A lot of people these days suffer from allergic and autoimmune diseases, but this appears to be far more prevalent in wealthy countries. The cause, according to the ‘hygiene hypothesis’ is that people’s immune systems are not primed well enough from a young age. They are too clean! Time to get back in touch with some ‘old friends’, i.e., parasites, say Zhang and Gems, in their review titled: ‘Gross ways to live long: Parasitic worms as an anti-inflammaging therapy?’, published in eLife last February.
The authors have reviewed the literature on the potential benefits of exposing people to parasitic helminths. The central idea that they put forth goes as follows: Humans and parasites evolved in a traditional Red Queen interaction, where parasites harm humans, and humans evolved to fight back by way of the immune system. The parasitic worm then in turn evolved to dampen the immune reaction of its host, allowing it to stay without being bothered. This does not exactly benefit the host, but the twist is: dampening the immune system could also inhibit chronic and aging-associated inflammation, a.k.a inflammaging. Hence, the authors propose that a treatment with either live worms, or potentially a cocktail of worm proteins, could be administered as a treatment for allergic and autoimmune inflammatory disorders, as well as inflammaging in order to extend healthspan.
Cheers to that!
– Wouter van den Berg
Zhang B, Gems D. 2021. Gross ways to live long: Parasitic worms as an anti-inflammaging therapy? Elife. 10:1–12. doi:10.7554/eLife.65180.