Dear Dr. K: A while ago you wrote about a British physician who ingested worms to treat his asthma. I recently read a report about “worm therapy” for arthritis. Is this for real?
Believe it or not, the answer to your question is yes. Despite the growing sophistication of immunologic research, there are still lessons to be learned from mother nature.
Two-billion humans are infected with some form of worm. The main reason for this is poverty and a lack of adequate medical care to identify and irradiate the chronic worm infestation. Of great interest is that these two-billion people have a remarkable paucity of allergies and auto-immune conditions. In fact, it was this observation that led that British physician, who has asthma, to experiment on himself by ingesting hook worms.
As it turns out, worms produce a variety of proteins that neutralize or dampen the infected individuals’ immune system that would otherwise attach and destroy the worms.
One of the key targets of the worm proteins are immune cells called T-regs (T-regulatory cells). T-regs also are a major controlling factor for causing allergic and autoimmune diseases. Hence, the beneficial aspect for people with arthritis.
Unfortunately, as the British scientist learned, chronic worm infections have their own adverse health problems and so are not a realistic treatment option. However, immunologic scientists around the world are researching the individual worm proteins as a safe mechanism to get the desired effect.
Already, some of the proteins tested in mouse models have had dramatic healing effects for arthritis without significant side effects. Human studies are next.