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Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Just A Worm

Many people in the workaholic city of Hong Kong, with a poplulation of seven million people, have weight problems with sedentary lifestyles, fast food diets and long office hours. But, now some dieters may be in for quicker, faster results. Some rather drastic, unconventional weight loss methods advertised by clinics and websites in the former British colony include sweat-inducing body suits, fat-dissolving injections and even flammable paraffin wraps to literally burn off belly fat. But, one remedy tops them all.

Does this sound to you like the same old diet scam claim? "Lose weight quickly without eating less!" Well, the Untied Kingdom's Daily Telegraph reported some people in Hong Kong are going to such extremes that they’re risking their lives by swallowing parasitic worms. The Hong Kong Department of Health said Chinese Web sites have been offering weight-loss products containing potentially fatal parasites as a way of shedding extra pounds. ("Hong Kong Dieters Warned Over Swallowing Parasitic Worms,", February 9 2010)

The reports states the products contain the eggs of Ascaris worms, giant intestinal roundworms, which can grow up to 15-inches inside a host’s intestines and can lay up to 200,000 eggs a day inside the body. Officials are warning people that swallowing the parasites could cause abdominal pain and distension, vomiting, diarrhea and amlnutrition. The infestation of worms may be treated with medication but may also require surgical removal.

"Parasite infestation may also be fatal if serious complications such as intestinal, biliary tract or pancreatic duct obstruction arise," a health spokesman said. "The worms may even invade such organs as the lungs."

Then, you have Tyra Banks Tyra introducing viewers of The Tyra Banks show to “The Tapeworm Diet. Much like the diet in Hong Kong, this diet involves eating a tapeworm (banned in the United States) so that people can keep on eating tons of food. According to Diet Review, “[The Tapeworm] secretes proteins in our intestinal tract that make our digestion of food much less efficient. A less efficient digestive systems means that you can consume more calories through your food since your 'body guest' is also noshing on them for his own growth purposes. Some scientists estimate that those infected with a single tapeworm can lose up to one or two pounds each week.” Ingestion of certain tapeworms, like a pork tapeworm, can be lethal. (Michael d'Estries,, 2009)

Are There Good Worms?

Yet, just when you think you know that ingesting worms is potentially-deadly idiotic behavior, Dr. Joel Weinstock ("Diet of Worms Solves Gut Problems," BBB News, August 4 1999) found parasitic worms could hold the key to good digestive health. According to Dr. Weinstock, "Drinking live parasitic worms has been found to be an effective treatement for Crohn's Disease and Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD)."

Researchers at the University of Iowa think that the virtual elimination of such creatures from the human gut over the years has left the body vulnerable to the massive immune reactions which typify the conditions. Although only six sufferers took part in this trial research, the results were so impressive that larger experiments could now follow. All six were given a drink containing microscopic worms which can survive, although not reproduce in the human gut. Between two or three weeks later, their symptoms completely disappeared, and stayed away for about a month. 

Dr Weinstock pointed out that the rise in such diseases over recent years has coincided with a reduction in the incidence of parasitic worms in humans.  As little as 70 years ago, he said, 40% of US children enjoyed the company of worms which could grow up to 20 centimetres long. Dr. Balfour Sartor, from the University of North Carolina said of Dr Weinstock's work: "It's an appealing way of using something that's of fairly low toxicity to treat a set of diseases that for now we don't have a cure for." ("Diet of Worms Solves Gut Problems," BBB News, August 4 1999)

In addition, you may be surprised to read about this allergy treatment. Matt Kaplin (, July 2009) said, "Since the 1970s, researchers have been trying to make sense of conflicting findings in the hope of being able to harness the power of parasites to help relieve allergies without making things worse." They know they are playing with fire - after all, helminths (parasites that live inside their hosts) are responsible for some truly horrible diseases and cause great suffering around the world. Yet, as the effects of helminths on the human body become clearer, it looks as though their healing potential may be unleashed.

Do disgusting whipworms and hookworms have a future in eliminating allergies? Some preliminary studies say "yes." Parasitic worms may be very attractive as a potential treatment for allergic conditions. "The nice thing about a worm is it does the work of entering the body and interacting with the immune system for you. It has evolved excellent techniques that allow it to get to where it wants to go and lower the ensuing immune response," says immunologist Klaus Erb from Boehringer Ingelheim Pharmaceuticals in Germany. (, July 2009)

There may be another way to exploit the healing powers of helminths, however. "What we really need, is to find useful compounds being produced by these worms, rather than trying to use the worms themselves," says clinical immunologist Asif Rafi at the University of California, Los Angeles.

Frequency of Infection - United States

("Nematode Infections,"Murat Hokelek, Larry I. Lutwick, Aronold C. Cua, October 23, 2008)

  • Trichuriasis: Recent estimates indicate that 2.2 million people in the United States are infected with Trichuris trichiura (whipworm), mainly in the rural Southeast.
  • Enterobiasis: This is the most common of all helminthic infections, (pinworm)with an estimated 42 million cases.
  • Ascariasis: An estimated 4 million people, mainly in the Southeast, are infected with Ascaris species.
  • Hookworm: This infection still has a low degree of prevalence in the Southeast.
  • Strongyloidiasis: A prevalence rate of 0.4-4% has been estimated in southern states.
  • Trichinosis: The prevalence rate is 4-20%.

Wormy Conclusions

So, you don't want to jump on a bandwagon and start swallowing worms to cure all your ills; however, it appears that medicine is studying the benefits of using the lowly creature. The "icky" factor is similar to that of the use of leeches in wound therapy. Whether the worm will be a boon or a threat, you know it will be sure to continue to serve as a willing parasite. 

The Apple and the Worm
I bit an apple
That had a worm.
I swallowed the apple,
I swallowed the worm.
I felt it squiggle,
I felt it squirm.
I felt it wiggle,
I felt it turn.
It felt so slippery,
Slimy, scummy,
I felt it land - PLOP -
In my tummy!
I guess that worm is there to stay
Unless . . .
I swallow a bird some day!

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