May 30, 2024 at 9:21 am

Doctors Are Considering Hookworms As A Treatment For Ulcerative Colitis

by Trisha Leigh

Source: Public Domain

Human beings might not agree on much, but I feel like “worms in your body is terrifying” is pretty much a universal head-nod. If you’re dealing with debilitating intestinal issues like ulcerative colitis, though, you might get to the point where you’re willing to try anything.

Even hookworms.

In fact, a full-scale, human trial that introduces hookworm infections as a treatment for inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) is already in the works. A new pilot study focuses on patients with ulcerative colitis, and is the first to deploy hookworms in a controlled setting.

The hookworms target the intestines of their hosts, though in the natural world they typically enter as larvae on the skin of the feet. From there they enter the bloodstream and end up in the lungs, are coughed up and swallowed, and finally arrive in the intestines.

Source: Shutterstock

They become adult hookworms and mate in the intestines, taking blood from the intestinal wall. The eggs are released in feces and the cycle begins again. The parasites do have some physiological perks, though, and have been studied as potential treatments for not only IBD, but asthma, eczema, multiple sclerosis, rheumatoid arthritis, and diabetes.

Some IBD patients are already using them on their own, despite a lack of verified medical data.

“Patients with ulcerative colitis already use medically unsupervised hookworm therapy, suggesting it may be of benefit, but the evidence base is lacking.”

The current study is a double-blind, randomized controlled trial, and hopes to discover how hookworm parasitization influenced a patient’s chances of remaining in remission following a flare-up. 20 patients in remission were given 30 hookworm larvae or a placebo, then monitored their progress for 52 weeks to see whether or not they had another flare.

The number of study participants was small, but now that we know the hookworm treatment can be tolerated, they plan to scale up the research. A larger body of data could be used to really understand the therapeutic effects of a hookworm infection. In the small study, there were very few adverse events associated with infection, and all of those were mild.

The participants did develop eosinophilia, but their quality of life wasn’t significantly affected.

“This pilot study is the first controlled evidence in the use of hookworms as a therapy in ulcerative colitis. It has shown hookworm therapy to be well-tolerated and safe, and a full-scale randomized controlled trial is feasible.”

Source: Shutterstock

They are hopeful that it could even be the standard of care in the future.

“Hookworm therapy could provide an alternative therapeutic option to conventional medications and improve adherence by removing the need to take daily medication. This study is a step towards proving whether it is efficacious in ulcerative colitis.”

I mean, it still sounds a little weird if you ask me.

But desperate times call for desperate measures.

If you thought that was interesting, you might like to read about why we should be worried about the leak in the bottom of the ocean.