Not so long ago three health researchers, Joel Weinstock, Robert Summers, and David Elliot discovered a really good thing about some parasitic worms that infect the human gastrointestinal tract. The worms keep their host humans free of certain autoimmine diseases, such as Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis.
First the researchers noticed that these autoimmune diseases are virtually unknown in the third world and in the rural south of the United States. Then they noticed that the parasitic worms common in the intestines of the migrants didn’t seem to make them sick. Finally, they found that as populations immigrate from the third world to the U.S., or migrate from the rural south to the urban north, Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis begin to be a problem.
Could it be, thought the researchers, that parasitic helminth worms (EEEUWWW!!!) are actually good for us? In eliminating them from our diets and ours bodies, have we left ourselves vulnerable to diseases the parasites somehow control?
Using helminth worms from pigs that don’t become permanent residents of humans, the researchers infected mice with inflamed intestines with helminthes and found the inflammation was alleviated. Then they infected volunteers suffering from Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis and found their symptoms were significantly improved.
Wow! Once again it turns out that evolution knows more than we do. Once again it turns out that humans (and many other animals) evolved to make good use of the species that were here before us. And there’s more to this worm thing, even some good news about autism…stay tuned!