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Intestinal Parasites Protect Against Multiple Sclerosis Relapses

Is Worm Soup in Our Future?

By

Updated July 28, 2008

A study conducted in Argentina may have opened the door to a low-cost (but kind of unusual) potential treatment for relapsing-remitting multiple sclerosis (RRMS). Researchers there followed 24 people with multiple sclerosis for over four years -- half of whom had become infected with intestinal parasites after they were diagnosed with MS (but before they were recruited into the study).

Amazingly, in the 12 people with parasites, there were only three relapses over the four years, compared to 56 relapses in the 12 people who were not infected. They also had fewer lesions on MRI scans and less progression of disability.

The Hygiene Hypothesis

The theory, often referred to as the "hygiene hypothesis," is that certain infections or other exposures may teach the immune system to not attack a person's own body, as happens in an autoimmune disease such as MS. Some experts point to the hygiene hypothesis as a possible explanation as to why MS is more prevalent in the US and Europe than it is in Latin America, where people are more likely to be infected with parasites (and thus "protected," according to the theory).

In this study, results suggest that certain types of T cells that are produced as a result of parasite infections may change the course of MS.

Potential Study Shortcomings

OK, so the study was small and the researchers knew who was infected, which could lead to biased results. However, this it is still a very interesting finding.

Further Research

The idea of treating people by having them drink or eat large doses of parasite eggs has been applied to other diseases, such as irritable bowel syndrome and Crohn's disease, but is still in the experimental stages.

I guess I don't have to remind anyone not to try this one at home. However, for those of you who are truly willing to give it a try, there is a clinical trial where people with RRMS will drink a solution containing helminth (parasitic worm) eggs at the University of Wisconsin, entitled Helminth-Induced Immunomodulation Therapy (HINT) in Relapsing-Remitting Multiple Sclerosis.

Source:

Correale J, Farez M. Association between parasite infection and immune responses in multiple sclerosis. Ann Neurol. 2007 Feb;61(2):97-108.

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