazole therapy, and there were no clinically important differences between those receiving supplemental WG or placebo. However, symptoms appear to have resolved more rapidly in the subjects taking WG in addition to metronidazole. The WG supplement was well tolerated in both symptomatic and asymptomatic subjects. These data suggest that components of WG, possibly WGA, either alone or in combination with antiprotozoal agents, can influence the course of human giardiasis.