"We need parasitic worms"


EXCERPT (William Parker): Did you ever wonder why one in six children has a mental health disorder? ... Did you ever wonder why 20 per cent of women, in the United States at least, have been diagnosed with depression after menopause, and why ‘chronic fatigue syndrome’ has mysteriously emerged? Why should almost half of us be allergic to something? Why should more than four in every 10 children be on medication for a chronic condition? Why do more than one in 10 women have an autoimmune condition? When asking why we get sick, we take the first step in understanding the origins of disease. If we find the answer to that question, we become empowered to prevent disease.

Modern medicine does not often bother to ask why. We don’t talk very much about it in medical school or during our internships or in residency. [...] Modern medicine asks what and how: what conditions do you have, and how do we treat them? But we should be asking why ... If we don’t know why something happens, we can’t hope to stop it. We might or might not be able to pull drowning people out of the river, but we really should ask how these people got in the river in the first place. Where are the sinking boats that left these people stranded in the water?

[...] Our Western diet is certainly a factor. And our stressful lifestyle. But we and others are coming to a fascinating conclusion: intestinal worms are almost certainly involved. But it’s not the presence of the worms that is hurting us. To the contrary, the almost complete loss of intestinal worms in modern society is, surprisingly, a very significant problem. Intestinal worms, called ‘helminths’ [...were...] Labelled uniformly as disease-causing parasites by biologists, they have inspired fear and hate ... The Rockefeller Foundation, for example, was originally formed to eliminate hookworm from the southern US. Their genocidal campaign was very successful ... This fearsome menace has been virtually eradicated in the US and in western Europe...

But what if we erred? What if our bias against a handful of helminths led us to slaughter billions of innocent and even helpful worms? Indeed, my research and the research of many others tell us that helminths are necessary for our health. A barrage of scientific evidence points toward helminths as being important regulators of immune function. Because of this, our genocidal campaign against intestinal worms apparently has a very nasty backlash that nobody saw coming. But science moves very slowly. All helminths are still labelled as parasites in textbooks, despite the fact that we now know this to be incorrect.

I saw bias override observation earlier in my career, while working in the field of transplantation therapy. [...] The immune system was actually supporting rather than fighting off most of the bacteria in our body! This paradigm-shifting idea had far-reaching implications for the field of immunity. For example, the function of the vermiform (worm-like) appendix, that troublesome little structure in our gut, could now be seen clearly as a type of safe house for beneficial bacteria.

The vermiform appendix had long puzzled scientific legends [...] it was an honour to be at the leading edge of science when the answer presented itself. The thrill of discovery was initially great, and lab experiments designed to test the new paradigm worked beautifully. But repeated rejections by scientific journals and funding agencies along with sarcastic critiques from anonymous reviewers were the norm for the lab during those early years. Fortunately, the paradigm shift made perfect sense to scientists working on the microbial ecology of the gut, and support from that field eventually overcame bias in the field of immunology. We’ll never know how long the paradigm shift in immunology would have taken if it weren’t for the microbial ecologists researching the microbiome.

Now I’m seeing history repeat itself as we attempt to overcome bias against intestinal worms with scientific experiments and observation. With the function of the vermiform appendix, there honestly wasn’t much at stake other than a battle for intellectual territory. Unfortunately, this new battle has more at stake, with tens of millions suffering from diseases that appear to be related to our loss of helminths. But there is hope. Once again, biologists with expertise in the organisation of ecosystems are on our side.

[...] During the study period [...] as long as patients kept their worms, their autoimmune disease did not progress. But if they lost their worms, their disease returned. Importantly, it did not seem to matter which intestinal worm the patients had. Some patients had flatworms, while others had roundworms, two very different types of worms, both apparently having the same benefits. My own research has shown that thousands of humans are now using intestinal worms, from a variety of sources, to effectively treat a wide range of allergic, autoimmune and digestive diseases. Based on previous studies, we were not surprised that people were having success. But we did find one puzzler: people and their doctors were reporting that helminths were helping to treat neuropsychiatric problems such as anxiety disorders and migraine headaches... (MORE - details)

RELATED: Woman undergoes brain tumor surgery, doctors find tapeworm instead
Quote:bias override observation 

Never saw that term before but I think I’ve seen it applied a few times. Probably guilty of it myself. 

The thought of some strange other creature emerging from one of your own body orifices is probably one of the most revolting things a person can imagine. But those same people would probably not have a problem should doctors save a limb by applying infection eating leeches to the wound. I think it’s all psychological, at least the leeches won’t be around once treatment is over. 

Looks like a case where millions of years of beneficial evolution was suddenly halted out of a phobia for the slimy and wormy.
(Jun 4, 2019 07:01 AM)C C Wrote: We need parasitic worms

It looks like another example of the "everything that people like you believe is wrong" genre of popular science writing.

Not everyone agrees.


"For reasons not well understood, compared with any other age group, school-aged children (including adolescents) and preschool children tend to harbor the greatest numbers of intestinal worms and schistosomes and as a result experience growth stunting and diminished physical fitness as well as impaired memory and cognition. These adverse health consequences combine to impair childhood educational performance, reduce school attendance, and account for the observation that hookworm (and presumably other diseases caused by parasitic worms) reduces future wage-earning capacity. Hookworm and schistosomiasis are also important diseases during pregnancy, causing neonatal prematurity, reduced neonatal birth weight, and increased maternal morbidity and mortality... In sub-Saharan Africa and elsewhere, helminthiases are frequently coendemic with malaria and HIV/AIDS. Indeed it is not uncommon for an individual to be coinfected with the malaria-causing parasite and one or more parasitic worms, or HIV and one or more parasitic worms. Such coinfections have additive effects such as severe anemia, and synergistic effects, such as increased transmission of the malaria-causing parasite, HIV, and/or increased susceptibility to infection with these pathogens as well as cause an exacerbated progression of these two killer diseases... The high medical, educational, and economic burden of helminth infections, together with their coendemicity with malaria and AIDS, provides an important rationale for launching a global assault on parasitic worms."

So sorry CC. You are welcome to your own worms, but I think that I'll pass, thank you very much.
It's part of something called helminthic therapy. Which as Zin suggested as a comparison, in a broader context might be similar to leech therapy and maggot therapy. But directed at immune-related problems rather than used for things like venous congestion and necrotic tissue.

I'm sure most helminthic therapy patients would not want worms working on them full time, either, once their job is done (if permanence isn't necessary). But I'd abhor parasitic worm treatment even if my life were at stake from an immune-based crisis (or I so I feel right now, anyway, far removed from such a health condition). Whereas leeches and maggots at least aren't a threat for full-time residence for what they address.

Can Worms Cure Disease? 17 Questions With Dr. William Parker: (#7) Not all worms and parasites do us good. Which ones are considered “old friends”?: Jeff Ollerton and I (Evolution, Medicine, and Public Health, 2013:89-103) point out that whether a helminth is beneficial or not to its host is dependent on a variety of factors. If a Westerner has multiple sclerosis, then a helminth might alleviate their life-threatening disease without causing any adverse effects. If someone in a developing country is on the edge of starvation, then the same helminth could end their life. In one case the helminth is a mutualist (beneficial), and in the other case it’s a parasite (harmful).

The following article -- also from NCBI -- seems to conclude mildly critical of the promising evidence of studies investigating use of helminth infections, primarily in terms of translating well into effective clinical practices. It's circa four years old, however, and might be the result of scanning over various papers rather that drawing from literal 1st-hand experience and participation in the treatments.

Human helminth therapy to treat inflammatory disorders- where do we stand? (2015)


Without doubt there is overwhelming evidence from animal studies that helminth infections exert strong immunomodulatory activity and are able to inhibit, alter and modify other ongoing immune responses. In addition, human crossectional studies have established that many chronic helminth infections in endemic communities are associated with the induction of regulatory and anti-inflammatory networks which may act to inhibit inflammatory responses such as autoimmune and allergic reactions. However, to translate this into clinical helminth therapy forms have proved less successful in the few published clinical trials conducted so far. It may be that for worms to be successful in controlling inflammation we need to be exposed to them before the onset of the inflammatory condition or even that we need to be exposed to them at a young age to allow our immune system to co-develop together with them. In recent years substantial interest has been generated in the field of inflammation and autoimmunity regarding the impact of the composition of the intestinal microbiota and its role in shaping our immune responses both in early life and later, including the importance of diet in maintaining a healthy gut community but it remains to be established whether worms form a vital part of this “healthy intestinal community”. Regardless, some promising data has been achieved using human helminth therapy but many questions remains to be investigated, such as the appropriateness of the species of helminths used, whether infections should be systemic or localized, whether the dose should be light or heavy, of acute or chronic duration, and the role of host genetics. In addition, the use of helminth-derived anti-inflammatory molecules is yet to be tested on a clinical scale but may be offering a less controversial, and perhaps more palatable, promising new avenue of anti-inflammatory drug development.

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