For the last half a dozen years I have been fascinated by the most unlikely research, helminth therapy.
Helminths are parasitic worms which infect humans, such as tapeworms or hookworms. Unchecked these creatures can create disease and illness. However, growing research is demonstrating a surprising positive effect on health.
I first learned of this research from NPR's show RadioLab. The episode "Parasites" featured the story of Jasper Lawrence. Jasper cured himself of severe asthma by infecting himself with hookworm. His asthma quickly became manageable and under control. (He would regularly monitor the hookworm to ensure it did not grow out of control.)
In parts of the world where helminth infections are common, autoimmune diseases are rare. This has lead to researching if the worms are helping regulate the immune system in some unknown way. There is quite a lot of research examining how helminth may help those with autoimmune diseases, such as multiple sclerosis.
The Guardian published a great overview of the topic. Here are a few quotes from the piece:
"Joel Weinstock, a gastroenterologist at Tufts University in Massachusetts, which examined the effect of worms on patients with inflammatory bowel disease. Almost 75% of those who ingested the worms were cured, especially noteworthy given that they had not been helped by more traditional treatments."
“I’m convinced,” he says. “Based on the evidence I’ve seen, it is very effective,” he says. “It has a really good benefit-to-risk ratio, especially for serious autoimmune diseases such as multiple sclerosis and inflammatory bowel disorder.”
There is likely no magic bullet for complex autoimmune diseases. However this is an extremely promising line of research.