Helminthic therapy is a relatively new treatment for a variety of medical conditions including coeliac disease and Crohn's disease. This treatment takes the pleasant form of being deliberately injected with parasitic worm larvae or eggs. Despite the fact that the nature of the treatment itself bears certain similarities to cleanses and other questionable alternative treatments, helminthic therapy is (almost) legitimate medicine, with supporting research published in peer-reviewed journals. It's still experimental, though (read below), and it hasn't been approved by the FDA yet.
- The most famous example of this is that "hookworms cure asthma". Although there is anecdotal support for this, we're doing SCIENCE here. Turns out the most common representative of hookworm "therapy" has been shown to, although being somewhat beneficial, and at least harmless, still needs a lot more research before we get anything. Look at me talking when there's science to do.
- The giant roundworm Ascaris lumbricoides has been shown to sometimes help against asthma, atopic dermatitis, and similar allergic reactions. Unfortunately, had the
victimpatient been previously infected with human threadworms these hookworms can result in an increase in skin allergies and allergic eye and nose irritation (medical terms "atopic dermatitis" and "allergic rhinoconjunctivitis"). It's a worm-versus-worm world out there, and your body's going to be the battlefield! Yay!
Helminth infestation is probably effective against asthma and other allergic reactions because, by necessity for their own survival, they induce immunosuppressive activity in the host.
- Arguably, medicinal leeches (various species, for instance Hirudo medicinalis), which are worms ("helminthes") and are used by doctors because of their anti-coagulation powers.
Despite this success, the treatment is not widespread and the reasoning behind "why" it works is still under investigation.
One previous weight loss fad was the intentional ingestion of beef tapeworms (Taenia saginata). The "logic" behind this was that the tapeworm would reach your intestine and absorb the contents of the food you eat. This would allow you to eat as much as you want, as most the calories and fat from the food would be going to the tapeworm(s), not to you. The problems are many. The tapeworm wouldn't "claim" most of your calorie intake. If you have a limited diet, the tapeworm will probably result in malnutrition. The tapeworm will also hijack several micronutrients. Although most beef tapeworm infections have no symptoms, there are times when the tapeworm does real damage to the host.
It should be noted that numerous phyla of worm exist. Taenia saginata, mentioned above, is of the phylum Platyhelminthes (flatworms), which has not been used to date in helminthic therapy. Ascaris lumbricoides mentioned above is of the phylum Nematoda (roundworms), some members of which have been used in the therapy and are the subject of some of the peer-reviewed research described herein, as is Trichuris suis, the pig whipworm, which has also been tested for medicinal value. Despite broad similarities in appearance, the worms vary widely in their own biology as well as in their interaction with the human body.
- ↑ Experimental hookworm infection: a randomized placebo-controlled trial in asthma.
- ↑ Reduced helminth burden increases allergen skin sensitization but not clinical allergy: a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial in Vietnam.
- ↑ Safety of hookworm infection in individuals with measurable airway responsiveness: a randomized placebo-controlled feasibility study.
- ↑ Interactions between helminth parasites and allergy.
- ↑ Species name Enterobius vermicularis. Americans will know this as a "pinworm", "threadworm" referring to Strongyloides stercoralis. The rest of the world calls the strongyloides a "pinworm".
- ↑ Association of atopy, asthma, allergic rhinoconjunctivitis, atopic dermatitis and intestinal helminth infections in Cuban children., 2008
- ↑ Helminths and immunological tolerance
- ↑ Yes, people really did that.