Intestinal worms eating neuropsychiatric disorders? Apparently so.
A number of factors in Western society, including inflammatory diets, sedentary lifestyles, vitamin D deficiency and chronic psychological stress, are known to induce inflammation and to be associated with neuropsychiatric disorders. One factor that is emerging as a potential inflammation inducing factor is biota depletion, or loss of biodiversity from the ecosystem of the human body as a result of industrialization. Originally known as the "hygiene hypothesis", biota alteration theory describes the effects of biota alteration on the human immune system. Work on this topic has pinpointed depletion of helminths as a key loss to the body's ecosystem in Western society, and suggests that some exposure to helminths, ubiquitous prior to the modern era, may be necessary for normal immune system development. Socio-medical studies of humans "self-treating" with helminths as well as limited studies in animal models strongly suggest that helminth therapy may be a productive approach toward treating a range of neuropsychiatric disorders, including chronic fatigue, migraine headaches, depression and anxiety disorders. However, helminth therapy faces some daunting hurdles, including the lack of a financial incentive for development, despite a tremendous potential market for the organisms. It is argued that benevolent donation for early trials as well as changes in regulatory policy to accommodate helminth therapy may be important for the field to develop. It is hoped that future success with some high-profile trials can propel the field, now dominated more by self-treatment than by clinical trials, forward into the main stream of medicine.
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