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Eat Worms To Feel Better?

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Eat worms – feel better

A BBC documentary looks at how some parasites are so well-adapted to using humans as hosts, that when you take them away, there are unexpected results.

Ulcerative colitis is a disease of the intestine caused by the immune system over-reacting – in this disease the white blood cells attack the gut as though it’s a foreign invader, making it bleed. Mother-of-two, Anna Glanz, from Iowa, suffers from it and gets terrible cramps and sudden, intense attacks of diarrhoea.

The disease is incurable, but she is now taking part in an experimental trial run by Dr Joel Weinstock, a specialist in bowel disorders. He’s giving her worms to try to treat the disease. Every three weeks Anna goes to Dr Weinstock’s clinic and takes a drink full of worm eggs.

http://newsimg.bbc.co.uk/media/images/39593000/jpg/_39593103_203worms.jpg

A gutful of parasites might help ease symptoms

But Anna reckons it is worth it: “I don’t really think of them as being alive I guess, it’s almost just like taking a pill or something.

“I try not to think of them as disgusting or anything like that. And I couldn’t live the way I was living. I was desperate to try anything. I just wanted to get well”.

The worms grow inside her gut and then pass out after a few weeks, but as a result of having these worms in her gut, her ulcerative colitis is in remission – she doesn’t suffer from any of the symptoms any more.

Dr Weinstock reckons that’s because we’ve evolved with worms and actually need them.

Before gut worms were eradicated in the West 50 or so years ago allergies – caused by the overreaction of the immune system – were virtually unheard of, now in the UK one third of us suffers from some sort of allergy. So scientists are looking to see if there’s a connection between gut worms and allergies, they are wondering if gut worms can somehow damp down the immune system to make it easier for them to live in the intestine without coming under attack.

He said: “Worms require humans to survive. In essence the worms are part of us and it’s possible that we’ve become interdependent and removing worms has resulted in an imbalance to our immune systems.” * Dr Joel Weinstock, worm researcher

On the hook

Another person feeling the benefit of a worm infestation is academic researcher Alan Brown, who picked up hookworms while on a field-trip outside the UK.

The worm hangs around damp earth or water droplets, and on contact with skin burrows through and heads for the gut. There it attaches itself to the wall – and drinks blood to live. However, in western countries, where people are well-nourished, a moderate infestation is likely to have no nasty side-effects at all.

However, there’s a useful effect – his hayfever has virtually disappeared, and now he is working on the powers of the hookworm with a view to developing an asthma drug. * Dr Alan Brown

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