Can Eating Worms Help Treat Allergies & Autoimmune Diseases?
First it sounds crazy… then it sounds gross. But there might be a legitimate rational for infecting yourself with a parasite. In fact, if you already have an autoimmune disease, you might not want to wait until the world implodes to take one!
The Hygiene Hypothesis – One of the Craziest and Heretical Theories in Medicine
1989 saw one of the most unusual medical theories ever presented to mainstream science. Published in the British Medical Journal that year, Dr. David P. Strachan advanced a scientific theory that has become known as the “hygiene hypothesis.” While unorthodox at best, the theory suggests the rise in rates of many modern diseases in industrialized countries, are the result of our exposure to fewer germs. Yep, the theory actually says we are getting sicker, because we are being exposed to fewer pathogens than were our parents. The graph illustrates the trend:
How do Fewer Germs Lead to Increased Rates of Allergy and Autoimmune Disease?
The theory advances the notion that chlorinated drinking water, vaccines, antibiotics and the sterile environment of early childhood leads to less bacteria and more allergies. Later the theory was expanded to include autoimmune diseases. This was fortunate, because it opened avenues to studying unconventional treatments in a field highly resistant to them. While an oversimplification, the essence of the claim is that our immune system is like an army, one typically finding an abundance of bacteria and parasites to wage war with. But sitting armies get restless, so in the desperation of intolerable boredom the immune system starts attacking tissues in our own bodies, those sharing a similar molecular appearance to parasites and bacteria (molecular mimicry).
Could Taking Parasites Really Treat Allergies & Autoimmune Disease?
They might! Here are the results of a study using a parasitic worm in the treatment of two autoimmune disease, Crohn’s & Ulcerative Colitis:
Response profiles of a Crohn’s disease patient and an ulcerative colitis patient treated with T. suis ova. Adapted from Summers, et. al., Amer. J. Gastro. 98:2034, 2003
Hookworms were the first to be used and studied for this purpose. But hookworms come at a price (not just the $3600 people were first charging for them on the internet). They can cause anemia and malnutrition, and even stunt the growth of children. Their life cycle in humans is brutal. They infiltrate through the skin of our feet as larvae – after having hatched in human excrement – then enter the bloodstream where they travel through the heart and lungs. Finally they are coughed up – and then swallowed.
Much of the initial disfavor expressed by the medical establishment over this form of treatment, and subsequent investigations of internet companies selling hookworms for this purpose, was generated from a very real concern that these parasites are capable of causing significant disease on their own. In short, it seemed there was a real need for a kinder and gentler worm.
Whipworms – Free to Preppers!
In theory, the perfect worm should cause minimal injury in humans. To meet this requirement it would have to:
- Not replicate in humans
- Produce only self-limited colonization in humans
- Have no potential to cause human disease
- Not be transmissible to other people
- be free of other contaminating agents, toxins, or organisms
Because Trichuris suis, a porcine (pig) whipworm meets these requirements, it’s been a favorite in recent years for study. T. suis is related to Trichuris trichiura, the human whipworm. And while T. suis can colonize people, the worms are short-lived and colonization is self-limited. Many farmers are exposed to T. suis, but the worm does not cause disease in people. It cannot increase in numbers by replicating in people. Because T. suis ova require a 3 to 6 week incubation in moist soil to mature, the inadvertent spread to others is highly unlikely. If following a collapse, Preppers wanted to initiate their own therapeutic trail to see if parasites would help in whatever disease they may be suffereing from (like severe allergies or new autoimmune symptoms and diseases), the ova of this worm could be fished out of the pig droppings. They are likely to be available without much searching. Currently they can be purchased through the internet by companies who’ve claimed they’ve isolated and purified T. suis ova, so as to be free of other agents and organisms.
The Current State of Affairs
While studies have demonstrated that T. suis therapy is safe and effective in some autoimmune diseases, there have been problems. In 2013 the German partner of Coronado Biosciences terminated a clinical trial of Trichuris suis ova for Crohn’s disease because of a lack of efficacy. Shortly after the company released the following statement: “We believe [Trichuris suis ova] has therapeutic potential in other diseases and will continue to work diligently to advance its development for the treatment of autoimmune diseases.”
Despite this, other centers continue researching the possibilities. Most all have shown T. suis causes no symptoms as compared to placebo, and is safe at doses up to at least 2500 ova every 2 weeks. It usually takes 6-8 weeks for most people to respond to T. suis therapy. And because the worm is short-lived in people, repeated dosing is required to maintain response.
Personal Note: I have to tell you for two decades I refused to hear any of this. I’d been trained well, and often exceeded my professors expectations at being a closed minded ultra-conservative (insert the bad word of your choice here) physician. But I was also taught to follow the findings of science, no matter where they lead. And I’m currently at the point where I must admit the evidence for all this is on the verge of being convincing. Quite convincing.
Take Home Message: Unconventional times may force Preppers into considering unconventional cures. Pig whipworm ova seem to be safest and most readily available for Preppers looking to use parasites for treating autoimmune diseases and severe allergies. In an era when allergy and other medications for treating autoimmune diseases are likely to be difficult to get, parasitic worm therapy might be a viable option.
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Keywords: Preppers, taking parasites, probiotic immunotherapy, hookworms, whipworms, parasites, autoimmune disease, allergies.