We mainly associate parasitic worm infections with disease, but what if there are parasites that are actually good for us?
There are many different types of helminthic worms and some can be really bad for our health. Other types, however, have been used therapeutically for several years.
Helminthic therapy is one of many therapies I have investigated in recent years and also tried on myself. Today, I’d like to give you all a little introduction on this rather interesting therapy.
What is Helminthic Therapy?
In essence, helminthic therapy is the use of parasites as probiotics.
For this purpose, a small number of domesticated intestinal worms are introduced into the intestines.
The idea behind helminthic therapy is that we have evolved in a symbiotic (= mutually beneficial) relationship with some parasites as part of our microbiome (= collective communities of microbes living in and on our body).
Through increased hygiene, sanitation, wearing shoes and better food storage techniques we have lost exposure to these worms. And this may have had consequences for our immune system…
What can Helminths do for us?
One of the beneficial effects of certain helminths is that they help to train the immune system in infancy and then help to regulate immunity as long as they reside in the intestine.
An imbalanced immune system is at the root of a lot of our modern chronic diseases like allergies and autoimmunity. In countries where humans are still exposed to helminths, levels of these conditions have been found to be much lower (although there’s probably many other factors playing a role).
We don’t fully know yet how autoimmune and allergic conditions develop, but part of the theory is that the two main arms of the immune system (Th1 and Th2) have become imbalanced leading to an inappropriate immune response where the body overreacts to harmless particles and/or starts attacking its own tissue.
This is where helminths come in: their proposed mechanism of action is that once they have become established in the intestine, they can secrete immune-regulating molecules and help re-balance the immunes system, thus putting an end to the hyper-reactive immune system and inflammatory response that seems to be at the root of many chronic health problems and thereby (potentially) putting symptoms into remission.
Unmonitored and uncontrolled infection with helminths, on the other hand, can suppress immunity and lead to problems. Therefore, helminths have to be used in a controlled manner and with species that are known to be symbiotic to humans.
As discussed above, not all helminths are good – in fact, parasite infections can be a cause of major health problems.
To be beneficial, helminths must possess the following attributes:
- They should not cause disease at therapeutic doses
- They should not be able to carry other microbes into the body
- They should not cause long-term symptoms at therapeutic doses
- They should not endanger humans with suppressed immunity
- They should not be easily transmissible to other humans
- They should not be able to reproduce in humans
- We should be able to eradicate them easily if needs be
- They should be easy to get into the body
- They should not interfere with common medications
There are only a few worms that fit these attributes. These are:
- Pig Whipworm (Trichuris Suis, TS)
- Human Hookworm (Necator Americanus, NA)
- Human Whipworm (Trichuris Trichiura, TT)
- Rat Tapeworm (Hymenolepis diminuta, HD)
Helminthic Therapy for Chronic Disease
There haven’t been enough clinical trials yet to make helminthic therapy a viable option for mainstream medicine.
However, several studies have been done using helminths for immune-related conditions such as:
- Celiac Disease
Apart from these studies, there is quite a bit of anecdotal evidence of people experimenting with this therapy, which has been collected at the Helminthic Therapy Wiki and Helminthic Therapy Facebook Group (very helpful). Anecdotally, there seem to be various people who have had great success with this therapy.
Helminthic Therapy for Interstitial Cystitis
With IC potentially having an immune-related component and often a mast cell component, I’d like to have a quick look at how this therapy may be helpful.
As with many things, this therapy hasn’t been studied in relation to IC. However, I’d like to share a few anecdotes from the Helminthic Therapy Facebook Group:
‘Several people with a number of overlapping conditions that included IC have said that their IC improved after inoculating with hookworms’ (FB Group admin)
‘On a side note, my interstitial cystitis has improved to almost 100% remission since start of hookworm therapy, but this might also be the result the entocort. Either way, I’m hopeful this improvement will remain after I taper in the next couple weeks.’ (source)
‘It will likely improve if your IC has a mast cell component. I stopped IC flaring after I started xyrem. While on xyrem I started HT and since then only a few short flares in the 4 pregnancies I’ve had since starting HT. So it seems to be keeping me in remission. But I’ve also been pregnant and/or breastfeeding so that may be helping too.’
‘[…] my spasm/ pain level frequency has decreased.’
‘My IC seems to be calmer… at least the flair ups only last a few hours not days […]’
‘I used to get bladder pains nothing too severe however I do believe NA help with this’ (source)
‘Day 45 helminthic therapy for mastocytosis: […] – No permanent UTI burning sensation (Interstitial Cystitis)’ (source)
So as you can see, a few people seem to have some success with this therapy.
Helminthic therapy isn’t simple though. While the worms migrate to the intestines and start to mature, they can cause some uncomfortable side-effects (however, these should pass after around 3 months):
- Stomach cramps
- Old symptoms returning
- Skin rash
And more… so it’s not a therapy for people who can’t deal with these things.
Also, I’d like to say that before embarking on what is a more difficult therapy to get right, I’d suggest making sure that ‘IC’ is in fact not just a chronic UTI…
If you’ve been following my blog for a while you may know that I like to play guinea pig –my motto being: how can I know if something is valid if I haven’t tried it?! So of course I couldn’t help trying helminthic therapy myself…
If you’re curious how it went, stay tuned for my next post!
Want to find out more about helminthic therapy?
Helminthic Therapy Wikipedia: https://helminthictherapywiki.org/wiki/index.php/Helminthic_Therapy_Wiki
Helminthic Therapy Facebook Group: https://www.facebook.com/groups/htsupport/
Have you heard of Helminthic Therapy? What are your thoughts? Let me know in the comments!
Pin it for later:
Facebook Helminthic Therapy Support Group accessed Oct 2018 https://www.facebook.com/groups/htsupport/
Helminthic Therapy Wikipedia accessed Oct 2018 https://helminthictherapywiki.org/wiki/index.php/Helminthic_Therapy_Wiki
Wikipedia Helminthic Therapy accessed Oct 2018 https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Helminthic_therapy