The drive to maintain well being has just taken on a whole new dimension. It seems we are now relying more and more on biological solutions to look after our health and the latest health trend may change the way the public perceives parasites. Helminthic therapy – or the consumption of parasitic worms to treat several health conditions is becoming a growing trend world-wide. It is believed to treat a wide range of auto-immune and mental health conditions, such as inflammatory bowel disease, depression, multiple sclerosis and asthma.
As modern living moves towards more hygienic practices, diseases such as inflammatory bowel disease, asthma and MS have become more prevalent in highly industrialised countries. This means less exposure to helminths or parasitic worms. Studies have suggested that people who are exposed to parasites are less likely to contract immune mediated diseases, with clinical trials demonstrating exposure to helminths reduces disease activity in patients with ulcerative colitis or Crohn’s disease.
Larval-stage rat tapeworms are thought to maintain ‘good health’ and companies are capitalising on this latest trend. One online company at the forefront of this new phenomenon, Biome Restoration announced it has received interest from 2000 customers in trying out this new health solution. The company provides vials of larval-stage rat tapeworms which are egg-like sacs that are swallowed. Biome Restoration were set up due to a growing online demand for these parasites and they provide a cheaper alternative to what is already available on the market.
Importantly, due to strict MHRA regulations, the company does not question its customers why they need their product, nor are they permitted to make any specific claims as to the health benefits of the parasites.
Co-founder of Biome Restoration Judy Chinitz, explained how the product should be used “You swallow the egg-like sac and in the small intestine bile triggers the larvae to come out. They eat microscopic bits of food and die in 10 days”.
The interest in helminthic therapy is growing and recent reports indicate 7,000 people worldwide have used parasites to treat health conditions such as IBD and depression.
A based Thai company in Germany, Tanawisa, sells pig whipworms and has applied for the parasite to be categorised as a food ingredient. Researchers claim: “pig whipworms can survive passage through the stomach, with larvae emerging in the caecum, a pouchlike region of the gut where the small and large intestines meet”.
If approved by the German regulator, pig whipworms will be the first official product of their kind in Europe and will be available in stores in Germany very soon. It is also hoped other EU countries will follow suit and approve the product as well.
The Biome Restoration team is encouraged by this step forward in the development of helminthic therapy “It will mean there’s finally recognition from regulators that biome enrichment with benign helminths is akin to simply taking another form of probiotic” says Chinitz.
Is it really safe?
Conflicting opinions divide the scientific community as to the benefits of helminthic therapy on human health. Several trials in France have demonstrated that the ingestion of live worms can help alleviate the many symptoms of inflammatory diseases.
However, experts who oppose the therapy remain unconvinced that ingesting live worms is hygienic enough for the human body or that it can treat diseases. Other experts simply reject the treatment as a form of pseudoscience cult therapy.
Experts from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine have called into question the safety of helminthic therapy, as noted by Dr Helena Helmby from the school “Self-medication with any type of worm is not recommended and it is important to remember they’re not in any way completely harmless, and may cause quite severe side effects if not monitored very carefully by a doctor”.
Some experts are prepared to be convinced of the advantages of helminthic therapy, provided more research is done in this field. Aaron Blackwell from the University of California thinks more research is needed to demonstrate the effects of ingesting parasites on human health. However, he still thinks there is no harm in ingesting live worms as “taking these eggs may be no worse than many other dietary supplements that many people use regularly”.