Helminthic Therapy for Autoimmune Disease (Or, Why I Gave Myself Parasites on Purpose)
By: Dave Asprey
- Infecting yourself with parasites on purpose, known as helminthic therapy, is a cutting-edge treatment for autoimmune conditions.
- You have to know what you’re doing — I consulted experts and did the research before I went for it. Certain parasites can cause major problems, and some are fatal.
- Parasites used in helminthic therapy reduce autoimmune disease flare-ups.
- These types of parasites cannot reproduce in humans, so if you do it right, you don’t have to worry about a full-blown infestation.
- Sourcing your parasite eggs is crucial. You want them to be active, and more importantly you want to make sure you’re receiving what you think you’re receiving.
- Here’s how to determine whether helminthic therapy is right for you.
I downed a bottle of rat tapeworm larvae on stage once. I’ll be the first to admit I did it to get a reaction out of the audience.
It wasn’t my first time ingesting parasites. Before that, I ate pig whipworm eggs from Thailand to see what would happen.
I didn’t make the informed decision to grow worms in my body just for the winces and gasps from the crowd, even though that was fun. I also did it because infecting yourself with parasites on purpose, known as helminthic therapy, is a cutting-edge treatment for autoimmune conditions. That is, if you know what you’re doing.
As with all of my biohacks, I consulted experts and did the research before I went for it. Turns out, certain parasites reduce autoimmune disease flare-ups. The ones used for helminthic therapy cannot reproduce in humans, so if you do it right, you don’t have to worry about a full-blown infestation.
You have to know what you’re doing, and you can’t get your eggs from just anywhere. Certain parasites can kill you. Other ones can mess you up. For example, I ended up with a brain-eating amoeba that caused dry mouth, bizarre dreams, and a bunch of digestive problems.
I picked that up from a restaurant, not a pill bottle. Still, you don’t want something sketchy mixed in with the parasites that the label says are in the bottle. Run your self-experiments by your functional medicine doctor.
In case you’re curious, I’ll share my own research on helminthic therapy, and my experience with it.
What causes autoimmune diseases?
To understand how intestinal worms affect autoimmune diseases, it helps to understand how the immune system works when it’s working well, and how it gets confused.
Here’s the quick-and-dirty on how autoimmune diseases start. A healthy immune system will activate when there’s an invader, and reset when the job is done. In modern society, things like stress, pollution, chemicals in food and personal care products, moldy houses, and sub-clinical infections (viruses and such that don’t cause symptoms) trigger your immune system, or keep it in attack mode longer than it should be.
When your immune system is in attack mode, it marks foreign cells as invaders and goes on a search-and-destroy mission for those specific cells. When your immune system is active for too long, it starts making mistakes, marking healthy cells as invaders and attacking them, too. Over time, it breaks down tissues.
How does helminthic therapy help with autoimmune diseases?
The relationship between your immune system and parasites gets an “it’s complicated” status. The short answer is, they tell your immune system to chill out.
Intestinal worms are invaders. If your immune system activates, the critters come under attack. Over time, they’ve adapted ways to escape surveillance, and a handful of those mechanisms benefit you.
What the science says about helminthic therapy
Research has shown strong potential of specific parasites, commonly pig whipworms and human hookworms, as part of treatment plans for:
- Ulcerative colitis
- Crohn’s disease
- Inflammatory bowel diseases
- Multiple sclerosis
There’s a lot of room for more research on helminthic therapy. So far, researchers have been able to pinpoint a few things that parasites do while they’re hanging around in your intestines.
Strengthen the barrier function of the gut lining
Your gut lining is always permeable — you wouldn’t get anything out of your food if your intestines were made of vinyl. A lot of autoimmune disorders and inflammation stems from a gut lining that’s too permeable. Certain microorganisms, especially certain strains of yeasts, take root in the intestines by drilling a hole in the lining. A few of these holes are okay, but a lot compromises its gatekeeper function.
Over time, you can develop sensitivities to undigested food particles, which activate the immune system. Scientists found that pig whipworms enhanced the function of the gut lining.
One possible way they do that is by strengthening the layer of mucus that coats the intestines (think the lining’s lining). A study showed that certain nematodes like the pig whipworm increases the size of mucus-producing cells in the intestine, which in turn increases mucus production.
Make your gut younger and stronger
Another study showed that certain nematodes stimulated cell turnover in the gut lining. That means, the weak or damaged cells die off and get replaced with strong, healthy ones, sewing up damaged tissue along the way.
Helminthic therapy parasites can cause other symptoms
Parasites in your intestines are foreign bodies that can give you symptoms, even if you put them there yourself. Everyone’s constitution is different, and scientists observed that you can experience any combination of symptoms like:
- Abdominal pain
- Skin rashes
- Neurological symptoms, and more
Did it work, and is helminthic therapy for you?
You’re probably wondering if parasites worked for me. The types of parasites I used can only live in humans for four months or less, so for me, it was a short-term experiment. Personally, I saw a reduction in my hashimoto’s symptoms and some other issues I was having.
Everyone is different. A lot of factors go into whether helminthic therapy will reduce your autoimmune disease flare-ups or put you into remission. Lots of people are experimenting with helminthic therapy, sometimes as a biohacking experiment, other times as a desperate last resort. There are lots of success stories out there. Your functional medicine doctor can help you weigh the pros and cons, and help you decide whether it’s worth giving parasites a go.
If you’re going to go for it, source is everything. Don’t order from the most convenient or cheapest source. Get the best you can find.