Two recently published studies are reporting results related to parasitic worms, called helminths, and their possible implications for treating multiple sclerosis. Further study, including the second phase of the reported clinical trial supported by the National MS Society, should determine whether a “probiotic” treatment approach using relatively harmless parasitic worms to alter immune activity will benefit people with MS.So far, there are two groups researching this topic; one at the University of Wisconsin and one in Argentina. At the University of Wisconsin, five people were given a "drink containing harmless helminth eggs." The findings: "Three out of the five participants had mild gastrointestinal symptoms 30 days after the first dose. These symptoms resolved spontaneously within six days. No worsening in neurological symptoms occurred. The number of participants and study design make it difficult to draw firm conclusions about the treatment’s effectiveness, but beneficial trends were noted in relation to MRI and immune activity. Immunologic analyses indicate that a vigorous immune response was mounted in response to the treatment." Regarding the study in Argentina, the article states: Doctors "observed 12 people with MS and parasitic infections as a follow up to a study they reported in 2007. In the previous study, they reported observations of 12 people with MS and parasitic infections, and they compared clinical, MRI, and immunologic data with 12 uninfected people with MS. Over four years of observation, the infected individuals showed signs of benefit including lower number of relapses, minimal changes in disability scores, and significantly lower MRI activity compared with uninfected people."
Background: Scientists have noted that autoimmune diseases and allergies are less common in underdeveloped regions. Some researchers have noted that early exposure to common infectious agents – such as that which occurs to people in regions with poor sanitation – may stimulate immune regulation in a positive way and aid healthy immune responses. Because MS is more prevalent in regions with high standards of hygiene, researchers have been testing the “hygiene hypothesis” – the idea that lack of exposure to common innocuous agents at an early age may cause the immune system to over-react and trigger MS.
Studies in MS-like disease in lab rodents and preliminary clinical trials in Crohn’s disease, an autoimmune disease of the bowel, suggest that drinking a concoction containing eggs from parasitic worms might alter immune attacks and improve these conditions.
This is really interesting for a few reasons. First, I find it so interesting that they think MS may be caused, essentially, by being to clean. In some ways it makes sense; I understand that your immune system needs exposure to various viruses and bacteria in order to build your immune system and develop immune responses to fight these viruses and bacteria. However, I have always understood MS to be caused by an overactive immune system that begins to attack the central nervous system (CNS) as a foreign invader. This definition does not lead me to fully understand how introducing more "innocuous agents" would build the immune system up in a way that would prevent it from attacking the CNS. Second, I am not sure how I feel about introducing parasitic worms into my system to treat my disease. I suppose if it was 100% (or close to 100%) effective at treating MS and would not cause other problems, then I would consider it, but "drinking a concoction containing eggs from parasitic worms" just does not sound like something that I would really WANT to do. Finally, I question how accurate their data is that suggests that "autoimmune diseases and allergies are less common in underdeveloped regions." I would really need to know more about this area of the study. In my "MS Incidence Rate on the Rise?" post, I questioned whether the rate is truly on the rise or whether it is just now being more frequently and accurately diagnosed due to better technologies. In this case, I would question the accuracy of their findings because "underdeveloped regions" probably have less advanced technologies and less available health care. If this is the case, then my guess is that less people are being diagnosed in those areas due to people not seeking medical care and health care providers not being equipped to accurately diagnose MS. Obviously, I do not know where they are getting their data, but I would definitely be interested in learning more about this ongoing research.
I am glad research is ongoing, analyzing all possible causes/treatments for MS, even if that research seems very odd to me. Every little bit counts, even the bizarre.
I would love to know everyone's thoughts on this research.