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November 21 2012

The Potential Health Benefits of Parasitic Gut Worms

A dose of parasitic whipworms cured monkeys with chronic diarrhea, fixing immune systems gone haywire and offering a snapshot of what worms might do for people.

Whipworms are typically considered a scourge, but there’s also reason to think they have benefits. In the monkeys, they seemed to restore intestinal bacterial balance and prevent the monkeys’ immune systems from dangerous overreaction.

“If you compare monkeys that had colitis with healthy monkeys, there is a big difference in types of bacteria that are attached to the intestinal wall,” said microbiologist P’ng Loke of New York University, co-author of a Nov. 15 PLoS Pathogens study of the worm treatment. “Immune response is calibrated to the presence of worms. In their absence, you get a different response.”.

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