Parasites Can Fight Auto - Immune Diseases

by Garreth Myers

Parasites have been known to cause numerous health problems right since the beginning. However, new studies now point towards the opposite, as scientists are trying to determine if certain parasites also have the ability to fight off and prevent autoimmune diseases, such as Rheumatoid Arthritis, Lupus, Type 1 Diabetes and Crohn’s Disease. Investigators are heading down this path because of the Hygiene Hypothesis.

An autoimmune disease is a medical condition that occurs when your immune system attacks perfect healthy organs and tissues. The exact causes of this problem are still not clear, but one theory suggests that it could occur due to the presence of certain microorganisms like bacteria and viruses in the body. Some may also develop this disease because it runs in their families.

The treatment of an autoimmune disease depends upon the type and the severity of the problem. Most patients are prescribed medication like corticosteroids, mycophenolate, azathioprine, sirolimus, tacrolimus or cyclophisphamide in addition to therapies and if required blood transfusion.

However, a rarely-found intestinal parasite known as “helminthes” is also being investigated as a possible cure for autoimmune diseases. William Gause, the Immunologist at Rutgears New Jersey Medical School, is currently investigating how the human body responds to these parasitic worms.

Nature Reviews Immunology published an article written by Gause as well as his colleagues from the University Of Edinburgh and The National Institutes of Health. The article stated that the helminthes presence right through all the millennia of human evolution has possibly triggered off an immune response, known as Type 2 immunity. This includes improved immunity of the respiratory pathways that control autoimmune disease-causing inflammation. The researchers of this study claim that immune reaction seems to develop in a way that it quickly repairs wounds that have been caused by these invaders as they travel through the body. They add that someday, the components of Type 2 immune response may indeed be used to enhance the healing process of wounds. Moreover, this response stimulates those regulatory networks in the body that block adverse immune reactions or inflammation.

In Gause’s words, they would now like to “harness the components of type 2 immune response, for targeting the control of harmful inflammation, which causes autoimmune diseases such as inflammatory bowel disease and diabetes”. He adds that other health problems like cardiovascular diseases, fibrosis, metabolic disorders and allergies have also been linked to inflammatory responses. Therefore, discovering a new way to stimulate the Type 2 regulatory components could give them a whole new set of tools to control harmful inflammatory diseases.

In 2012, Gause and his team observed that compromised immune systems can be treated by introducing helminthes or their byproducts into body, for a short period of time. They arrived at this conclusion after a study in which they introduced these parasites into the bodies of mice. Their immune systems began producing cytokines, simply known as signaling molecules, which protected them against type-1 diabetes. This observation is quite close to that seen in human beings, living in developing countries, where helminthes infection is widespread, but cases of autoimmune diseases like diabetes are very low in comparison.

Gause summarizes his study by stating that if they find a controlled way to apply the benefits of helminthes on the immune system, the society may be free of inflammatory diseases, even when living conditions are hygienic and clean. 

Of course, Gause’s study still needs to go a long way before it can be conducive. Therefore, at this time, introducing a parasite into your body on purpose is like taking a drastic step. It is essential that you speak to your doctor about medical treatment options and preventative steps for autoimmune diseases.


  2. Rutgers New Jersey Medical School


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