I just stumbled across beyond-cool research which unveils a whole new way helminths may work to reduce inflammation.
Researchers at the University of California, Riverside, have discovered that helminths not only manipulate the endocannabinoid system of their hosts, but the organisms themselves produce natural cannabinoids in order to help ensure survival.[i]
For those unfamiliar: endocannabinoids are cannabis-like molecules made by our bodies and are crucial in regulating some immune, behavioral and neurological processes. Some are highly anti-inflammatory. The reason medical marijuana works is that it mimics the endocannabinoid system, for example, attaching to receptors that reduce pain. From The Scientist: “…recent work has provided evidence that the endocannabinoid system—a family of endogenous ligands, receptors, and enzymes—isn’t exclusive to the brain. It is present everywhere in the body that scientists have looked: the heart, liver, pancreas, skin, reproductive tract, you name it. And disrupted endocannabinoid signaling has been associated with many disorders, including diabetes, hypertension, infertility, liver disease, and more.”[ii]
These researchers started with studying human hookworm, and discovered that they increase their chances for successful colonization by dampening their host’s pain (as they enter through the skin and eventually latch on to the intestinal wall) by producing cannabinoids. Amazingly, these same endocannabinoids keep the worm population in check by stimulating specific immune pathways.
It gets even more astounding: this same pathway is also used by the surviving hookworm to stimulate host feeding behavior, which protects the host from undernourishment, (as the hookworms feed from them), thereby protecting the hookworm’s new home. Also, the anti-inflammatory nature of the endocannabinoids protects the host’s tissues (skin, intestines, etc.) from excessive inflammation as the hookworms enter and take up residence.[iii]
Mother Nature is really just beyond remarkable.
[iii] Hashini M. Batugedara et al. Host and helminth-derived endocannabinoids are generated during infection with effects on host immunity, Infection and Immunity (2018). DOI: 10.1128/IAI.00441-18