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Worm Therapy for Hashimoto's

Discover how worm therapy may help ease Hashimoto’s symptoms, as well as the risks associated with this experimental treatment.
Worm Therapy for Hashimoto's
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If you live with Hashimoto’s, an autoimmune disease that affects the thyroid gland, you may have heard about an intriguing experimental treatment called worm therapy or helminthic therapy. This unconventional treatment involves introducing parasitic worms into your body. The treatment is based on research showing that helminth infections may help ease symptoms of autoimmune disorders such as Hashimoto’s thyroiditis.

Ahead, we’ll learn about worm therapy, including its potential benefits and risks.

Understanding Hashimoto’s

Before jumping into worm therapy, it’s essential to understand the basics of Hashimoto’s.

Autoimmune disorders occur when your immune system goes rogue and attacks your healthy cells. When you have Hashimoto’s, your immune system mistakenly thinks your thyroid gland and cells are a threat and starts attacking them.

Over time, your immune system destroys healthy thyroid cells. As a result, your thyroid can’t make enough thyroid hormone to meet your body’s needs, a condition known as hypothyroidism. Because of this, you can develop a range of symptoms of low thyroid hormone, such as:

Traditional treatments for Hashimoto’s focus on managing thyroid hormone levels and reducing symptoms. This is usually done by taking a daily thyroid hormone replacement medication and lifestyle modifications. 

What is worm therapy?

Parasitic worms, known as helminths, have been around since ancient times. In developing countries, parasitic infections with worms – including roundworms, whipworms, tapeworms, and flukes – are a significant public health problem, and an estimated 1.5 billion people worldwide have a parasitic infection. These infections are also known as “helminth infections.” 

While most people try to avoid getting infected, worm therapy has the opposite goal: introducing parasitic worms into the body as a potential treatment. 

Mounting evidence suggests chronic worm infections may change how your immune system and immune cells function. And for those with an autoimmune disorder, worm therapy may help ease symptoms.

Hygiene hypothesis

The hygiene hypothesis theorizes that increasing cleanliness in developed countries like the US reduces exposure to infectious agents, including parasitic worms. Because of this, autoimmune disorders are on the rise. In fact, data that shows that parasitic infections are declining while autoimmune disorders diagnoses increase supports the hygiene hypothesis.

From a treatment perspective, there’s a theory that introducing parasitic worms into the body could help restore the natural balance of the immune system.

How does worm therapy work?

For a parasitic infection to occur, one must ingest the eggs or have exposure to the infective larvae. In the early stages of a worm infection, your immune system responds as it should, mounting an immune response. During an immune response, your immune system releases different types of cells, including inflammatory cells, to help fight off the threat.

As the worm infection continues, the worms grow, and your immune response to the worms changes. Instead of developing a full-on immune response, the immune system’s response to the worms lessens over time. In turn, less inflammatory cells are released. And less inflammation means a reduction in your autoimmune symptoms. In that way, worm therapy helps calm an overactive immune system.

Furthermore, chronic worm infections may also alter your gut microbiome. Research suggests that the makeup of your gut health and the integrity of your intestinal walls can affect the development and management of autoimmune disorders.


Benefits of worm therapy for Hashimoto’s

Many studies and human trials show the benefits of worm therapy in those with inflammatory bowel disease (IBD). Based on that information and what we know about Hashimoto’s, here are four ways worm therapy may benefit individuals with Hashimoto’s:

  1. Immune system regulation: Studies suggest that, over time, worms may balance the immune system. This new balance reduces your immune response to perceived threats. While this may lessen Hashimoto’s symptoms, it can also reduce your ability to fight off bacteria and viruses.
  2. Inflammation reduction: Worms may help suppress inflammation. In turn, thyroid inflammation may decrease. And less inflammation can reduce thyroid antibodies, as well as Hashimoto’s symptoms and flare-ups.
  3. Diverse microbiome: In a diverse gut, there is a protective layer lining the inside of your gut. This layer helps prevent toxins from entering your body. But, in those with an autoimmune disorder, that layer is leaky. Worm therapy may alter the makeup of the gut microbiome in a good way. Restoring a diverse gut microbiome also helps to restore or repair the protective layer.
  4. Symptom relief: Some individuals have reported improvements in autoimmune symptoms after undergoing worm therapy. Some may even argue that worm therapy is better than other therapy for autoimmune disorders. But, results can vary from person to person, and there is still much unknown about it.
  5. Less expensive: Medication costs can add up. Some argue that worm therapy is less costly than traditional medications for managing autoimmune disorders. Remember that medication costs vary depending on the type of medication and your insurance.


Risks and considerations of worm therapy

While worm therapy may be a promising option for Hashimoto’s, you need to be aware of certain risks and considerations:

  1. Lack of FDA approval: Worm therapy is experimental and not currently approved by the FDA (Food and Drug Administration) as a treatment for Hashimoto’s or any autoimmune disorder. Clinical trials are ongoing, but the FDA has concerns about the safety of the worm products being ingested.
  2. Infection and side effects: Introducing live parasitic worms to your body increases the risk of a parasitic infection, resulting in excessive inflammation. This chronic inflammation may worsen autoimmune symptoms and require additional medication treatment. Some reported side effects during worm therapy include itching, intestine damage, anemia, weight loss, fever, diarrhea, and blood loss.
  3. Ingesting live eggs: Many are uneasy about receiving and ingesting live eggs or larvae. Unfortunately, worm therapy isn’t a one-and-done type of treatment. More than likely, you will need to consume live eggs or larvae on more than one occasion to see their benefits. For instance, one study had participants ingest 2500 live eggs every two weeks for six total doses.
  4. Worm type matters: There are many types of parasitic worms. Studies on inflammatory bowel disease have focused on three different types of parasites that each affect the immune system differently. Since the treatment is still experimental for autoimmune disease in general, there are no clear guidelines on which type of worm therapy would work best for your health condition. 

A note from Paloma Health

While worm therapy shows promise, it is not an accepted treatment for Hashimoto’s. It is crucial to approach worm therapy with caution. If you are interested in worm therapy, make sure to consult with the appropriate healthcare professional. Ideally, this healthcare professional should know about traditional and alternative treatment options for Hashimoto’s. This allows them to properly assess your situation, provide guidance, and track your progress.

If worm therapy isn’t for you, but you want an integrative approach to managing Hashimoto’s, make an appointment with one of Paloma’s thyroid experts. At Paloma, our providers take an evidence-based approach to managing your symptoms that incorporates medication, nutrition, and lifestyle for optimal thyroid health and relief of symptoms.

Please note that Paloma Health isn’t recommending or promoting worm therapy for Hashimoto’s due to its experimental nature. Instead, we are informing you of the latest experimental treatment options based on available research.

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MedlinePlus. Immune response: MedlinePlus Medical Encyclopedia. Published 2018. Accessed November 16, 2023.

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Emilie White, PharmD

Clinical Pharmacist and Medical Blogger

Emilie White, PharmD is a clinical pharmacist with over a decade of providing direct patient care to those hospitalized. She received her Doctor of Pharmacy degree from Massachusetts College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences. After graduation, Emilie completed a postgraduate pharmacy residency at Bon Secours Memorial Regional Medical Center in Virginia. Her background includes caring for critical care, internal medicine, and surgical patients.

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