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Diet of worms eases that gut feeling

PARIS (AFP) 3/04 - Fancy a change from orange juice for breakfast?

How about a yummy glass of... worms? The concoction will soon be on sale in Europe, after researchers found that tiny parasites called pig whipworms appear to have an astonishing effect on symptoms for a crippling form of bowel disease, New Scientist says.

The idea for this comes from US gastroenterologist Joel Weinstock of the University of Iowa, who believes modern man's bowel system is over-sanitised. He noticed that Western countries have experienced a sharp rise in inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) in the past 50 years.

That increase has coincided with a sharp fall in infections by classic intestinal parasites such as roundworm and human whipworms. In developing countries, on the other hand, these parasites are common but IBD is very rare.

Weinstock believes that our immune systems have evolved over millions of years to cope with the presence of such parasites and without them our bowels can become overactive. This is where the pig whipworm (Trichuris suis) comes in.

Weinstock recruited a hundred volunteers with ulcerative colitis, and another hundred with Crohn's disease, both of which are incurable and potential serious forms of IBD

. By regularly drinking a concoction of thousands of pig whipworm eggs, many of them saw symptoms, such as abdominal pain, bleeding and diarrhoea, disappear.

Fifty percent of the volunteers in the ulcerative colitis group did not suffer remission, and the rate among the Crohn's disease group was a remarkable 70 percent.

"A lot of researchers couldn't believe this treatment was effective, but people are always skeptical when confronted with new ideas," he told the British science weekly.

Weinstock chose pig whipworms as a friendly gut-stabilising parasite because the eggs, after developing, do not survive very long in the human body.

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