Could Bugs or Worms Be the Answer?

Elizabeth Roberts Health Guide
  • Whipworms


    In was in 2004 when I first read about drinking pig whipworms to treat IBD. Joel Weinstock, a gastroenterologist at the University of Iowa came up with the idea of ingesting the worms to treat IBD. Dr. Weinstock noted that ulcerative colitis and Crohn's are diseases of the 20th century and are very rare in less developed countries where the GI tracts of nearly all children have worms in them. In countries like the US, though, where we have eradicated stomach parasites like roundworm and whipworm (there is a human variety) the theory is that our immune systems grow overactive without any parasites to fight against and voila! you get things like IBD. As far as I know, though, this doctor gave no reason why some people end up with IBD while other people don't. Trial studies using the pig whipworm - Trichuris suis - were conducted in 2004 and some good results were seen. But, the worms only live in the GI tract for a short period of time, perhaps two to three weeks.

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    In the past few years I've heard little about whipworms until a friend who works in the medical field mentioned that a German-based company has recently been approved to develop a drink that will deliver a dose of the pig whipworms that will last about three weeks when another dose will be needed. It will be interesting to follow this story and see if more positive results are noticed with time.


    Bacteria Replacement


    Two weeks ago I read another article about using human feces to treat antibiotic resistant C-Difficile. The article was in the Minneapolis Star Tribune and documented a case where a doctor was treating a patient with C-Diff. infection and the patient wasn't responding. The doctor, fearful that his patient might die from the infection went to work researching other potential treatment options. Oddly, he found his answer in a Norwegian medical journal dating back to the 1950s.


    The idea of the treatment is this: C. Difficile takes over the bacteria in the gut and essentially destroys the symbiotic relationship between the good bacteria and the bad bacteria. When this happens the bad bacteria win and the normal intestinal flora is destroyed. According to Dr. Johannes Aas, from Duluth, Minnesota, when this happens you need to replace the flora with someone else's flora, basically, with a stool transplant. Dr. Aas' patient used her husband's stool.  


    The stool was processed in the medical center's lab - mixed with water and filtered to remove organic matter but leaving a liquid containing billions of beneficial bacteria. The liquid is then injected into a tube that runs down the patient's nose, down their throat and into the stomach where the beneficial bacteria then, hopefully, take hold and begin to fight against the bad bacteria. Another delivery option includes administering the bacteria via a liquid stool enema. So far, the few patients who have received stool transplants report feeling markedly better within days. 


    While I initially found the idea of stool replacement somewhat odd and slightly repulsive I can't help but wonder if it could some day help those of us living with IBD as well. And if it were to be found beneficial I have to admit that I would possibly try it. I know my husband has a steel drum stomach. He was born in Panama, where he lived for the first two years of his life. Then later, during his pre-teens years he lived with his military family in Spain, years before drinking water was what we today would consider safe to drink. While he and his family members had some stomach issues for the first two months they lived in Spain he now never, ever has any stomach problems. On a trip to India last year he admitted to drinking the water (I stayed home) and came back without any gut issues at all!


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    Were we to find that stool replacement was a viable treatment option for IBD I have to say I most likely wouldn't hesitate to use my husband's stool. An odd thing to say? Yes. But if it would be helpful I wouldn't say, "No" to trying it!

Published On: November 04, 2008