A controversial treatment, in which people eat parasitic worm eggs in the hope that they will cure a whole host of ailments, is currently being evaluated by German authorities to assess whether or not it should be allowed to be sold to the public. If the company behind the application, called Tanawisa, is successful, then it would be the first officially licensed product of this sort to be stocked on shelves in Europe.
But many are not best pleased with the idea that the parasitic worms may soon be licensed, mainly because of the fact they are to be consumed, so the application is being considered as a novel food ingredient. This means that, unlike medical drugs, the company does not have to prove that they work, simply that they are safe to eat.
The idea that parasitic worms can be used to treat a range of conditions has been around for a while, mostly in reference to using hookworms. The logic goes that as the eggs hatch to form worms, the parasites naturally release chemicals that mediate your immune system to stop your body killing them.
As many autoimmune conditions, such a celiac disease, can be traced to an overreacting immune system, the dampening of it due to the parasites is thought to help alleviate the symptoms. The problems arise because while these side effects of a hookworm infection might be beneficial, there are others that are terrible, from diarrhea to anemia.
Therefore, as it is not really recommended that you purposely infect yourself with hookworms, the company behind the application instead turned to another parasitic worm more usually associated with pigs. Known as pig whipworm (Trichuris suis), it is hoped that the helminthic worm will produce all the benefits of the hookworm, but as it can’t actually infect humans, none of the downsides.
That is the theory, at least. Needless to say, there are quite a few experts who are not on board with the idea of letting people self-medicate with parasitic worms, considering there are no requirements for a clinical trial or any hard evidence to prove that it is safe to consume or if it actually works.
“Self-medication with any type of worm is not recommended and it is important to remember they’re not in any way completely harmless, and may cause quite severe side effects if not monitored very carefully by a doctor,” the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine’s Helena Helmby told New Scientist.
The overwhelming advice from doctors here is that while, yes, treatment with parasitic worms is genuinely being explored as a new type of treatment, please don’t buy them from the Internet and do it yourself.