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Worming Your Way To Good Health
Are you too clean?

Thursday afternoon at HBES, the Human Behavior & Evolution Society conference at Penn, UC Riverside behavioral ecologist Marlene Zuk talked about how we make a mistake in ridding our environment of parasites, which we evolved with from the beginning.

Zuk writes in her abstract:

...What if parasites are, while not desirable, still somehow essential?

Zuk said in her talk, "Our relationship with our parasites is so close that we actually do ourselves damage if we remove them completely." She detailed a few of the unexpected downsides of removing our pathogens (put away that Purell, you clean freaks):

Asthma, which is more common in industrialized countries, increased 75% from 1980-84 in US. Asthma is less common in rural environments, and families with more children, pets or farm animals. Just having older siblings likely to be associated with decrease in asthma.

Drinking unpasteurized milk means people are less likely to have allergies (we idiotic Americans don't allow unpasteurized cheese, except for some hard cheeses at Whole Foods and other such stores). Pasteurized cheese tastes like nothing compared to unpasteurized [and healthier] cheese. What about the danger of listeria?! Come on...all of France isn't coming down with it from unpasteurized cheese, now are they?

Endotoxin, a component of bacterial cell walls, may be a crucial component of the human body. It's particularly prevalent in rural environments. And higher endotoxin levels in bedding were associated with lower levels of asthma in a study 812 European children.

In other words, as Zuk said in her talk, "An environment lacking in immunological stimuli increases the risk of developing asthma, allergies, eczema..." and more.

"I’m not saying worms are great we should all have tons of them in our intestines," she explained. It's just that we do need some.

Zuk spoke about the work of J.V. Weinstock and others on the use of pig whipworm in alleviating Crohn's disease. Here's a brief description of their pig whipworm study by Karla Harby on Medscape:

Orally ingested ova of Trichuris suis, the porcine whipworm, has been found to be active in an open-label study of Crohn's disease, and in a small scale, placebo-controlled trial in patients with ulcerative colitis.

"Inflammatory bowel diseases are diseases of the 20th century," said Joel V. Weinstock, MD, from the University of Iowa Carver College of Medicine in Iowa City, in a press briefing here during Digestive Disease Week. "These diseases are extremely rare in less developed countries, suggesting that we're doing something different."

These trials were designed to explore the hypothesis that infection with parasitic worms (helminths) is protective or ameliorating in these conditions, because such infections down-regulate immune responses.

In the open-label trial, 29 patients with refractory disease, and a Crohn's disease activity index (CDAI) of 220 to 450, ingested 2,500 T. suis ova in a beverage every three weeks for 24 weeks. By week 12, 22 patients (75.9%) experienced a decrease in CDAI of more than 100 points, or had a CDAI of less than 150. Another 18 patients (62.1%) were in remission. (Four patients withdrew early because of disease activity or pregnancy.) Researchers and patients observed no adverse effects or complications.

She called Crohn’s disease "another disease of the advantaged." Jews got it first; presumably from not eating pork. People who wear shoes get fewer worms. People who live in modern urban areas lack the intestinal worms of rural people. And that parasites common as little as 70 years ago, like Trichinella, are now rare.

In the 40s, she reported (from Weinstock's work, I believe), one in six people showed exposure to Trichinella. By the 80s, it was only 5 percent of the population. Weinstock figured maybe he could use pig worms to treat Crohn's, which don't establish themselves in humans, but stimulate the appropriate mucosal (immuno) response.

If you're eating breakfast, stop here.

Weinstock gave Crohn's sufferers a solution of worm eggs in Gatorade. In a 2004 double-blind study, 3/4 of the patients showed remission of the disease after six months.


And finally, she presented a solution -- an evolutionary approach to parasite control, reflected in this slide from her presentation:


Posted by aalkon at June 10, 2006 11:39 AM

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While I'm not about to eat worm eggs, I do believe in the pallative power of dirt. Growing up on a cattle ranch, I was exposed to everything, inlcuding anthrax, and thus, I'm healthy as a horse. My kids have also eaten their own pecks of dirt, and someone else's, too.
But asthma is also linked to coachroach droppings, which are more commmon in urban areas.

Posted by: KateCoe at June 10, 2006 8:59 AM

Great post Amy! My brother has Chrohn's, and so do at least two friends. My sister in law almost died two years ago from diverticulitis. This is a study that needs to be conducted on more than 29 people, but I am sending them a link to this first thing this morning!

Can these eggs be put in a nice glass of Merlot?

Posted by: eric at June 10, 2006 9:06 AM

That's interesting.

The other morning I woke up with the idea that maybe induced tapeworms would be more healthy for weight reduction than stomach stapling. As an added benefit, the tapeworm could be killed when the person reaches the target weight.

Of course, lacking a medical degree and funding limits my ability to do the research.

Posted by: John Davies at June 10, 2006 9:29 AM

Mixed in with a little dried onion soup mix, mashed worms make a really great party dip.

Posted by: Lena at June 10, 2006 11:08 AM

Hmm. I think I saw this scenario in an episode of Futurama last week. Fry got a sandwich out of a truckstop restroom vending machine and the worms he got increased his intelligence, skills and health. But, of course, he ended up destroying them and went back to his old dysfunctional self.

Posted by: AST at June 10, 2006 5:14 PM

I grew up in the 50's in the Northeast. Then,we bathed once a week,summer more frequently, but never every day. We played in the backyard, in the dirt where stray cats did what they normally do. There were mice, birds bugs. We went into teeny pools that did not have chlorine added.There was no shampooing rugs. Nothing was antibacterial. Not cleansers or mouthwash, anything. We ate leftovers from Monday on Friday. Refrigeration was not was it is today. We had no air conditioning. On the holidays, Thanksgiving, Christmas whatever,the leftover 20 lb turkey carcass sat in the kitchen on a plate all day and all night,no refrigeration,just on the table, everyone picking at the turkey, making sandwiches, all day and night. I am still alive. My grandmother lived almost to 100. We played in dirt, and did not wash our hands except before eating.(our parents forced us to...if we happened to go for pizza with our friends, we never washed out hands) We drank at public water spouts, used public toilets and drank out of each others bottles and or cups. My son was raised the same way. Although he had asthma,I believe that has to do with genetics and the fact that my family smoked cigarettes. I don't think it had to do with exposure or lack of to worms and parasites. His asthma was exacerbated because at the time I smoked as did the rest of my family. I do believe people need bacteria on their skin, parasites and exposure to everything natural good or bad in order to build natural immunities to things that can harm them. Less focus on antibacterial everything would be better for today's kids. So many reistant strains of bacterial I feel comes the so called advances and stress of bacteria being a "bad" thing.

Posted by: Maureen at June 10, 2006 7:14 PM

Oh, I am such a fan of Marlene Zuk. Having read her book.

I've also got to tell ya, that I stopped worming my dogs, when I discovered that people with Crone's Disease are being treated with parasites. One of the reasons the disease comes on in humans, has something to do with the immune system, where once humans didn't worry about parasites. It was a common human condition. Then, Crone's disease attacks the body, itself.

If I sound like this is garbled, it's because the epiphany, for me, was recognizing NOT to be so afraid of parasites. And, my dogs are none the worse for wear because I don't treat them for worms. And, by the way, their stools no longer have signs of worms. Sans the nasty pills.

Posted by: Carol Herman at June 10, 2006 8:24 PM

So all those people on Fear Factor who have to chow down on worms and bugs are all going to live long and healthy lives?

Posted by: Lena at June 10, 2006 9:45 PM

Lena, if you're interested I have some great recipies for hush grubbies, chocolate chirp cookies, ant-chiladas, and fried crickets (take the wings and legs off and they are reminiscent of shrimp). Yes, I've eaten these things by choice. Yes they are fairly tasty. (I'm an ameteur entomophagist)

Early exposure to potential allergens can also prevent allergies. Kids that grow up with dogs and cats are less likely to be allergic to them. This also works for plants.
When I moved from PA to NC a friend of mine who was into holistic health recomended I eat local raw (unpasteurized) honey to help prevent allergies to the local flora. While this is hardly scientific evidence, I took her advice and never did develop allergies (as well as discovering some great local honeys, I'm never eating the bear honey again). My sister did not make the honey and did develop allergies.
Amazing what a little bee upchuck can do.

I actually think all the disinfectant products will harm us in the long run. Sure they kill 99% of germs, but the toughtest 1% live - and *breed* then you get supergerms.

WARNING: below lies an interesting little fact about icky things being used to benefit our health. You may want to just skip to the next post if you're eating.
. I warned you.

Wounds with ragged edges and necrotic tissue can be notoriously difficult to clean, especially when there are broken bones involved. Trying to get rid of the necrotic tissue can invovle multiple surgeries, take out a fair chunk of muscle tissue. (if the edges of the wound are necrotic then the wound can't heal). Sometimes this can lead not only to large scars, but in extreme cases can lead to amuptation.
Fortunately there is a excellant remedy that has just started being explored by modern medicine. It's cheap and rather cutting edge.
(*I'm serious; you might want to skip this part if you're squeamish*)
Maggots. That's right maggots. The kind that come from bottle flies (the big blue and green ones). With the exception of one species, maggots only eat dead tissue. Placed on a necrotic wound they will eat away the dead tissue and in fact secrete a fluid that promotes the healing of the live tissue. When they've eaten all the dead tissue they'll clear out, looking for a place to metamorphize into flies.

Posted by: LXV at June 11, 2006 12:40 AM

I'm beginning to resent my parents for ever toilet-training me.

Posted by: Lena at June 11, 2006 2:30 AM

Yay! I knew my poor hygiene and spartan lifestyle would pay off one of these days.

Posted by: Paul Hrissikopoulos at June 11, 2006 10:38 AM

Yay! I knew my poor hygiene and spartan lifestyle would pay off one of these days.

Posted by: Paul Hrissikopoulos at June 11, 2006 10:41 AM

Damn you, BlackBerry!

Posted by: Paul Hrissikopoulos at June 11, 2006 10:45 AM

All this stuff interlocks. Processing foods break down long-chain molecules and wipe out complex nutrients. BTW Aging cheese naturally for 45 days is a recognized substitute for pasteurization - between that and clarifying a lot of nutrition is lost. And goat's milk is much more digestible ( Did you read Heidi in your youth ? ). Lack of exercise means loss of muscle tone, aches and pains, poor circulation, cramps, etc. Common cleaners are toxins harming skin and lungs. Lack of fresh air and sunshine is another cause of malaise. Continued on my own blog. See asthma and sunshine.

Posted by: opit at June 11, 2006 1:16 PM

Kids that grow up with dogs and cats are less likely to be allergic to them.

I'm the unfortunate exception to that rule. Got more allergic as I got older.

I have friends who swear by the benefits of silkworm juice.

Posted by: LYT at June 12, 2006 12:48 AM

Grody a lo maximo!

Posted by: Lenasita at June 12, 2006 10:32 AM

For the truly brave...

A story about using parasites to cure asthma. It's not for the faint of heart.

Posted by: Andrew at July 2, 2006 11:42 AM

Are the worms showing any benefit for any other auto-immune disorders? (ie: Celiac Disease)( And what is out there to rid the system of environmental allergies??

Posted by: Roxanne at November 21, 2007 8:58 AM

Are the worms showing any benefit for any other auto-immune disorders? (ie: Celiac Disease)( And what is out there to rid the system of environmental allergies??

Posted by: Roxanne at November 21, 2007 8:58 AM

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