This sounds kinda gross.
Study Says Worms May Help Bowel Disorders
document.write(getElapsed("20040521T012332Z")); Thu May 20, 9:23 PMBy MIKE WILSON, Associated Press Writer
IOWA CITY, Iowa - Having intestinal worms actually may be a good thing, say scientists studying treatments for irritable bowel disorders.
University of Iowa researchers have been using pig whipworms to treat Crohn's disease and ulcerative colitis, having patients ingest parasitic worm eggs in a glass of Gatorade.
Raymond Fiedler, 65, of Clinton, a study participant, said he wasn't squeamish about drinking them down.
"What you don't see can't hurt you," he said.
Dr. Joel Weinstock, lead researcher, said the theory is that the deworming of people in industrialized countries may be responsible for the increased incidence of disorders such as Crohn's and colitis. Both are painful, chronic inflammatory bowel disorders that can cause diarrhea, cramping and numerous complications.
The worms, which are thin as a hair and can grow to half an inch long in the patient's intestine, may provide chemicals which suppress certain immune-system responses to antigens and keep the digestive tract healthy.
"We assume that good hygiene is great, but maybe we don't want it," Weinstock said. "Being very, very clean ... we could be failing to get exposed to the healthy ones in our attempts to avoid the bad ones."
He said the incidence of Crohn's and colitis in the United States was once 1-in-5000. Today, that ratio is about 1-250.
"It's increasing and becoming a major health problem," Weinstock said.
The study, funded by the Crohn's and Colitis Foundation of America and the California-based Broad Foundation, examined about 120 people who suffer from irritable bowel disease. Some were given a drink with 2,500 worm eggs, while others were given a placebo.
Weinstock said it didn't take much arm-twisting to persuade patients to ingest the worm eggs, because many were taking 25 pills or more a day for their condition. Some drugs raise their risk of cancer, he said.
"If you came to me and I said you could take something that was safe with no side-effects every two to three weeks, what would you do?" Weinstock said.
"The eggs are microscopic, so you can't see them, you can't taste them, nothing comes crawling out of you," he said. "It's not that icky when you're ill."
Weinstock said patients in the study showed significant improvement.
Of 54 patients with ulcerative colitis, 24 were given a placebo and 30 drank the worm eggs.
After three months, 13 of those given the egg drink improved. Only four of those given the placebo showed improvement.
Twenty-nine patients with Crohn's disease swallowed the eggs. After three months, 82 percent of them were in remission. After six months, that number had risen to 91 percent.
Fiedler, a retired middle school teacher, said he is now symptom free.
"I feel fine _ I feel great," he said.
While Fiedler wasn't officially told whether he received the placebo or the worm drink, a videotape of a colonoscopy, done about a year after the study began, showed the worms in his intestine.
"From what I've seen in the videotapes and photographs, they just attach themselves to the intestine and gobble away," Fiedler said.
Weinstock presented the study's finding this week at a Digestive Disease Week conference in New Orleans. Telephone messages left Thursday for other experts in gastroenterology were not immediately returned.
Weinstock said the pig whipworms were used because they're safe and live only a short time in humans, and cannot be transmitted to another person.
By comparison, human whipworms can live in a person for up to two years, he said.
Weinstock said no one before has studied the positive aspects of worms, which have always been considered to be negative.
"I suspect, and this is total speculation, that it could be we want people to have worms _ that the positive effects of worms would be good," Weinstock said.
The research could lead to the development of drugs from chemicals produced by the worms, he said, adding that such drugs _ and maybe even the worms themselves _ "may be important not only for treating diseases but for prevention as well."
Meanwhile, Fiedler continues to drink the worm egg concoction.
"They're training me now to mix them myself, so I can keep them in my refrigerator here, so I don't have to travel to Iowa City as often," he said.