Long time readers of this blog will be familiar with helminthic therapy, the life changing re-infection with parasitic worms championed by John Scott, a subscriber to the original FoodsMatter magazine.
John wrote to us about an article we were carrying on hypoallergenic baby formulae. For years, he told us, he had been surviving on Prejomin, a hydrolysed, semi-elemental infant formula which was the only thing that he could keep down. At that point he was unable to tolerate any normal food, and was more or less bed bound with ME, Crohn’s disease, regular migraines, crippling rhinitis, restless leg syndrome and a host of lesser ailments. To cut a long story short, John discovered helminthic therapy and, fifteen years later, he is, literally, a new man – and an ardent advocate for the therapy. He now runs a comprehensive website, Helminthictherapywiki.org, on which you can find everything you would want to know about helminths, and he also occasionally sends me some of the more interesting pieces that appear on his site.
What is helminthic therapy?
Until around 100 years ago when our lives became so much more hygienic all humans and animals were infected with parasitic worms which lived in and on their guts. If these worms multiplied out of control, they could make you ill and even be fatal. But since they depend on their hosts to remain alive themselves, it was in their own interests to control their numbers to a level at which they can be safely and ‘heathily’ tolerated by their hosts. But, in most western societies parasites have now been eliminated totally from our guts. The suggestion is that, in some cases, this has had disastrous consequences.
Although very little is really yet understood about parastic worms and their relationship with their human and animal hosts – or the microbiomes of those hosts – it would appear that they play a part in regulating our immune systems. In ultra simplistic terms, over millenia the immune system has engaged daily with the parasites to keep their numbers down to safe and tolerable levels. But over the last few generations, most of us living in the clean and hygienic Western world have got rid of those parasites from our guts. For some, such as John Scott, without parasites to regulate and control it, his immune system found itself ‘out of work’ and turned therefore on itself, giving rise to the many inflammatory auto-immune conditions* that plagued him. By reintroducing, as he did, a low level of parasitic infection to his gut (hookworms – Necator Americanus – in John’s case) his immune system could return to its historic task of keeping the parasites at bay and the many symptoms of autoimmune disregulation from which he was suffering, gradually disappeared.
Does it work?
In scientific terms it is very early days and really very little is known or understood about the relationship of parasites with their hosts. The research that has been done (and there is an increasing amount of it – see this article in The Scientist for example) has not been hugely promising. But then it could be argued that the somewhat reductionist nature of modern research is really not suited to the complex and holistic way in which parasites interact with their hosts.
Whatever about reseach there is a substantial and ever growing body of case histories from those with a wide range of autoimmune/inflammatory conditions who, having unsuccessfully tried every other form of therapy, have turned to worms and whose conditions have improved, often dramatically. Total resolution of symptoms is absolutely not universal. For some there is improvement but not cure, for some the worms have no effect at all. But there are a sufficient number for whom the therapy does work for anyone with seriously intractable ill health to at least consider the possibility.
Apart from a huge range of information on everything to do with helminthic therapy, John’s Wiki site includes over 900 self reported case histories from those who have treated themselves with parasitic worms, 75% of whom have reported an improvement in their health. As John says, ‘this overall response rate is particularly impressive given that most people who use this therapy have already tried every other treatment that is available for their condition’.
All 900 are there for you to read but, as I said, he sometimes send me links to a few that he thinks we would find especially interesting. Such as these:
- A man who had been fighting total food intolerance for 13 years and who, by late 2020 could only eat small amounts of rice and water. He estimated that on that diet he had not much more than 6 months before he starved to death. He started with helminths in July 2021 and by December last year he was eating 8 foods with more being gradually introduced without ill effect.
- This 65 year old lady had suffered from life long asthma and eczema and an ever increasing range of allergies with symptoms getting gradually worse as she aged. She started with helminths in 2017 since when not only have her asthma and eczema improved out of all measure but her allergies are greatly diminished and, an unexpected bonus, her lifelong constipation has totally resolved.
- And this not a case history but a research report on a small but largely positive study on the treatment of migraine with helminths.
John also sent me a link to this programme on New Zealand TV which looks at a couple of case histories and discusses helminthic therapy with Professor Graham Le Gros, director of the Malaghan Institute, who is investigating the human immune response to hookworms and seeking to understand its effects on a healthy individual’s gut bacteria composition and function. **
The wider implications
What John Scott is interested in, understandably, is the extraordinary therapeutic effect that self dosing with parasitic worms has had on his catastophic ill health and that of those who contribute to his site. However, as Professor Le Gros asks in the interview, if hosting a population of parasitic worms in the gut is a ‘natural’ thing for humans to do, what implications does getting rid of them have on human health? And could the frighteningly speedy increase in autoimmune conditions (put by some at between 3% and 9% a year) be related to the fact that we have banished our immune system regulators, the parasitic worms, from our guts.
There are as yet no certainties but is it pertinent that autoimmune disease seems to be a condition of the developed western world where parasites have largely been wiped out from its populations’ guts while many well established studies have shown that children brought up on farms (and therefore presumably in regular contact with animals who carry and can share parasitic worms) have far fewer allergies than children brought up in cities.
And, John also asks, could helminths have provided protection against COVID 19?
The most severe symptoms of COVID are associated with overwhelming inflammatory immune responses. Could a population of parastic worms have helped to regulate this? And, although there are many reasons put forward for why, contrary to expectations, Africa has seen a much lower death rate from COVID than the western world (younger population, a health system already set up to deal with infectious diseases, more time spent outdoors) could less emphasis on eliminating parasites from the general population also be a factor?
* Common autoimmune conditions (there are over 90 in total) include:
- Coeliac disease
- Rheumatoid arthritis
- Type 1 diabetes
- Multiple Sclerosis
- Inflammatory bowl disease including Crohn’s and Ulcerative colitis
- Systemic lupus
- Pernicious anaemia
- Graves’ disease
- Sjögren’s syndrome
** Professor Le Gros is a controversial figure, who has previously said some very pejorative things about the Helminthic Therapy community. Although in the interview he appears to be relatively supportive of self medication with helminths, the underlying purpose of his research appears to be the development of vaccines, including a hookworm vaccine, which would obviously prevent its recipients from being able to host hookworms for therapy.
For more information on the professor see this page on John’s site.