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Saturday, June 10, 2006

It's the Worms

When my youngest child was little she ate things like handfuls of sand on the beach at the shore and budding tulip flower heads in her grandmother's yard. She made mudpies because I relished that thought from childhood days when I was dressed in hand-smocked percale dresses with bow-tie sashes in the back, being admonished if I were to get dirty before going off to Sunday dinner in the Ladie's Dining Room at the Union League or the country club.

We used antibiotics only when really necessary and our pediatrician was also wise enough to help us avoid unnecessary vaccinations. My children also had the real thing like chicken pox and measles, just like I did.

Yes, we were taught that having these normal childhood dis-eases helped the immune system fulfill its purpose.

Now what do we hear? Maybe the cause of some of the dis-eases plaguing industrialized countries is obsessive-compulsive hygiene.

And so what's new in medical research? Not leeches this year, just worm eggs, and a swig or two of Gatorade (no longer that electrolyte replacement drink you knew it for years ago, but one now heavy on the high fructose corn syrup - oh, isn't that the stuff that promotes diabetes?).

I am certainly not one to deny that intestinal dis-eases are not debilitating, but I do have to question the tunnel vision of medical researchers today for some of their outlandish ideas when they fail to look effective treatments for such conditions as Chrohn's dis-ease, or the new one that came out just after Novartis developed a drug for it (along with a very distasteful ad that is demeaning to women), IBS or 'irritable bowel syndrome'.

Well, with many recovered cases of these conditions in my files, I wonder why I didn't think of worm eggs, especailly after some really good, and time-tested natural treatments worked every time...

So now hear you go, read it for yourself and if you'd like something more reasonable if you are frustrated by this health concern, let me know.

Worms may help bowel disease

The upside of Linda Mansfield's research is that it may lead to a new treatment for inflammatory bowel disease. The downside is that it would involve swallowing worm eggs. Mansfield is a professor of microbiology at Michigan State University who specializes in the study of parasites.

She's also one of several researchers around the country looking at the use of threadlike intestinal parasites called whipworms to treat the disease, which can cause diarrhea, painful cramps and even intestinal bleeding.

"It's extremely debilitating," Mansfield told the Lansing State Journal for a story Friday. "People talk about having 256 bouts of diarrhea a year when they have this disease. It gets to the level where some of them are not able to work."

Inflammatory bowel disease, the most common forms of which are Crohn's disease and ulcerative colitis, is a condition that is virtually unknown in the developing world. But it is becoming increasingly common in industrialized countries.

Researchers have put forward several explanations for that, among them diets high in fat and refined foods. But another possible cause, Mansfield said, is increasing levels of hygiene.

Portions of the immune system actually require periodic infections in order to develop properly. Some exposure to dirt, bacteria and even worms can be beneficial.

"By living in an ultra-clean environment," Mansfield said, "we're removing some of the things that helped to educate our immune system."

Mansfield said it's possible that the human immune system developed in a way that's reliant, to some degree, on the presence of parasitic worms.

She wasn't the first to hit on that idea. A research team at the University of Iowa already has tried treating human patients with a whipworm egg and Gatorade cocktail. Their results were promising.

David Elliott was a member of that team.

"There are probably individuals in the population who, back when worms were prevalent, were the healthiest because their immune systems could fight off all sorts of things," he said. "When worms are removed, their immune systems become unbridled, and they move on to develop disease."

Mansfield came to the topic from an animal angle.

More than a decade ago, she began studying whipworm infections in pigs, initially trying to develop a vaccine against the parasites.

But one of the things she noticed along the way was that whipworm infections produced a strong anti-inflammatory immune response.

When given to patients with inflammatory bowel disease, the worms can help to counteract the inflammation and "actually reset the immune system to be in better balance," Mansfield said.

Further, pig whipworms are relatively safe. Most people will expel them in a matter of weeks and, if that doesn't happen, they can be eliminated with anti-worm drugs.

That's promising, if a little unpleasant, for people like Linda Rockey.

The Mason woman has suffered from Crohn's disease for more than 30 years. Having tried most conventional treatments, she said she's "right at the end of the rope."

If she had no other alternatives, she said, "if they said. `This is it. You eat these worms,' I would do it. At some point, you're willing to try anything."

The whipworm treatment still needs to undergo further testing before it can be approved by the FDA.

From: Lansing State Journal