When it comes to slowing down aging, and the health problems that often develop as our bodies get older, there are many strategies out there. Exercise more, eat a healthier diet, get better sleep come to mind. But ingesting parasites likely is not the first, or even hundredth, idea on your list.
New research, however, suggests certain parasites might help limit the effects of aging and some diseases.
Helminths, [HAL-minths] — think roundworms, tapeworms and flukes — have evolved with humans over centuries. They have helped the human body develop better tolerances for certain illnesses. Some experts say their decline, as a result of better hygiene, has led to higher levels of autoimmune problems.
One such condition is inflammaging, which is a chronic form of inflammation that worsens with age.
With inflammaging, there is a rise in pro-inflammatory proteins in the blood. Researchers at University College London have determined the molecular components of helminths can suppress these levels and also help combat a number of inflammatory conditions, including MS, rheumatoid arthritis and diabetes.
A separate study at the University of Glasgow found a protein called ES-62, which is an anti-inflammatory molecule found in roundworms, not only suppressed inflammaging in mice, it also gave them a 12% increase in their median lifespan.
Before you go looking for tapeworms to swallow, keep in mind that helminths can also be harmful to your health. Some have been linked to cancer and other diseases.
But scientists are recognizing that after many years of trying to eradicate these parasites, it may be time to explore their possible health benefits, as strange as that sounds.