Chalk this story up in the “eww gross” category. You know those pesky little parasitic worms that we humans try so hard to avoid? Well, it turns out those little parasites may be more helpful to humans than once thought. A study published recently in Nature Medicine has revealed that these dreaded creatures may indeed play a role in preventing obesity related metabolic disorders. The research was done by a team from the University of Georgia, the Harvard School of Public Health, the Université François Rabelais in Tours, France, and the Central South University, Changsha, Hunan, China.
In a University of Georgia press release, Donald Harn, Georgia Research Alliance Distinguished Investigator in the UGA College of Veterinary Medicine’s Department of Infectious Diseases said, “Prevalence of inflammation-based diseases is extremely low in countries where people are commonly infected with worms… But the minute you start deworming people, it doesn’t take too long for these autoimmune diseases to pop up”. The researchers hypothesized that this might be a result of sugar-based molecule called glycan, which is excreted by these parasitic worms. This molecule helps protect the worms from our body’s immune defenses which in turn, reduces the amount of inflammation present in the tissues that surround them. Apparently, this reduction in inflammation also helps the human host. Harn and his fellow researchers believe this may have implications for treating all sorts of metabolic disorders.
The researchers tested their theory on mice. They fed a control group a high fat diet and the other group they fed a glycan sugar diet. Both groups gained weight, bu the control group experienced all of the common problems that come with obesity such as, insulin resistance and high triglycerides. The mice on the special sugar diet did not experience the negative health effects in spite of their increased weight.
Now before you go out hunting for parasites (as I know some of you are anxious to do) Harn warns that this is only the beginning of this research in hopes of finding future therapies. The sugar has already shown promise in the areas of preventing psoriasis, stopping MS in mice, and serving as an anti-rejection drug in organ transplants. The researchers are now saying that these parasitic worms have evolved with humans over time and may have more of a symbiotic relationship with us than being mere parasites. Ummm, I say we just take their word for it and have them give us a call when the pill comes out.
For more information, visit the Journal Nature.