Helminth Therapy: Is your immune system crazy? Parasitic worms may cure you!

We’ve all heard stories about people trying to get skinny by eating parasites, like the rumor that famous opera singer Maria Callas swallowed a tapeworm to lose ton o’ weight.  To my knowledge, there is no evidence that parasitic worms can make you skinny, but can they benefit you in other ways?

Image

“Everyone thinks I eat worms.” 😦
Photo of Maria Callas from Wikipedia.

Today, I went looking for a paper to blog about in the International Journal for Parasitology. As it turns out, the March 2013 volume is a special issue called “Translatability of Helminth Therapy.”

In the preface, Artis and Pearce (2013) said that there is growing interest in using “helminth therapy” to treat autoimmune diseases and allergies.  There is a correlation between increased hygienic practices in first world countries and increased cases of these autoimmune illnesses (Artis and Pearce 2013).  Bodies aren’t exposed to parasites in super-clean environments, and their immune systems end up overreacting to harmless things.  Helminths are considered potential treatments because they have evolved to suppress the immune response of the host so that the host’s immune system doesn’t try to get rid of them.  So, do you have an inflamed, irritable bowel?  Helminths might sooth your innards!

Image

There are gummy bear vitamins for all of your daily vitamin needs. What about gummy worm vitamins for doses of your friendly, inflammation-soothing parasitic helminths? (Seriously, drug companies, this is my idea, and I want a cut of your profits if you use it.) Photo Credit.

To my knowledge, there’s nothing out on the market yet, but some of this helminth therapy work is in clinical trials (Artis and Pearce 2013).  Check out the special issue for more information about the research, and keep an eye out for bottled worms coming to a pharmacy near you!

Would you try helminth therapy if it makes it through clinical trials?

Reference:

Artis, D., and E.J. Pearce. 2013. Preface – Special issue: Translatability of helminth therapy. International Journal for Parasitology 43(3-4)

Also, here’s a link to a representative paper:  Weinstock and Elliott 2013

Note:  I highly recommend NOT going out and finding parasites to eat.  I am not a doctor, and this post is only a discussion of current research in progress.

4 thoughts on “Helminth Therapy: Is your immune system crazy? Parasitic worms may cure you!

  1. Pingback: 50%-ish of life = Parasites | Parasite Ecology

  2. Pingback: This isn’t the blog you’re looking for: Parasite Version | Parasite Ecology

  3. Pingback: The coextinction of parasites, commensals, and mutualists – a call for more natural history studies! | Parasite Ecology

  4. Pingback: Parasite ecology bonanza | Parasite Ecology

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s