Can Worm Therapy Help Treat Autoimmune Diseases?

There has been a sharp rise in autoimmune diseases, such as multiple sclerosis and Crohn’s disease around the world. Autoimmune disease refers to any condition where the body starts to attack its own tissues.

Worm therapy is the latest therapy that scientists are exploring to help treat autoimmune diseases. While worm therapy does not have the government's approval, but many people are already lining up to undergo this promising new treatment for autoimmune diseases. Trials also have reported promising results so far regarding worm therapy to help treat autoimmune diseases.

Does Worm Therapy Work in Treating Autoimmune Diseases?

Yes, according to research and many studies, worm therapy has shown positive results to help treat autoimmune diseases. According to William Parker from Duke University School of Medicine, parasitic worms are today seen to be similar to vitamins that are required by our immune system to remain healthy. Being an associate professor of surgery, Mr. Parker has spent many years researching and studying worm therapies. He believes that since many immune diseases have episodic flare-ups, worms tend to work well on them. Worms, such as pig whipworm or hookworms, are used for treating autoimmune diseases based on scientific evidence. These worms, also known as helminths, are able to travel easily to the person's gut and then ease the inflammation caused by the autoimmune disease. The inflammation happens because during an autoimmune disease the body starts to produce a specific type of white blood cell that causes the inflammation. It is believed that these worms work by changing the mix of bacteria present in the gut and thus help treat autoimmune diseases.

Apart from the Duke University School Of Medicine, the University of Wisconsin has also conducted positive studies with worms. They undertook a study where participants ingested pig whipworm eggs for healing multiple sclerosis and the study reported positive results.

Furthermore, research by Dr. Joel Weinstock from the Tufts Medical School has conducted studies that concluded that pig whipworm is helpful in easing the symptoms of inflammatory bowel disease.

Why Does Worm Therapy Work in Treating Autoimmune Diseases?

Researchers and experts believe that worm therapy works because the human body is in need of more biodiversity. The concept, known as the hygiene hypothesis, was put forward in the late 1980s. Based on this theory, it is believed that when children do not get exposed to parasites or other infectious agents, their immune system gets affected and does not develop as it should. It further adds that over the years, human beings have lost a lot of biodiversity present in their bodies as we have turned towards cleaner water and better food processing techniques. Due to such techniques, our body misses out on many parasites and infectious agents, or in other words, the body misses out the biodiversity that is required for the body to function well and heal itself.

During research with worms, many scientists have found that the ecosystem of the human body is quite similar to the earth's ecosystem as well. This is one of the reasons, perhaps, why parasitic worm therapy has been able to stop the progression of autoimmune diseases, such as multiple sclerosis.

At present, worm therapy has been tried successfully to stop the progression of multiple sclerosis and celiac disease. However, experts believe that worm therapy may also work to treat other similar autoimmune conditions as well.

Challenges of Using Worm Therapy for Treatment of Autoimmune Diseases

Even taking medications have side effects. New therapies, in particular, are known to have various issues. The biggest challenge with worm therapy to help treat autoimmune diseases, is that it has not been approved for medical use by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA), believed to be a globally-trusted certification body. This means that worm therapy is not available in the United States.

As of now, worm therapy is only being used successfully in Thailand and the United Kingdom. However, since there is a lack of government regulations, there are concerns over the quality of the parasitic worms used in the therapy. Furthermore, easily available and inexpensive worms such as hookworms are known to have side effects. If too many of these worms are ingested, then it is likely to cause some adverse reactions.

Another challenge facing the future of worm therapy is that treating autoimmune diseases with worm therapy is only a temporary solution. This is because patients who opt for worm therapy for treatment of autoimmune diseases need to ingest the worms once every two weeks. It is a genuine concern that people cannot possibly continue to ingest worms for the rest of their lives.

While there are several experts who speak in favor of worm therapy to help treat autoimmune diseases, the treatment faces several opponents as well. For example, Dr. Peter Hotez of the national school of tropical medicine at the Baylor College of Medicine, believes worm therapy to be a potentially dangerous form of treatment as there are very few studies that actually prove their efficiency in treating autoimmune diseases. Nevertheless, Dr. Hotez believes that the specific molecules from the worms that are known to be helpful in the treatment can be separated out and used for creating anti-inflammatory medications, thus developing new therapies and approaches from the worms to help treat autoimmune diseases.

Conclusion

Just like at one point of time people believed bacteria to be bad and harmful, worm therapy is also facing that debate at the moment. Worms have a complex ecosystem and more research needs to be conducted in order to truly understand how worm therapy can benefit in autoimmune conditions. Let us not forget that while these worms have been around for hundreds of year, humans are just now beginning to understand them better and finding out how these otherwise 'unsanitary' organisms can help people stay healthy and fight life-threatening diseases.

Also Read:

Resources

  1. helmby, h., 2015. human helminth therapy to treat inflammatory disorders-where do we stand?. bmc immunology, 16(1), p.12.

  2. rook, g.a., 2012. hygiene hypothesis and autoimmune diseases. clinical reviews in allergy & immunology, 42(1), pp.5-15.

  3. fleming, j.o. and weinstock, j.v., 2015. clinical trials of helminth therapy in autoimmune diseases: rationale and findings. parasite immunology, 37(6), pp.277-292.

  4. saunders, k.a., raine, t., cooke, a. and lawrence, c.e., 2007. inhibition of autoimmune type 1 diabetes by gastrointestinal helminth infection. infection and immunity, 75(1), pp.397-407.

  5. fleming, j.o. and weinstock, j.v., 2015. clinical trials of helminth therapy in autoimmune diseases: rationale and findings. parasite immunology, 37(6), pp.277-292.

  6. wammes, l.j., mpairwe, h., elliott, a.m. and yazdanbakhsh, m., 2014. helminth therapy or elimination: epidemiological, immunological, and clinical considerations. the lancet infectious diseases, 14(11), pp.1150-1162.

Pramod Kerkar

Written, Edited or Reviewed By:

, MD,FFARCSI

Pain Assist Inc.

Last Modified On: March 8, 2019

This article does not provide medical advice. See disclaimer

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