For the past four months, every two weeks, I have been wandering over to my refrigerator, fetching out for myself a shotglass-sized vial of pig whipworms from Thailand, and swallowing the entire vial. But I don’t stop there. Two weeks later, I drip a tiny pipette down my throat of rat tapeworms, harvested by a laboratory in the UK.
Why the hell would I be inoculating myself with what are widely considered to be vicious little parasites? It all started when I was visiting with a fellow health enthusiast, who informed me that he had been exploring the world of something called “helminthic therapy”, that both he and his brother had been swallowing these kind of worms every 10-14 days, that his usually problematic gut had “never felt better” and that he planned on continuing to eat tapeworms and whipworms for the rest of his life. I was intrigued.
And thus I proceeded to take a deep dive into the wonderful world of helminthic therapy.
How Helminthic Therapy Works
The modern, underground health interest in whipworms and tapeworms appears to have been sparked by a December 2012 Men’s Health Magazine article entitled “The Frenemy Within: The New (Ancient) Cure for Immune Disorders”, in which the author describes the story of a 45-year-old muscular 200-pound blacksmith named Tom Bear from Massachusetts, who from childhood suffered the effects of hundreds of allergies from green beans to peanuts to pollen, but completely cured his hampered immune system by intentionally infecting himself with eight tapeworm larvae.
I then found several articles published in peer-reviewed literature, including “Worms and germs lead to better immune function“, “Reconstituting the depleted biome to prevent immune disorders” and “Human helminth therapy to treat inflammatory disorders- where do we stand?” along with this fascinating New York Times article on the Hygiene Hypothesis, that backed up the efficacy of this so-called “helminthic therapy” for not only immune system modulation, but also prevention of diseases like prostate cancer, arthritis, and Parkinsons.
In the late 1980’s, medical researchers in the US and Europe developed a popular theory entitled “The Hygiene Hypothesis” which helped to explain why people living in developed countries seem to have a high prevalence of allergic disorders and immune system issues. Essentially, the Hygiene Hypothesis states that the human immune system is dependent upon exposure to a variety of organisms, in particular “old friends” (AKA parasitic helminths such as tapeworms, whipworms and hookworms), for proper development and functioning. The reason for this is believed to be that we co-evolved with these micro-organisms, which – until the advent of an ultra-clean, indoor-dwelling, industrialized society – have almost always been present in our bodies, and are in modern days present in the guts of many outdoor-dwelling hunter gatherer tribes. The recent and relatively rapid removal of these organisms from our bodies by modern medicine is now believed by many physicians and scientists to be a major factor in the malfunction of many people’s immune systems.
In a nutshell, helminths are parasitic worms. There are many different species of helminths – most of which have gotten a bad rap because people tend to acquire helminths via contact with contaminated food, water or soil, and because colonization with these helminths seem to be most common in children living in tropical areas with poor sanitation. However, this same helminthic inoculation has emerged as one possible explanation for the low incidence of autoimmune diseases in less developed countries, along with the significant and sustained increases in autoimmune diseases in industrialized countries. As a consequence some seemingly beneficial helminth have found their way in the world of gut and immune system therapy back to the human gut, intentionally, for the avoidance of immune-related disorders and as a form of nature’s most powerful probiotic for issues including Crohn’s disease, ulcerative colitis, (IBD), multiple sclerosis, type 1 diabetes, asthma, rheumatoid arthritis and many others.
Which Tapeworms & Whipworms I Use
So in a form of culinary self-immersive journalism, I got my hands on some helminths and began dosing. I ordered my first batch of helminths – HDC (Hymenolepis diminuta cysticercoids) – from Biome Restoration Ltd. in London.
Hymenolepis diminuta, which sounds far more attractive than describing what they actually are in layman’s terms (rat tapeworms) are one of the most widely studied organisms that colonizes the guts of vertebrates, and benefits include elimination of autoimmune diseases and near instant healing of gut issues such as Crohn’s disease. It causes little or no adverse symptoms in its usual primary hosts (common rodents such as laboratory rats and pet hamsters),and colonization of humans is rare but generally without any adverse symptoms, even in developing countries where the organism is very common.
The HDCs from London are raised in grain beetles called Tenebrio molitor, which are normally found in the human food supply as a harmless contaminant in a wide variety of grains. These grain beetles, in turn, subsist strictly on materials prepared for human consumption (in the case of the London lab, oatmeal). So all potential contaminants accompanying the cultivation and isolation of HDCs from grain beetles are derived from a common product (oatmeal) already consumed by humans in post-industrial culture. In stark contrast, other helminths currently in use (including those approved by the US Food and Drug Administration for clinical trials) are isolated from the actual feces of humans, rodents or pigs prior to use.
Gross. I’ll stick with the oatmeal version, thank you very much.
I then ordered the pig whipworm Trichuris suis (TS) from Tanawisa Company in Thailand. Under controlled conditions, at least some helminth species, such as TS, seem to interact with humans in highly complex and apparently beneficial ways, modulating the immune system in preliminary studies while positively impacting inflammatory bowel and other autoimmune diseases. For example, TS dosing has been shown to produce significant and long lasting improvements in Crohn's disease, probably by modulating parts of the immune system responsible for producing gut inflammation (known as Th1-type inflammation). FDA has even granted TS the status of Investigational New Drug, allowing clinical trials in humans, and currently, a clinical trial is underway to assess the possibility of TS therapy in autism treatment.
So what have I personally noticed since beginning my experimentation with helminthic therapy nearly four months ago?
Thus far, in the past four months, not only have I had zero side effects, including the dreaded itchy asshole or tiny baby worms in my poop, but I’ve actually felt far more gut comfort, particularly while exercising in hot weather, which is a notorious trigger for leaky gut and GI issues in most athletes. Not only that, but considering that the effect seem to be somewhat similar to a fecal microbiota transplant (FMT), also known as shoving someone else’s poop up your backside or swallowing poop from a donor in the form of a poop pill, the worms seem slightly (albeit only ever so slightly) less stomach-turning.
Of course, if you decide to try this immune-boosting and gut-healing strategy out personally, proceed at your own risk. I am not a doctor and this is not to be taken, interpreted or construed as medical advice. Please talk with a licensed medical professional about this. These are just my own personal thoughts and not a prescription or a diagnosis or any form of health care whatsoever.
Do you have questions, thoughts or feedback for me about helminthic therapy? Leave your comments below and I will reply!