Immune system disorders have greatly increased in recent years. Asthma cases, hay fever, eczema, food allergies, lupus, multiple sclerosis and other related afflictions are all on the rise.
Could it be that this increase in autoimmune-type diseases is actually related to being too clean and too sterile … and that exposing ourselves to more dirt and even to parasites could be the solution?
According to Dr. Jim McKerrow, director of the Sandler Center for Research on Parasitic Diseases, quite possibly yes.
As he explains in the video, in rural areas where children are naturally infected with parasites, diseases like asthma are virtually unheard of, but cases are on the rise in more urban (i.e. less dirty) areas.
Meanwhile, researchers began to realize that the part of your immune response that has evolved to kill parasites is the same that causes asthma, seasonal allergy, Crohn’s disease, and other autoimmune-type diseases, giving increasing credibility to the hygiene hypothesis.
Why Your Immune System Needs Dirt and Other Organisms to Stay Healthy
Simply speaking, your immune system is composed of two main groups that work together to protect you. One arm of your immune system deploys specialized white blood cells, called Th1 lymphocytes, that direct an assault on infected cells throughout your body.
Counterbalancing this, another arm of your immune system attacks intruders even earlier. It produces antibodies that try to block dangerous microbes from invading your body's cells in the first place. This latter strategy uses a different variety of white blood cells, called Th2 lymphocytes. The Th2 system also happens to drive allergic responses to foreign organisms.
At birth, an infant's immune system appears to rely primarily on the Th2 system. But the “hygiene hypothesis” suggests that the Th1 system can grow stronger only if it gets exercise, either through fighting infections or through encounters with certain harmless microbes. Without such stimulation, the Th2 system flourishes and the immune system tends to react with allergic responses more easily.
In other words, the hygiene hypothesis posits that children and adults not being exposed to viruses and other environmental factors like dirt and parasites results in their not being able to build up resistance, which makes them more vulnerable to illnesses.
Parasites Are Already Being Used to Treat Disease
Swallowing a concoction of parasite eggs may not sound appealing, but given their potential to treat some very serious diseases, with few side effects if any, the “yuck factor” becomes of little matter.
Based on a study out of Argentina that suggested people infected with a type of worm called helminthes experienced fewer symptoms of multiple sclerosis (MS)than those who were not infected, U.S. researchers are now initiating a small trial therapy on patients with the disease.
It is hoped the therapy, which involves drinking a cocktail of worm eggs intended to hatch inside the bodies of those who swallow them, will prove to be a useful treatment with few of the side effects associated with some other MS treatments. Similar therapies have also proved useful in treating some sufferers of inflammatory bowel disease.
The potential success of this therapy hinges again on the action of the T-cells in your immune system. Your T-cells are responsible for seeking out and destroying dangerous invaders. One way they accomplish this is by initiating a nonspecific inflammation response, called the Th1 pattern.
The Th2 pattern is more specific, destroying specific targets, which results in far less inflammation.
When you have MS, you already suffer from excess inflammation. The more inflammation you have, the more your myelin -- the insulation around your nerves -- gets degraded. This damage slows down the impulses along those nerves, which results in the typical issues seen in MS patients, such as problems with vision, speech, walking and memory.
The theory behind this parasite therapy is to create a change in the MS patient’s immune response, reducing the Th1 pattern of nonspecific, systemic inflammation by increasing the specific attack response.
Not All Parasites are Beneficial
While certain parasitic infections do seem to offer promise in treating disease, this is not a carte blanche to go out and get infected with as many parasites as you can.
Parasitic infections are responsible for millions of deaths worldwide every year. Malaria is one of the most well-known, killing about 1 million people a year, many of them young children in sub-Saharan Africa.
Further, the neglected tropical diseases (NTDs), which include parasitic diseases like lymphatic filariasis, onchocerciasis and Guinea worm, kill about 500,000 people each year, primarily in rural areas of low-income countries.
Even in developed countries, parasites can contribute to disease like irritable bowel syndrome and other digestive issues, and possibly even cancer.
So if you’re looking to build your and your child’s immune systems’ resistance without swallowing parasite eggs, you can help by:
• Letting your child be a child. Allow your kids to play outside and get dirty.
• Not using antibacterial soaps. Simple soap and water is all you need.
• Serving locally grown or organic meats that do not contain antibiotics (which kill off good bacteria).
Finally, signs and symptoms that you’ve been infected with an intestinal parasite of the non-beneficial variety include:
• Subcutaneous nodules
• Eye inflammation (conjunctivitis and retinitis)
• Hives (urticaria)
• Coughing or wheezing
• Enlargement of liver and spleen (hepatosplenomegaly)
• Abdominal pain
If you suspect you’re infected, seek the help of a knowledgeable natural health care practitioner, and in the meantime eating raw garlic (smashing the cloves first to activate their beneficial properties) and raw pumpkin seeds will help you to get rid of them.
Symptoms from autoimmune disorders ranging from asthma to Crohn's disease have been shown to be noticeably reduced in study volunteers administered "safe doses" of hookworm therapy. Clinical trials that use hookworms to treat Multiple Sclerosis are slated to begin later this year.