Skepchick Quickies, 5.27


Jen is a writer and web designer/developer in Columbus, Ohio. She spends too much time on Twitter at @antiheroine.

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  1. I have heard of hospitals growing and using sterile maggots to clean out large wounds and certain skin conditions, but I’ve never heard of putting hookworms or tapeworms into someone to cure allergies. Everything I read on their website sounds like weak correlation between these worms and a lack of allergies, but they provide no mechanism which would cause a reduction in allergies. I think I’d rather get allergy shots than have worms in my gut.

  2. Re: Worm Therapy

    I saw this pop up a couple of days ago and thought about sending it in to Skepchick. The university who was studying it last spoke publicly in 2006 meaning either the research is taking an incredibly long time or it was unsuccessful and they quietly buried it. My guess is the latter. If this could treat Crohn’s disease that would be amazing, but the idea of putting a bunch of parasites into an already distressed bowel and making it better strains the imagination.

    As to using maggots to eat dead tissue… this has been debunked as well. The patient outcomes in the maggot patients were no different than conventional treatment and the maggots were more expensive and difficult to work with. However, I still think it’s a really cool if moderately gross idea.

  3. The Before and After photos on the worm therapy site…don’t look all that different.

    I believe the use of a tapeworm for weight loss was a plot point on CSI some time ago…it WORKS, but you know, it does *kill* people.

  4. People have been flogging the tapeworm weight loss idea for at least a century. At least the worm therapy site lists the negative side effects: “Common symptoms include loss of appetite or feeling of fullness, increased appetite, abdominal pain, weakness, headache, nausea, constipation, diarrhea, vomiting and spontaneous emergence of proglottids from the anal sphincter.”

    Yum! Sign me up!

  5. I have heard of “tape worm therapy” to reduce asthma symptoms. I don’t know how legitimate it is, but I would certainly not try to get “cured” from a website…. If this works, then your doctor should know about it and suggest it as an option!

  6. Intestinal worms are being currently researched and used in clinical trials to treat Chron’s Disease, Ulcerative Colitis and similar inflammatory diseases. However unlike the ones from the site posted, these treatments use T. Suis or similar microscopic worms that can live but not reproduce in the human gut, hence limiting the dosage and preventing a continued infection by the worms.

    The New York Times did a good piece on these therapies last year http://www.nytimes.com/2008/06/29/magazine/29wwln-essay-t.html?ref=magazine

  7. $2,399.00 USD to be infected with hookworms? And to think I paid $100 to get them out of my dog! I could have kept her infected and she could have been my little cure pooping machine. Heck I would have only charged $1000 to let people lick her poop.

  8. I understand the idea behind using hookworms to regulate autoimmune response but surely there must be some way to produce the same chemicals that doesn’t involve, y’know, worms.

    “Good news, Mr Terrell! We now have a cure for your migraines. Just hold still while I insert this Ceti eel into your ear…”

  9. @Pinkbunny:
    The great thing about hookworms is you don’t even have to lick the poop! They migrate through your skin, so you could just let them walk around your back yard barefoot!
    I noticed the price too. Good scam!

  10. I read a bit about this worm therapy in Carl Zimmer’s Parasite Rex. If anyone here hasnt read it by the way, I seriously recommend it!

    I can understand how the therapy could work.. I am fairly confident it is still in testing though, which is why they’d be selling it from a dodgy website for ridiculous ‘alternative medicine’ fees.

  11. The positive effects of having an infestation of intestinal parasites are well known and not in doubt. Some autoimmune diseases are virtually unknown in areas where intestinal parasites are endemic. The mechanism(s) are not fully understood, but it is an avenue that is being worked on. There is a book coming out soon which discusses it.


    I happen to be co-author of one of the chapters; the one that addresses ammonia oxidizing bacteria on the skin.

    The immune system is really complicated and is under very complex and sophisticated distributed control, of which we know relatively little (as a fraction of what could be known). I think it is very doubtful that the effects of an infestation with parasites can be mimicked by giving a drug. The interactions are simply too complex, too coupled, and distributed over too many tissue compartments. Virtually everything in the immune system is under feedback control; that is the immune system senses something, reacts, senses the reaction to the reaction and then re-reacts again. The methods we have to modulate the immune system now are very crude and completely non-physiologic.

    Having intestinal parasites was how our ancestors evolved. The idea that a lack of parasites is always better might be aesthetically pleasing, but it needs to be tested and there are some diseases (Crohn’s for example) where the therapeutic effects of intestinal worms are very strong.

    I think that my bacteria can do much of what intestinal parasites can do. I am getting opposition due to the eww-icky factor; I imagine the intestinal parasite people have even more opposition.

  12. I did my undergrad with a girl who was part of one a test group taking the worms for Crohn’s. It helped her, and she was ecstatic that they might have found a treatment – for her, at least. But of course the trial ended, and her symptoms came back (they were using sheep worms, so I guess they had to keep dosing them, since they’d eventually die in humans), and she became suicidal, because her pain was unbearable. We all kinda hoped that this treatment would become available… it was nothing short of miraculous for her. I dunno, maybe it didn’t work for anyone else? It just seemed so tragic that after finding something that seemed to work, it couldn’t continue because it was just a trial.

    (I should also note, just so no one can think of gatorade the same way, that they put the worm eggs in new gatorade flavours that gatorade donated to test out)

  13. SaraDee, it actually worked quite well according to published results. But what works well and what gets funding to be developed are not always the same things. To get something like this approved will be big bucks. If it isn’t patentable (and it may not be), then there is no way for a pharmaceutical company to spend the money to develop it and then recoup their costs.

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