What is helminthic therapy?

Helminthic therapy: the reason for this site

First, a nit. Helminthic therapy (hell min thick) is the correct term for treatment with helminths, not the term worm therapy (see reasoning here) It is certainly the term used by scientists and those in the know, so if you want to find good information you will have to use the term scientists use. Any research into the epidemiology of various diseases, or human or animal studies will refer to helminths or helminthic. So if, for instance you want to find read the original science about helminthic therapy and your disease you will have to use “helminth + [your disease name here]” to find anything useful.

Pubmed is a great resource for peer-reviewed papers on medical research and is published and maintained by the National Institutes for Health. End of nit.

Because I pioneered the availability of helminthic therapy based on the use of symbionts with humans as their definitive hosts I thought those interested in helminthic therapy might be interested in knowing more about the person responsible for taking it out of the research laboratory and making it available to the public.

So this site, when finished, will provide a short biography so that you can understand my background and how I came to be doing this rather strange business, as well as providing links to other sites and businesses I have been involved in over the years.

Since most people’s interest in me will be in connection helminthic therapy I will concentrate on posting about that.

What is Helminthic therapy

Helminthic therapy involves deliberate infection with or exposure to helminths or their ova.

Here are some useful links for those of you interested in the science:

Autoimmune Therapies website (check out the various pages devoted to particular diseases, as well as the About page, Safety page, Links and News.

Helminthic therapy is a technique for treating the “modern diseases” involving immune dysregulation (including autoimmunity) and chronic inflammation, that increasingly afflict the populations of developed or developing countries and which are rare or unknown in populations living in the kinds of conitions in which humans evolved.

Helminthic therapy is an attempt to restore some of the organisms that we co-evolved with, that shaped our immune system. Briefly, helminths educate our immune system through exposure early in life, and while we host them down regulate our inflammatory response. In the west where helminths are almost unknown the result is large numbers of people with poorly regulated, over active immune systems and an explosion of diseases involving chronic inflammation.

Disease like allergies and asthma, Crohn’s disease and multiple sclerosis, ulcerative colitis, psoriasis, and Sjögren’s Syndrome, are almost unknown in the developing world, largely it is now believed because helminth infection, and infection with a much larger variety and frequency of various protozoa and bacteria, is still so common.

Helminths, like any organism that lives in or on us, has to prevent their destruction by our immune system, and have evolved ways to turn our immune systems down. Because helminth infection, with multiple helminths, used to universal throughout our evolutionary history, our immune systems have evolved to account for their anti-inflammatory effect. Remove helminths, or worms, and their affect on our immune systems, and the result is an out-of-control immune system much more prone to chronic inflammatory reactions, causing allergies, asthma, Crohn’s disease, multiple sclerosis, etc., etc., etc.

This might sound like a repulsive concept, and it is, but consider that about 90% of the cells in or on you right now are not self tissue. This is possible because bacteria, viruses and moulds are so much smaller than human cells.

In 1976 a researcher called Turton infected himself with  hookworm (a type of helminth) so that he would have a reservoir of hookworm to study, and reported unexpectedly that his lifelong seasonal allergies disappeared so long as he was infected with the hookworms.

But, the seemingly radical idea that helminths (probiotic worms) might be related in some way to asthma predates Turton by sixty-three years. In 1913 Herrick wrote that ‘Common to both bronchial asthma and helminth infection is an increase of the eosinophils (eosinophils in a normal person indicate infection with a helminth) of the blood. One day we’ll ask the significance of this eosinophilia in this association’.

Unfortunately for allergy and asthma sufferers it wasn’t until 1986, almost 75 years later, with the publication of the hygiene hypothesis by Godrey in the Lancet that investigation of this idea got underway.

In 1986 Godfrey proposed that a lack of exposure to infectious organisms in childhood was responsible for the increase in allergies, and demonstrated this with a study of large families. He showed that children in large families were less likely to develop allergies. He reasoned that they were exposed to more childhood diseases and that this was responsible for their reduced rates of allergy. His theory came to be known as the Hygiene Hypothesis.

Of course many immunological disorders can be triggered by various immune insults, including infections or disease. So the Hygiene Hypothesis was later refined based on the work of hundreds of studies to become the Old Friends Hypothesis.

The Old Friends Hypothesis states that by introducing sewers, antibiotics, shoes, clean drinking water and vaccinations, we have reduced by a very large amount the variety and quantitie of benign infectious organisms that we are exposed to. Particularly helminths, or worms, that have been entirely eliminated in the industrialized world.

By elminating worms, bacteria and protozoa from our bodies we have deprived our immune systems of the stimulation and “practice” that it evolved to account for. Infection with worms and protozoa and a much larger variety and quantity of bacteria and viruses used to be universal. Their elimination deprives our immune systems of the kind of stimulation it evolved to account for as a certainty. Without that training and presentation of appropriate targets, ones it evolved to “expect”, our immune system instead attacks our own tissues (this is autoimmunity) or benign pathogens like pollen and cat dander causing tissue damage (this is immune dysregulation).

By these definitions diseases like asthma and allergies are not autoimmune diseases, but most people don’t know, or care (nor should they), about the difference. In fact their is a debate within the scientific community right now about adding another classification to encompass non-autoimmune diseases involving chronic inflammation because these are in fact the most common types of immunological diseases. Very few diseases that are called autoimmune diseases by lay people actually meet the criteria for autoimmunity.

Helminthic therapy works by giving our bodies and immune systems benign, appropriate targets that allow our immune system to fulfill the purpose for which they evolved. Helminthic therapy works by giving the immune system the right targets and “distracting” our immune system from attacking the wrong things: us (autoimmune diseases) and pollen or cat dander (allergies or asthma), or the food we eat (Crohn’s, UC, IBS, Celiac disease), or our nerves (multiple sclerosis), or thyroid (Hashimoto’s thyroiditis) or our mucus membranes (Sjogren’s Syndrome), etc.

Helminths also secrete or excrete various immuno modulatory molecules that have profound impacts on the functioning of the immune system. Simply put the immune system of a person infected with hookworm or whipworm appears to be better regulated, produce fewer pro inflammatory components, and more anti inflammatory components.

Although deliberately infecting oneself with parasites is at first a strange and hard to accept concept when one thinks about it not being infected with these organisms is what is strange. We evolved with a much larger variety of organisms, including helminths, inhabiting our bodies throughout our lives. The potential application of worm therapy is incredibly broad. Most of our modern diseases, even things like depression and autism for just two examples, involve inflammation as a causative factor.

The impact of helminthic therapy on inflammation is profound. The most extreme inflammatory reaction is anaphylaxis in which the body’s immune system insulted by something like a bee sting, goes into uncontrolled overdrive and if untreated will kill. Infection with helminths has such a profound effect on the immune system that those hosting helminths do not ever get anaphylaxis, so the impact on the immune system of helminths is profound. Anaphylaxis is an extreme form of allergy, most commonly associated with peanut allergy.

I used to suffer from awful asthma and allergies, to the extent that I could only breath comfortably if using oral prednisone in such high doses that I developed lipomas and became for the first time in my life very obese.

My aunt told me about a documentary she had seen on the BBC about worms and asthma and after investigating it and trying everything I could think of to obtain hookworm (one of the worms used in helminthic therapy) I went first to Cameroon and later to Belize to obtain hookworms.

Since I founded Autoimmmune Therapies in 2006 we have treated dozens of clients with a variety of diseases: allergies (food and airborn), multiple sclerosis, Sjogren’s Syndrome, psoriasis, ulcerative colitis, Crohn’s disease, and autism. The results have been remarkable, far better than those possible using modern drugs. Why this technique is not more widely available or known is a constant source of wonder for me.

However a small industry has grown up around helminthic therapy, including providers and support groups on Yahoo and Facebook.

More to come later.

Jasper Lawrence