Why You Might Want Parasitic Worms

By Adem Lewis / in , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , /

[ ♪ Intro ♪ ] If your doctor told you that you were infected
with worms, your first question would probably be, “How quickly can I get rid those worms
in me?” And I get that. I mean, look, you don’t want worms wriggling
around inside your intestines. It’s enough to gross anybody out. But what if I told you that you might want
to have parasitic worms inside you? Because some doctors have actually found a
connection between having worms and not having immune system problems like allergies or arthritis. The idea is that these worms have set up shop
in our bodies for so long, evolutionarily speaking, that our immune systems might have
gotten used to them — to the point that being worm-free can actually cause its own
issues. It’s part of the hygiene hypothesis, which
was proposed by epidemiologists back in the 1980s to explain why allergies and autoimmune
conditions like asthma are so much more common today than they used to be. According to the hypothesis, people’s immune
systems might be out of whack because we’re too clean. Filtered water didn’t exist for an awful
long time, let alone hand sanitizer stations. So for much of our evolutionary history, everyone
was constantly exposed to things like bacteria and parasites. It’s your immune system’s job to keep
these things from settling in and harming you when they get inside. So when it finds something foreign, it defends
your body by triggering inflammation — that hot, red, swollen achiness. Those symptoms happen because the area is
flooded with an army of white blood cells. The compounds they release either attack the
foreign material, or call in reinforcements. But the compounds that do the bulk of the
attack don’t just target invaders. They can harm your own cells, too, and your
body can get caught in the crossfire, which causes damage and pain. Allergies, for example are a special case
of inflammation, where the body is overreacting to something that’s usually harmless, like
pollen or dust. And autoimmune disorders come from parts of
your own body triggering inflammation. Like rheumatoid arthritis, where joints basically
become permanently inflamed, or multiple sclerosis, where the immune system attacks the protective
coating around nerves, and sometimes the nerves themselves. All these conditions are becoming more common
these days, especially in wealthy nations where you would think easy access to high-quality
medical care would prevent them. That’s where parasitic worms, collectively
known as helminths, come in. The group includes things like tapeworms,
nematodes, and flukes, which steal nutrients to survive. Most get cozy in another animal’s intestines
or blood. Some species cause pretty severe symptoms—like
the worms behind schistosomiasis, which can cause anemia, liver failure, bladder cancer,
or other awful conditions. But many others don’t. Like, if you had a tapeworm right now, you
might have no idea. Which is a super creepy thought, actually. For those more benign species, the fallout
that can come from launching your immune system nukes at them can be worse than the damage
from the worms themselves. Which is why some epidemiologists think that
our immune systems have evolved to function with certain parasites, to some extent. That might sound kind of backwards, but studies
have found that rates of asthma and allergies are higher in places with fewer parasite infections,
like those with more sanitation and access to healthcare. And even though treatment is obviously worth
it when the worms are causing health problems, other research has suggested that getting
rid of parasites can have unintended side effects. For instance, in a 2006 study, ridding 317
children from Gabon of their intestinal parasites made some of them have an allergic reaction
to mites. Similarly, a 2011 study looked at more than
2500 Ugandan women, some of whom were treated with deworming meds while they were pregnant. While the treatment helped prevent potentially
serious complications in both adults and babies, it increased the likelihood that the kids
would have eczema or wheezing—both symptoms of allergic responses. And a small study of 12 multiple sclerosis
patients found that those with worms had less nerve damage over time. But when 4 of them were treated, their multiple
sclerosis symptoms got worse. It seems strange that having a parasite infection
could keep you healthier in these specific ways. So to figure out why this pattern exists,
immunologists have looked at how our bodies respond to helminth infections. They’ve found that some parasitic worms
seem to make our immune systems kind of hold back by releasing anti-inflammatory signals
that make it so our bodies don’t go overboard trying to kill the parasites. At the same time, they’re also reducing
the inflammation that leads to autoimmune conditions, and the overreaction to allergens. Helminths could also spur the production of
regulatory T cells, which recognize parts of your body that might trigger inflammation
and turn down the response. These cells normally keep your immune system
from staying in attack mode after the invaders are already dead, or from freaking out in
response to harmless stuff like pollen. And this was seen in those 12 multiple sclerosis
patients—those with parasites had more regulatory T cells recognizing a protein that triggers
the attack of neural tissue. Which could be why they had less nerve damage. Doctors are trying to figure out what it is
about the worms that triggers these regulatory mechanisms. That way, they might be able to turn the compounds
involved into treatments for all kinds of autoimmune diseases. It would be all the benefits of worms, without
the worms! To be clear, we here at SciShow do not recommend
infecting yourself with worms to try and, like, cure your tree nut allergy. Unless your doctor prescribes them, which
is … kind of possible. Some doctors are putting the hygiene hypothesis
to the ultimate medical test: clinical trials. Most of these trials are still in the early
stages, and results are mixed. But some researchers remain hopeful. We already know that our health depends on
tons of other organisms that live on and in our bodies. So maybe parasitic worms are just part of
that. Just a lot bigger. But again, we are not recommending that you
stop washing your hands or, like, walk around barefoot around a lot of human feces. Don’t do that. If you want to learn more about your health
and medicine and healthcare policy you can dive even deeper by checking out our sister
channel Healthcare Triage hosted by Dr. Aaron Carroll over at youtube.com/healthcaretriage. [ ♪ Outro ♪ ]

100 thoughts on “Why You Might Want Parasitic Worms

  1. It could be possible that we just think Autoimmune diseases are more common in civilized society compared to the 3rd world because unlike the 3rd world we can treat patients faster and easier. perhaps people do suffer from the same proportionate amount of these types of diseases but a large majority of them are left un-diagnosed due to poor healthcare

  2. I deliberately dosed myself with human whipworm for ulcerative colitis in 2011. I've seen colonoscopy pics where the worms seem to have halted decades of inflammation. I had other infectious health problems going on unrelated to the worms so I killed them off to avoid adding insult to injury.

  3. I have rheumatoid arthritis and at this point the pain is so bad that worms might actually be a better option. I'll take part in that study!

  4. Wait….imagine if scientists could genetically engineer a parasite to keep us healthy and fight cancer,plagues,flu,etc. At the small cost of giving these parasites nutrances from our own bodies. Just imagine. A natural solution to sicknesses and other bad things. No more vaccines antibiotics etc. It could be revolutionary

  5. if they help, you might as well call them mutualistic worms. parasitic means one goes down and another goes up, however both the human and the worm are benefiting, so it would be mutual.

  6. woman want tapeworms in their bodies to make sure that the fetus cant become a baby as well

    thx for this ha bisky vid on why there are good things that come from the parasite diet


  8. How about harmful bacteria? Normal viruses? Common colds and such? Wouldn’t those be better for this same task, without the aspect of a permanent little slithery guest inside you? Hm. I really do hope for a response on this.

  9. But do you really think that taenia solium in your brain is better than simple allergies?? WTF? Taenia solium literally eats the brain. I know that bacteria can be good but the same cannot be said about taenias. All that taenias do is to eat your brain (when infecting brain) and absorb your energy (when infecting colons). How can that be better than allergies? Perhaps your brain is already half eaten…

  10. Before watching this video: So glad I never have to worry about allergy season 😀

    After watching this video: Oh god… I never have to worry about allergy season D:

  11. maybe my dumb unhygienic practices as child, like eating things that fell on the ground, were actually me instinctively building my immune system for the future
    or maybe I was just an idiot

  12. this made me think
    what if the relation with us and some worms is less parasitic than mutualistic
    think about it the worms get food and a home while you get less immuno-freakouts over pollen and dust and your immuno-disorders are extremely diluted

  13. No thanks. I've seen the negative effects that parasitic worms can have on animals, and I prefer not to put my body through the same thing.

  14. No thanks, I already have a civilization of probiotic bacteria in my gut, most of them live in Lactobacillus City in the Stomach District

  15. I did a whole research project about this in college! The act of deliberately infecting an allergic or autoimmune patient with a helminth parasite is called helminthic therapy. I'm friends with a couple people who have severe autoimmune disorders, and I've tried convincing them that this could work, but none of them are keen on the idea of having worms live in them. The idea of using these worms to create a therapy would be incredible!

  16. I'm thinking this is a big reason obesity is such a problemin developed nations. We did evolve in the presents of intestinal parasites, and without them we simply get more energy out of the food we eat.

  17. Makes me think of the episode of Futurama "Parasites Lost", where the worms were actually improving his body

  18. Yes in a big picture, many from rural area, not overly sanitized way of living, in children's immune system, seem to be more tougher in general, and the more psychical effort early on makes them more energized overall later in their life, but this just an observation.

  19. Could it be the parasite treatments caused the asthma symptoms? Doctors don't usually admit their drugs cause unforeseen side effects.

  20. Side note: the hygiene hypothesis has been reconfigured into the biome depletion hypothesis 🙂 you can search scholar.google.com for peer-reviewed work about it!

  21. If the worms are found to have benefits to human health wouldn’t that classify them as mutualistic rather than parasitic?


  23. I was a gross kid I still am I ate a lot of dirt and food off the ground I don’t have many allergies guess I’ll never be alone

  24. that is a Big F U. and you should watch this.

  25. The problem with parasites and bacteria I suspect is the modern diet, tons of carbs. On a low carb diet the amount of parasites and bacteria in our guts stay low, there is no harm done. When we eat carbohydrates it allows them to grow out of control. Historically speaking modern farming of carbohydrates did not start until a few thousand years ago, that is not enough time to adapt to such a drastic change.

    It's like in my country due to the sudden availability of food and water in the form of grazing land the kangaroo population here has absolutely exploded out of control, they are everywhere, causing car accidents and ravaging food that is available to other species. That ripe juicy grass land is the equivalent of carbohydrates, such open grasslands do not exist here naturally.

  26. Can they be used to help to people that have organs transplant to stop the immune system from killing it rather than using drugs to trick the immune system????

  27. the real question is whether you prefer to get your anti inflammatory drugs from pills or from worms inside of your body. Obviously we should be going for the natural option, right?

  28. that is mad interesting, areas with less rates of parasitic infections have higher chance of asthma and allergies… I stopped getting really bad allergies when I started farming… I thought I was getting used to the pollen….

  29. Its like the Futurama episode where Fry gets worms from a vending machine egg sandwich. Then he became smart, healthy, and charismatic.

  30. Reminds me of this new story: https://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/science/science-news/10607615/Journalist-infested-himself-with-tapeworm-for-BBC-documentary.html

  31. Most parasites want YOU to live as long as possible so that THEY can live as long as possible and give off more offspring which will do the same

  32. It's an interesting concept, but there are too many variables besides parasites that can explain the lower rates of conditions like asthma and allergies.

    The biggest being undiagnosed conditions in areas with low income and poor medical care. I live in a barely rural area of SC and I still didn't find out I had allergies until after 20. Apparently I even partially tore a hip labrum at some point that went undiagnosed for years.

    Not trying to make it about me. My point is if that happens in the US I find it very easy to believe tons of kids in the third world with mild asthma or allergies never get diagnosed.

  33. What we ought to do is develop a mutual or commensal organism to test if the hygiene theory is accurate. Perhaps then it could be a treatment for autoimmune disorders

  34. A parasitic worm in your intestine is actually healthy and unhealthy,safe and useful and also dangerous and useless at the same time.

    Me: "Should i keep it?"
    My immune system: " Yes"
    MY intestines: "No"
    Immune System: "YES!"
    Intestines: "NO!"

    Overlapping voices

    Seriously what should I do?

  35. I am so confused and scared now of getting worms. When I think of worms I think of the common American Earthworm. The tapeworm is really sneaky if you do not know it is in your body until you have medical problems.

  36. Maybe I need a tape worm, lol. I've actually got really severe primary progressive multiple sclerosis, which I can tell you is no fun at all.

  37. They actually sold tape worms back in the early 1900's as a weight loss tool?? The scariest thing about tape worms is they're all hermaphrodites and breed by themselves. The longest tape worm was over 6' 6" and was removed from an Indian guy.

  38. This is misinformation. There is no way, having a parasite, is good for your health, seriously do some research and use basic common sense… an animal or insect inside your body eating you or your nutrients, leaving excrement and toxin buildup in your blood and body. "But like it's totally good for you, I've totally like watched a youtube that said so… and like I know stuff about parasites now, I'm an expert." YALLS SHEEPLE IS SHOWING HARD. CRIMANY. Use your brains!

  39. The never time I suffer from hay fever I will recall this video….thinking 'yep I'm good without parasites I will live with the allergies' and maybe one day we will evolve smarter immune systems that don't need worms for commands.

  40. THATS A LIE , worms are eating you alive and eating your food makeing you weaker and weaker as you age.
    Getting rid of parasites makes you heather witch that means stronger teeth healthy liver, kidny immune system and more,
    your energizing your parasites by making them more active with all kind of suger, dary products and carbs its like oxygen to them allowing them to lay eggs and eat your flash.
    To kill parasites cut off food they need and intake lots of herbs and spices specially oregano.

  41. So, our ancestors knew about herbs that controlled parasite populations and took them in Spring and Fall.
    They also did not eat animals treated with antibiotics…. which probably makes us even more susceptible to disease.
    Holy hell, Science has used us as human guinea pigs.

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