There are many diseases that are problematic in America today that are not common in third world countries. Is it the food we eat, or is it our good hygiene? (You know — the hygiene ideal of no parasites.) The thought of little worms living in our intestines is enough to make most of us feel queasy. Yet, do parasites — so common in less "clean" countries — play a roll in keeping certain disease rates down? Some researchers think so, and that hypothesis is called the hygiene hypothesis.

In a recent article in the Nature Reviews Immunology journal, William Gause, an immunologist at Rutgers New Jersey Medical School, discusses his research using the helminthes parasite, a worm that lives in the digestive tract.

What researchers found was that when these worms were present, it produced in the body something called  “type 2 immunity”. This immunity helps the body deal with inflammation, and inflammation is a key factor to developing autoimmune diseases. This immune response is so effective in dealing with inflammation, it is even hoped that they will be able to harness it for wound healing (by reducing inflammation during the healing process).

Research such as this supports the idea that some parasites could have health-promoting aspects, and that we have done a disservice by eradicating parasites completely from our bodies. Gause hopes that short-term introduction of parasites could help the human body have another tool to use in fighting inflammation, which in turn helps prevent autoimmune diseases such as type I diabetes, inflammatory bowel disease, and even heart and metabolic disease.

Quite frankly, adding parasites purposely to your body seems like a drastic step, but research such as this makes you think.

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