Within just a few weeks of each other, two papers have been published looking at the potential of using helminths to treat neurological conditions. Not surprisingly, both focus on the powerful anti-inflammatory effect of helminths.
(For those of you new to helminths: these are a kind of macrobiotic organism, intestinal worms, native to all mammals on this planet. However, in the industrialized world, we have “de-wormed,” completely eradicating our native macrobiomes. At this point, pinworms are the only one of these organisms that is still around in the westernized world, and when someone gets them, we instantly de-worm them (which is fair enough as they have nasty side effects). However, there are benign helminths currently being used for “helminthic therapy” – using small, therapeutic doses of these organisms to modulate the inflammatory response.)
The first paper looks at helminths in neurodegenerative disorders like multiple sclerosis and Alzheimer’s disease.[i] These authors believe that the upregulation (increase) in T regulatory cells (which produce anti-inflammatory cytokines, like IL-10) induced by helminths may play a pivotal role in treating these illnesses.
A few highlights from this paper:
The thrust of the 2nd paper, which focuses on using helminths in the treatment of neuropsychiatric disorders (NPDs), is essentially the same. They too state that helminths “…have shown to be protective against severe autoimmune and allergic disorders” and have been “…used for modulation of immune disturbances in different autoimmunity illnesses, such as Multiple Sclerosis (MS) and Inflammatory Bowled Disease (IBD).”[ii]
They go on to state that “…’helminthic therapy’ is able to ameliorate neuroinflammation of NPDs (neuropsychiatric disorders) through immunomodulation of inflammatory reactions and alteration of microbiota composition.”
A few high points of this one:
They summarize all this in their conclusion stating again that inflammation seems to be a driving force behind many neuropsychiatric disorders and helminths are perhaps the most potent natural modulator of the inflammatory response. Thus, “…helminth therapy may be a promising and new therapeutic option for resolution of neuroinflammation in NPDs.”
Here’s a question for you to contemplate: if neurodegenerative and neuropsychiatric disorders are, at least in large part, caused by out-of-control inflammation…why wait for them the start before working on the unregulated immune system? As Dr. Jamie Lorimer, of Oxford University says, “Humankind eventually needs to move beyond the idea that helminths are best used as a drug or a therapy. Rather, we need to embrace the view that helminths are a necessary component of the ecosystem of a healthy body, and that helminths should be cultivated for population-wide biota restoration…”[iii]
[i] Donskow-Lysoniewska, K, Doligalska, M, Gasiorowski, K, Leszek, J. Parasitic worms for the treatment of neurodegeneration. Neuropsychiatry. 2019;9(2):2333-2346.
[ii] Abdoli, A and Ardakani, HM. Potential application of helminth therapy for resolution of neuroinflammation in neuropsychiatric disorders. Metabolic Brain Disease. 2019. doi: 10.1007/s11011-019-00466-5
[iii] Lorimer, J. Hookworms Make Us Human: the Microbiome, Eco-immunology, and a Probiotic Turn in Western Health Care. Medical Anthropology Quarterly. 2018 Jul 13. doi: 10.1111/maq.12466