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?
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!
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?
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.