Pig Tape Worms to Cure Crohn's Disease
Dr. Robert Summers at the University of Iowa:
Each year about 600,000 Americans are diagnosed with Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD). "It turns out
that countries where IBD is common are those industrialized, developed nations like the United States,
where there are no intestinal helminths," confirms Dr. Robert Summers, director of clinical programs for
the gastroenterology division at the University of Iowa, and like Elliott, a frequent past collaborator with
Weinstock. "Conversely, where helminths are prevalent, the incidence of IBD is very low."
Perhaps the increase we see in autoimmune disease is due to a lack of exposure. What if it's caused by
something that we're no longer exposed to that we should be exposed to? Let's start from scratch. Can
something affect the immune system because you're not exposed to it?
If someone presenting with IBD or Crohn’s disease were to ingest the eggs of a tapeworm common to
pigs but not found in humans, this would keep the immune system “occupied” and the symptoms would
Parasitic Worms Ease IBD
Sept. 23, 2003 -- The thought of swallowing live worm eggs may turn your stomach, but that's exactly
what researchers say may safely relieve the abdominal distress caused by inflammatory bowel disease.
Each year, about 600,000 Americans are diagnosed with IBD, a condition that consists of a spectrum of
disorders that vary with cause and degree of intestinal inflammation. Crohn's disease and ulcerative
colitis are the two major, chronic inflammatory diseases that cause inflammation and ulcers in the lining
of the digestive tract. This results in severe pain, diarrhea, and gastrointestinal bleeding.
However, in about one-third of the world -- primarily underdeveloped countries with poor sanitary
conditions -- these diseases are practically nonexistent. And some researchers speculate it's because
those residents may be protected against IBD by having an abundance of parasitic "helminths," a
scientific classification for various types of parasitic worms that live in the intestines of humans and
"It turns out that countries where IBD is common are those industrialized, developed nations like the U.
S., where there are no intestinal helminths. Conversely, where helminths are prevalent, the incidence of
IBD is very low," says gastroenterologist Robert W. Summers, MD, of the University of Iowa College of
"In fact, Crohn's and ulcerative colitis really emerged in the U.S. during the 1920s and 1930s, when we
began to shift to improved plumbing and sanitation and we no longer fertilized soil with both human and
animal waste," he tells WebMD. "Until then, these parasites were very common. And we didn't have
Besides protecting against IBD, Summers' research indicates that parasitic worm eggs may also provide
relief to those with Crohn's and ulcerative colitis, which typically strikes during the teens or 20s and can
last a lifetime.
He and his colleagues administered to seven IBD patients a solution containing thousands of eggs of
Trichuris suis, the so-called "whipworm" (named for its whipping tail) commonly found in the intestines of
During the initial treatment and observation period all the patients showed evidence of improvement,
defined as improved scores in a quality-of-life questionnaire and as a drop in a symptoms score. "All
had active IBD when the study began and weren't doing well on medications," he says. "On the initial
dose, we noticed an improvement, but their symptoms recurred. So we continued with additional doses
every two weeks. Some patients have continued getting the doses for years now and are doing well. And
we have yet to detect any side effects in any patient."
Each dose contained about 2,500 live whipworm eggs, harvested at a USDA laboratory.
His findings, reported in the September issue of the American Journal of Gastroenterology, were
originally presented before at an American Gastroenterological Association conference in 1999. The
Iowa team is currently conducting two other studies, involving about 100 patients, in which half get the
worm egg solution and the others get a placebo mixture. The patients don't know which liquid they
Wormy Cocktail Fights Crohn's Disease
Unconventional Approach Re-educates the Immune System, Relieving Symptoms
By Charlene Laino
WebMD Medical News May 19, 2004 (New Orleans) -- Call it the medical edition of Fear Factor.
Researchers report they are using helminths -- intestinal worms -- to combat Crohn's disease, the
miserable, incurable disorder of the intestine characterized by abdominal pain, diarrhea, rectal bleeding,
weight loss, and fever.
In the study, about three-fourths of people with Crohn's disease given pig whipworm in a popular drink
went into remission, reports Joel V. Weinstock, MD, professor of gastroenterology-hepatology and
director of the Center for Digestive Diseases at the University of Iowa College of Medicine in Iowa City.
The study was presented at a major medical meeting of digestive disorders experts.
Weinstock explains that there is solid logic behind the unconventional approach.
Giving Worms Back to the People
Crohn's disease, like many other disorders, is a disease of the 20th century, he says. And one of the
major differences between "now" and then is that kids no longer get worms, Weinstock says.
"Children [in developed nations] are no longer exposed to helminths," he tells WebMD. "Worms used to
be around in their gastrointestinal tract, in their bloodstream."
Helminths don't just sit around, he says; they help regulate the immune system. And Crohn's disease is
caused by inflammation of the small intestine -- inflammation that appears to result from an
inappropriate immune response to normal gut bacteria.
Those observations, Weinstock says, led to the thinking that the "deworming" of our children may be
partly or fully responsible for the emergence of diseases like Crohn's. It follows, therefore, that giving the
worms back to the people could re-educate the immune system, help regulate the response to
inflammation, and wipe out the disease.
"We're the only people in history who have lived without worms," Weinstock says. "So we wanted to see
if giving worms could be therapeutic."
Worms 'Easy to Take'
The study was easy, he says. The pig whipworms grow and colonize in people, but only for a short
period of time, Weinstock says.
"They're real easy to take," he says. "You just swallow the eggs." The eggs were dissolved in the
popular drink Gatorade, which Weinstock declined to name for "fear of putting the company out of
Of the 29 people with Crohn's disease who agreed to drink the wormy cocktail for 24 weeks, 72% went
into remission, he says.
"These were all people that had failed to respond to conventional treatments," he says.
There were no side effects or complications due to the therapy, although four patients dropped out of
the study when their symptoms flared up and another withdrew due to pregnancy.
Basic Science Supports the Approach
Though Weinstock says he's confident worms will be an effective therapy for Crohn's disease, he says
there's still more work to be done.
"Other helminths might be more potent," he says. "And we might be able to isolate the compounds in
worms that are responsible for the beneficial effect and use them to create new synthetic agents."
James B. Lewis, MD, associate director of the Inflammatory Disease Program at the University of
Pennsylvania in Philadelphia, says the results are "fascinating."
The approach "resets the whole inflammatory cascade and re-educates our immune system," he says.
However, "there are very interesting issues related to how this product would be regulated, produced,
and distributed," Lewis tells WebMD. A synthetic or recombinant worm might be a better approach.