Some of the worms and germs we’ve been warding off may actually keep us well. One solution, some scientists say, is to welcome them back
I met William Parker just two days before World Toilet Day, an international campaign to break taboos about, yes, potties. It’s a subject not many like to talk about. The cause is a critical one: access to sanitation and safe drinking water are key to preventing a host of diseases. But a growing body of research suggests there may be a dark side to clean living.
According to one theory, first proposed in the 1980s, the super-sanitized lifestyle of the western world may have curtailed some diseases but created new ones. The prevalence of asthma, allergies, and a number of autoimmune-related ills —from rheumatoid arthritis to Type I diabetes—has skyrocketed in recent decades, especially in wealthy countries. “Roughly 4 in 10 Americans suffer from allergies, and nearly 1 in 10 develop an autoimmune disorder,” Parker said. “We generally don’t see these diseases in developing countries.”
Duke immunologist William Parker is one of hundreds of scientists who are trying to figure out exactly what makes healthy immune systems tick, and why modern living has run them amok.
“Certainly there’s a genetic connection. And there can also be environmental triggers, like viral infections or chemicals,” Parker said. “But there’s something more going on.”
The culprit, some scientists say, may be a lack of worms. Not the worms that dig in your garden, mind you, but the ones that dwell in your gut.
- A New Treatment for Bowel Problems: Eating 1,000 Parasitic Worm Eggs | Discoblog (blogs.discovermagazine.com)
- ‘Worm Therapy’ Stimulates Gut Mucus (livescience.com)