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Parasites for Health?

There's an awesome NYTimes article about coevolution, and the necessity of parasites.

Our immune systems developed under a pretty heavy parasitic load, and are built to handle those parasites. Now that we've cleaned up most of our worms and bacteria our relatively unchallenged immune systems basically get bored, and start going after inappropriate targets within our bodies. (This is a good argument for the five-second rule, and for eating street vendor food - keep that immune system properly occupied so it doesn't go looking for trouble.)

Anyway, they have actual studies and statistics:
About 10 years after improved hygiene and deworming efforts reduced worms in a given population, I.B.D. (Inflammatory Bowel Disease) rates jumped. Weinstock had his hypothesis: after a long coevolution, the human immune system came to depend on the worms for proper functioning. ...epidemiologists had already dubbed this notion "the hygiene hypothesis": as improved hygiene reduced exposure to certain infectious agents, the immune system began malfunctioning. By the late 20th century, autoimmune disorders, characterized by the body's defenses attacking some aspect of the self, had increased markedly, and allergic diseases, defined by an overblown immune response to nonthreatening substances, afflicted almost half the people in the developed world.

If eliminating worms led to an increase in disease, could re-introducing worms actually treat these diseases? In mice, the answer was yes. Worms were used to "inoculate" against mouse asthma, Type 1 diabetes, multiple sclerosis and I.B.D.

In 2005, he published results from two human studies. After ingesting 2,500 microscopic T. suis eggs at 3-week intervals for 24 weeks, 23 of 29 Crohn's patients responded positively. (Crohn's disease belongs to the I.B.D. family, which also includes ulcerative colitis.) Twenty-one went into complete remission. In the second study, 13 of 30 ulcerative colitis patients improved compared with 4 in the 24-person placebo group.

Scientists around the world are intrigued. Several large studies are under way.


If you decide to try this at home, please document the project for Instructables!

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Gjdj38 years ago

Gjdj3 Gjdj38 years ago
Don't watch if offended by language.
Kiteman8 years ago
(Comments made without reading the full article)

This is kind of old news, and mirrors frequent discussions I have with colleagues about doing experiments in science lessons - if we don't encounter a hazard, how do we learn to deal with it?

My mother and Kitewife's mother are both clean-freaks. I have asthma, my sister has asthma and my brother-in-law has appalling eczema. We, though, are not clean-freaks. We let the boys get dirty, and stay dirty. If they drop their sandwich, they pick it up and eat it. We don't disinfect them if they touch an animal. Neither of them has any condition that could be classed as autoimmune.

Two facts:

More of the cells in our body belong to other organisms than belong to us.

In the UK, the desire for a spotless home, and the necessity for for hours of cleaning that entailed, was actively promoted after WWII as a way of encouraging women to go back to being housewives and leave their wartime jobs for the returning menfolk.

  • Can you imagine what modern society would have been like if the population had been less trusting of the government in the late forties?
  • How different would our population's health be now?
Well other than the fact that you sound like a walking grade 9 text book, you prove a good point kiteman. Obviously in the past 3000+ years that we "evolved" and migrated around the world as humans and "hunter-gatherers", we were probably rather infested with critters and parasites. We slept in dirty caves and on forest beds, obviously a lot different from our life styles now.

That aside, parasites are parasites, they attach to a host in order to find a place to stay and to survive by feeding off the host (whether it be blood or other bodily fluids). And while there may be some co-evolution involved here with poorer countries, I assure that when said parasites (stay with me I'm trying not to be too vague) attached to humans, there was probably immune system reaction to them like how cleaner humans react now if they were to get an intestinal worm (bleeding, bloating of the intestines, lots of things that would make you feel not too fun). But we as humans and any other multi-celled organism on this planet adapt to our environments dynamically, while not all at once, humans (ie africans) adapted to the worms in their intestines and other parasites that may have existed.

Did you know that Sickle Cell Disease actually aids the africans in resisting malaria (a type of parasite).
The evolution was most certainly co-. Most of the beasties that live within us are not purely parasitic - they perform other functions for us indirectly, not just stimulating our immune system, but actively assisting it, defending "their territory" (us) against invading organisms that would pose a far greater threat.

Many people who have been put on broad-spectrum strong antibiotics will have found that, after the infection is gone, they still have trouble with digestion or diarrhoea, since the antibiotics also killed off the "friendly natives", leaving no defence against more virulent invaders.

Evolution has given us a powerful internal army, but if that army has no enemies outside it's borders, it will quite easily turn against its own.

(And, yes, I knew about Sickle Cell, but that's not an auto-immune condition, it's a genetic condition with the reinforcing attribute that the sickle cells are less hospitable to the malaria parasite, and the blood proteins are also harder for the parasites to digest.)
>The evolution was most certainly co-. Most of the beasties that live within us are not purely parasitic - they perform other functions for us indirectly, not just stimulating our immune system, but actively assisting it, defending "their territory" (us) against invading organisms that would pose a far greater threat. .As we see, there's obviously many sides to this, and an even greater number of kinds and species of parasites. I think what you're thinking of is more like bacteria that aids in our digestion, it's not from "us" but it's from what we eat and they in turn help us digest our food. I have a hard time seeing however how a worm attached to the inner lining of your intestines would be doing anything such as helping, all they do is eat all the food that you eat, and they also bite off chunks of your intestinal lining causing the bleeding. It does sound neat in a way though that we have other creatures that protect our bodies. >Many people who have been put on broad-spectrum strong antibiotics will have found that, after the infection is gone, they still have trouble with digestion or diarrhoea, since the antibiotics also killed off the "friendly natives", leaving no defence against more virulent invaders. .Antibiotics shouldn't even be used if they don't have to be, as the parasites and other "friendly" critters inside you also become immune to certain antibiotics after time. I assume that said person would need to mitigate bacteria and the essential organisms back into their bodies, how this would be done is unknown to me though, but I assume it also depends on the environment one lives in aswell. >Evolution has given us a powerful internal army, but if that army has no enemies outside it's borders, it will quite easily turn against its own. .I keep hearing this auto-immune stuff, I've never had a problem and I'm a rather clean person, but I'm not clean ALL the time. I suppose if you were a neat freak going around spraying lysol on all their doorknobs and keyboards. Here's a good question, if we as humans were designed to be able to live in harsh environments bacterial and parasite wise due to internal mechinisms that allowed protection against this, then why are we going backwards? (or are we?) > I knew about Sickle Cell, but that's not an auto-immune condition .I know, but I thought I'd throw a fun fact in because we were talking about parasites.
Here's a good question, if we as humans were designed to be able to live in harsh environments bacterial and parasite wise due to internal mechinisms that allowed protection against this, then why are we going backwards? (or are we?)

Not designed, evolved.

We aren't going backwards (evolution has no "backwards", but that that's another discussion), we are simply no longer living in the environment in which we evolved - our bodies are suffering as a result, because our environment is changing far faster than evolutionary processes can keep up with.

The changes are happening across the planet, which is why we appear to be in the middle of the largest mass extinction since the KT event. The only reason our population isn't suffering (yet) is because we are capable of constantly inventing short-term solutions to deal with the cumulative long-term damage.
. Great explanation! Short, sweet, and to the point. And it doesn't sound too text-bookish. heehee
I'd say he hit it right on the nail that time.
> bows politely <
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