Some day, doctors may prescribe worms to help treat people with autoimmune diseases such as Crohn’s disease, rheumatoid arthritis or type 1 diabetes. Humans and their parasites have co-evolved through the millennia, but now in countries where intestinal parasites are rare, some pathways of the immune system may go awry. In parts of the world where such worms are common, autoimmune diseases like lupus or Hashimoto’s disease are fairly rare.

Doctors are experimenting with the short-term use of live parasites or substances that they secrete to retrain the body’s response to inflammation. There is hope that eventually this could even be beneficial in cases of inflammation linked to heart disease or allergic reactions, such as those triggered by the introduction of titanium or other metals in artificial joints. The challenge now is to find a way to control the immune system’s reaction to the parasites we no longer host.

[Nature Reviews Immunology, Sept  9, 2013]

The concept of our co-evolution with unseen life forms that inhabit us was explored in a very entertaining fashion by Rob Dunn, in The Wild Life of Our Bodies.

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  1. Soooz

    I recently ate artichoke and noticed black stuff and a WORM! Is it possible to get worms that will live in my intestines from the residual worm stuff in an artichoke?
    I steamed the artichoke on low heat very slowly. I am not sure the worms were killed in cooking. Please help! Is this a bad thing?

  2. Cindy M. B.

    There was a fascinating story on This American Life (I think) on PBS about this same thing. The guy had horrible lifelong GI problems (probably Crohn’s Disease) and finally got infused with parasites and lo and behold his symptoms cleared up. Amazing.

  3. paulbyr

    Oh yeah, I forgot, when I was in college at Univ of FL, we used to keep leeches in an aquarium and put them on our arms to feed them. That was an old time medical treatment (before People’s Pharmacy I think).
    I don’t know what it did for me :o)

  4. paulbyr

    I wonder if my frequent digging in the dirt from the time I was 2 yrs old to now (age 76) qualifies as retaining (rather than retraining) the body’s response to inflammation. I can dig and get yard dirt into a recent minor cut or scratch and then, often several hrs later, I remember to wash it out with regular soap. If there seems to be some inflammation the next day, I will put Polysporin and a band-aid on it and it goes away. (I do keep up with things like tetanus shots.)

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