Helminthic therapy is an experimental treatment that involves the inoculation of patients with helminthic worms to treat a variety of health disorders. Helminths are parasitic worms such as hookworms, whipworms, and threadworms.
Industrialized sanitary Western nations have a higher rate of immune diseases and inflammation. There is new scientific evidence that suggests that the lack of naturally occurring pathogens and parasites creates disease. Helminthic infection is the reason why many people from less developed countries have a very low incidence of autoimmune diseases.
Although there has been some success in treating different types of health conditions with helminths, there is still not enough clinical evidence for FDA approval. While some doctors and research scientist have used helminthic worms to treat their own disorders, self treatment is not advised.
Remember that killing off all bacteria in your body with substances like antibiotics could kill off a small symbiotic friend
Researchers have long been investigating the link between being too clean and failing immunity. Now, some scientists, private companies – and even Web-surfing patients – are looking into the potential health benefits of ingesting worms.
In the developed world, it’s been decades since intestinal worms were a familiar part of the human biome, the general term for all the organisms that thrive in people.
The human immune system evolved in the presence of these intestinal worms, known as helminths. Decades ago, human antibodies attacked the worms, keeping them at bay. But since the 1960s, when the Western world orchestrated a mass extinction of this worm population, those antibodies have sought a new target. For many, that’s meant an overreaction to pollen and even their own bodies, Parker said.
“As far as the big picture of human health goes, it’s pretty much already accepted that when you put helminths back into the ecosystem of the human body, you can resolve allergic and autoimmune diseases,” he said.
Helminthic therapy is done with worms at the tiny, larval stage, not the kind of long worms that populate parental nightmares. As human antibodies do their work, depending on the species, the worms die off before they can grow, or before they can proliferate.
Although the use of helminths in humans is not approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (clinical trials are continuing), there are about 7,000 people in the world using helminths for a variety of diseases. Treating diseases that stem from chronic inflammation appears to hold the greatest promise.
But some doctors already are suggesting helminths for their patients.
“Most antibiotics are not FDA approved for children, either,” said Nancy O’Hara, a pediatrician with a private practice in Connecticut. “They have not been tested on children. They have been tested on people who are older than 12, but because they’re thought to be safe, we give them to children.”
O’Hara has been treating her patients with Hymenolepis diminuta cysticercoids (HDCs), the larval stage of the microscopic rat tapeworm, for the past six years.
He is not surprised that some people are treating themselves.
“As patients get sicker, they’ll do almost anything to feel better. When patients are seeking alternative therapies, it speaks to the suffering that they’re going through.”
Depending on the species, helminths are administered through a liquid patients drink or are placed on a bandage applied to the skin, which absorbs them.
“People are absolutely grossed out by the idea of worms. I think it’s the wrong word to use,” said Donna Beales, a medical librarian in Boston who used helminths to treat angioedema, a rapid swelling of the throat tissue that left her feeling like she was suffocating.”We use the word worms and we use the word parasite. I think this just calls up a lifetime of negative thought process,” said Beales, who said the worms “worked beautifully” for her condition. She stopped using them, however, because of side effects such as stomach pain.
Whether helminths are parasites is controversial.
Parker says they are not. Nandi says they are, but “not all parasites are created equal.”
Some parasites can be harmful, he said, but others, like certain helminth species, “don’t have any deleterious effect on the host. They may have benefit, but they don’t have harm.”
It will be some time before anecdotal reports of helminthic success are backed by enough clinical data to win FDA approval. The clinical trials are complicated by issues of supply, the unknown of how many doses are needed, and how long treatment can take before showing results, Parker and Nandi said.
Advocates of self-treatment stress that helminths must be carefully selected. Four worm species are sold by commercial suppliers for use in helminthic therapy.
Not just any worm will do.
“The porcine tapeworm, which is really bad, can form cysts in the brain,” Parker said. This worm is acquired from eating raw pork and is not used for helminthic therapy.
Read the full story at medicalxpress.com