I was sent a link to an article called The Parasite Underground, which is about people who deliberately infect themselves with parasites in order to cure autoimmune diseases.
I highly recommend reading the entire article and then coming back here.
Over the past decade, thousands of people around the world have introduced parasites into their bodies on purpose, hoping to treat immune-related disorders. Some have drawn inspiration directly from Vik’s case study, which appeared in the journal Science Translational Medicine in 2011. But many more have been inspired by the same research that inspired Vik. A confluence of factors is driving what is essentially an amateur quest to “rewild” the modern body and restore it to an imagined prelapsarian state. The internet has facilitated the sharing of information, both reliable and not. But maybe more important, scientists are wrestling with germ theory, a cornerstone of modern medicine, and beginning to articulate a more nuanced idea: that the organisms in our bodies not only make us sick but also keep us healthy.
The evidence is mostly anecdotal at the moment:
Anecdote fuels the movement, because no large randomized, double-blinded, placebo-controlled studies have produced evidence that parasites can cure anything.
There is a small mention of psoriasis in the article:
Amy contacted wormtherapy.com, a site run by man named Garin Aglietti. Aglietti wasn’t a doctor — he’d dropped out of medical school — but he’d treated his own psoriasis, he said, with hookworms acquired in Belize.
Here’s an interesting comment on the failure of the medical community to figure out how to treat autoimmune diseases effectively:
The prevalence of autoimmune and allergic diseases has increased between two- and threefold in recent decades. Roughly one in five Americans has an allergic disease, ranging from seasonal hay fever to life-threatening food allergies. Roughly one in 13 has an autoimmune disease — a disorder in which the immune system tasked with our protection instead attacks our own bodies. These disorders often strike in the prime of life or earlier, causing decades of suffering. And current therapies fall short. Continuing research offers reasons for hope, says Daniel Rotrosen, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease’s division of allergy, immunology and transplantation. But currently, he says, “We are really not where we would like to be in terms of treating many of these diseases.”
I think that it’s important to consider that the largest trial of this unusual idea showed no results:
As it happens, a company called Coronado Biosciences did test Joel Weinstock’s pig whipworms. It ran the largest trials conducted to date, comprising 250 participants with Crohn’s disease. But in contrast to Weinstock’s earlier, smaller studies, which showed an almost miraculous curative effect in Crohn’s — 72 percent experienced remission — these studies showed no benefit at all. The company, now called Fortress Biotech, hasn’t released details from the study, but it has dismissed criticism — Weinstock, for example, thinks the trial should have started over because of an unusually high response among those taking a placebo — as wishful thinking. “These ‘believers’ are being fooled by randomness,” a spokesman for the firm said in an email.
I think that it is also worth checking out the discussion on Hacker News.
Links to More Information
- Wikipedia article on helminth therapy — has links at the bottom
- Worm therapy: Why parasites may be good for you (BBC)
- An update on hookworms (Radiolab)
I also recommend reading this comment on the Radiolab site:
I had hookworms. I had them for ten years without knowing it. I had two children while infected with them. By the end of a decade with them, my immune system was so stressed that it had completely shut down. The only gut flora left alive were the hookworms and candida (yeast), which were at war with each other and had pretty much wiped out any helpful gut bacteria that have evolved with us to help in our ability to properly absorb nutrients and keep our immune system healthy. I have been working very hard for four years now to rebuild my immune system, which I have managed through very thoughtful adjustments to my diet to avoid inflammatory agents, as well as to support healing of my intestinal walls, and healthy gut flora. My second child, whom I breast fed just as with my first, has a fatigued immune system as well, because by the time I was pregnant with him and then nursing, my body was no longer producing IgA and thus I could not pass it along to him. Hookworms broke me down in ten years from a healthy, vital person to someone who developed asthma, migraines, fatigue, allergies, and eventually metabolic and endicrinal imbalances. You are foolish to embrace them so blindly. There are other factors involved in the environment in Africa that could allow for fewer recorded cases of allergies. Just because western medicine’s blind reliance on narrow chemical applications to the complex human system is not the answer, does not mean that a bona fide and horrendous parasite is. If this gentleman believes so strongly in the efficacy of hookworms in treating an over active immune system, then he should find a scientific researcher or three who would be willing to study him as a test case, along with his numerous clients. In closing, yes, likely the hookworms cause people’s immune responses to shut down, which seems benevolent in the face of an overly inflamed immune system, but going from one extreme to the opposite is not healing, it is merely making a deal with the devil, and the price will be equally high in the long run.
I will remain a little skeptical until there is more research, but I find the idea very interesting.
Has anyone out there tried this? What were the results?