Home Australia I deliberately let a two-metre-long tapeworm live in my gut for two months, writes Dr MICHAEL MOSLEY. This is what it felt like…

I deliberately let a two-metre-long tapeworm live in my gut for two months, writes Dr MICHAEL MOSLEY. This is what it felt like…

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There is growing evidence that worms may hold the secret to reducing chronic inflammation.

Parasites like leeches and tapeworms often get a bad press, but I find them fascinating. So much so that a few years ago I deliberately infected myself with some tapeworms to see what would happen (more on that in a moment).

In the years since that gruesome self-experiment, there has been growing evidence that worms like hookworm and tapeworm may hold the secret to reducing chronic inflammation. This is linked to many of the diseases we associate with old age, including dementia and cancer, but also autoimmune conditions such as asthma and ulcerative colitis.

In fact, recent research has shown that infection with a tapeworm can prolong an animal’s life.

That said, I wouldn’t recommend it, especially since getting infected with tapeworms can have considerable downsides.

An extraordinary story recently appeared in the American press. Robert F. Kennedy Jr, a prominent anti-vaxxer and possible candidate to be the next president, said a tapeworm had damaged part of his brain.

There is growing evidence that worms may hold the secret to reducing chronic inflammation.

It was reported that, in 2010, he began suffering from memory problems, which was initially thought to be due to a brain tumor. But experts decided that a dark spot seen on a brain scan “was caused by a worm that entered my brain and ate part of it and then died,” she said in legal papers two years later.

Last week, his spokesman said that the worm (a pork tapeworm) had not left him with any long-term physical or mental health problems and that he was fit to run for president.

A gruesome story, no doubt, that highlights the dangers of eating undercooked pork, especially if done in a country with lax hygiene standards. So when I deliberately infected myself with tapeworm, we decided to opt for a beef tapeworm instead of a pork tapeworm.

The idea of ​​the experiment was to see what impact, if any, the tapeworm would have on my immune system. And unlike tapeworms in pigs, those in cows appear to be relatively benign and don’t reach places they really shouldn’t, like the brain.

To become infected I had to travel to Kenya, find an infected cow and then swallow some cysts formed by tapeworm embryos. Over the next eight weeks, the cysts “hatched” and the tapeworms attached to my intestine and began to grow.

While that was happening, researchers at the University of Salford monitored my blood and could see that the tapeworms were helping to weaken my immune response. Otherwise, I didn’t feel any different or lose any weight (the tapeworm diet doesn’t work). After two months, I swallowed a camera pill to film the worms, which by then were several meters long and wriggling happily in my gut. My main reaction was fascination, with a touch of repulsion. It was certainly without regret that I took a pill to kill them.

What we saw in this experiment was the immunosoothing potential of parasitic worms, something that scientists are harnessing to treat a variety of conditions, from Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis to eczema, asthma, allergies and even sclerosis. multiple (EM). Although it is still early, some promising results have been obtained.

In a small study from the University of Nottingham, published in 2020 in the journal Neurology, 71 patients with relapsing-remitting MS (where symptoms worsen, followed by periods of recovery) received a dose of hookworm larvae (about 25 of them) administered through a cast attached to your arms, or a placebo cast.

MS is usually caused by an overactive immune system that attacks the insulating layer that covers our nerves, causing problems with movement and memory. The idea of ​​this study was to see if worm infection would weaken the immune response.

Although the worms did not significantly improve his symptoms or make a visible difference to existing nerve damage, they did cause an increase in “regulatory” T cells in the patient’s blood, which help keep the immune system in check. And this seemed to be preventing further damage.

The MS Society, which funded the research, says it is very unlikely that worm therapy will be approved any time soon, but this type of study gives us valuable information about how worms manipulate our immune system, which will hopefully will lead to better treatments in the future.

In another small study, scientists at the Malaghan Institute of Medical Research in New Zealand infected patients suffering from Crohn’s disease (a form of inflammatory bowel disease) with hookworms to try to keep their symptoms at bay.

Over the course of a year, 40 percent of patients remained in remission (without flares), the journal Inflammatory Bowel Diseases reported last June. Again, more research is needed.

But perhaps the most dramatic benefit I’ve seen is a more recent study in which German scientists showed that tapeworm infection can triple your life expectancy—if you’re an ant, that is.

A team from Johannes Gutenberg University in Mainz found that ants infected with a particular species of tapeworm not only lived longer than normal, but they appeared to do so because the parasites pumped the insects with hundreds of different chemicals, including two powerful antioxidants that they appear to protect them against damage normally caused by aging.

Of course, it’s a giant step from ants to humans, but it almost makes me regret deciding to get rid of my own parasitic tapeworms. Almost.

We need to take care of our livers. Here’s the fast track…

Our livers normally do a fabulous job of removing toxins from the blood, as well as producing bile, a fluid that helps us digest and absorb fats.

Unfortunately, our livers are in crisis and deaths from liver disease have quadrupled in the last 50 years.

Much of this is due to rising obesity rates, which has led to an increase in non-alcohol fatty liver disease (NAFLD). A normal, healthy liver should contain little or no fat, but when you gain more weight than your body can comfortably support, some of that fat is stored in the liver.

Currently, up to one in three people in the UK suffer from early stage NAFLD which, if left untreated, can lead to serious liver damage, including cirrhosis and liver failure. Signs of advanced NAFLD include tiredness, confusion, dark urine, and itchy skin. If you have any of these symptoms, see your doctor.

Our livers are in crisis, and deaths from liver disease have quadrupled in the last 50 years.

Our livers are in crisis, and deaths from liver disease have quadrupled in the last 50 years.

There are no medical treatments for this condition, but studies have shown that intermittent fasting, particularly the 5:2 diet (reducing calories two days a week), is an effective way to get rid of it.

Is it just weight loss? No, according to research published last week in the journal Cell Metabolism. When researchers put mice on a 5:2 diet, their livers produced two proteins that reduced chronic inflammation, but also helped protect the liver from developing cancer. These proteins appear to work by preventing the accumulation of fat in the liver.

So if you develop signs of fatty liver disease, you know what to do.

I finally got over the really annoying cough that kept me up at night. In the end, what worked for me was taking some over-the-counter antihistamines, which apparently make my nose and throat feel less itchy. Either that or it just got better on its own.

I’m pretty bad at keeping in touch with old friends. And I’m not alone: ​​a recent review of studies by psychologists at the University of Sussex found that two-thirds of us are as reluctant to message an old friend as we are to strike up a conversation with a stranger. To overcome this, the researchers asked volunteers to spend a few minutes messaging existing friends or spend that time browsing social media. It was then suggested that they contact an old friend later. More than half of those who sent the practice messages actually did so, compared to less than a third in the control group. I think I’ll try it.

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