I’m always fascinated by the latest nutritional and lifestyle therapies available. I was intrigued when a colleague mentioned helminths last year. My gut was severely disrupted because I was on multiple courses of antibiotics for Lymes Disease.
There are currently medical trials going on to research Helminths’ effectiveness in Multiple Sclerosis and Sjogren’s Syndrome.
The idea behind them is very old, the ‘old friends’ theory that early and regular exposure to non-harmful microorganisms from the environment and the human gut and skin help regulate our immune system.
I reached out to Judy Chinitz from Biomerestoration to find out more.
- Please introduce yourself, your role in Biome Restoration and how long you have been doing what you do?
I am a special education teacher and a certified nutritionist here in the United States, and have been working with chronically ill patients – including my own son – for 25 years. Trying to help my son, who is diagnosed with autism, and who has an incredibly involved medical history, led to my introduction to the world of the chronic illness and the human biome. We know that autism seems to be the result of a complex interplay between genes and environmental triggers, and alterations to the native inhabitants of the gut are looking more and more likely as the main culprit. I was first made aware of the concept of biome restoration a year after Alex was first diagnosed back in 1996, by a famous functional medicine physician, who explained to me the holistic nature of the human body – how we don’t function as separate systems, but instead, how everything in us is interconnected. He explained the gut-brain axis to me which, in hindsight, may have been the most important conversation I have ever had with someone. Several years later, I read an article in the New York Times about early research into the use of helminths as a part of this “biome restoration” concept, in a small clinical study treating those with inflammatory bowel diseases. I was mesmerized. I ripped the article out of the newspaper, and framed – now yellow with age – it still hangs above my desk. I was first able to acquire helminths around 2007, and several members of my family responded very dramatically to them. In 2013, I met up with several researchers and a physician, and we came up with the idea of Biome Restoration Ltd., which was incorporated in September of that year.
- Why do our microbiomes need to be restored?
Most people seem to be pretty aware, at this point, that the extremely hygienic lifestyles we live in the industrialized world has so far separated us from nature that we no longer have exposure to the wide myriad of organisms that we once had. Everywhere you look these days, you see information about the health benefits of probiotics. You may have heard the term “hygiene hypothesis” used by the lay press as well. The term is really inaccurate and is not used much anymore in the scientific community. After all, It’s not that we are “too clean” per se – not washing your hands after going to the grocery story is going to do nothing for your health, and only expose you to unwanted viruses and other germs. Scientists now use either the terms “old friends hypothesis” or better still, “biome depletion paradigm.” Our understanding of the importance of the co-inhabitants of our bodies has led to an explosion in research around the world. Those trillions of organisms are critical to health, normal immune functioning, digestion, and so much more.
The word biome means the living organisms in an ecosystem. We humans are an ecosystem unto ourselves, and we have at least as many organisms living in and on us as there are our own cells. The idea is that we evolved in a natural environment, in and with dirt, and ate food and water which were not purified…and that would have exposed us to a wide array of bacteria and other very small critters. Our immune systems had to evolve to accommodate their presence: they were with us, after all. We developed a kind of balance – a symbiotic relationship with these guys. We gave them a nice place to live, and they, in turn, did good things for us: made vitamins for us, helped us digest food, protected us from pathogens, and more. Very early in life, starting right at birth, our immune systems learned to recognize their presence. The organisms didn’t want to be killed off, so there was a compromise: they would modulate our inflammatory response so that we’d tolerate their presence and in turn, we’d reap the benefits of their presence. We call these bacteria and other organisms “old friends” because they’ve been with us since before homo sapiens first stood up on 2 feet. Without that immune modulation afforded by their presence, our inflammatory systems are on permanent hyperdrive.
In our modern world, with purified water and processed food (which half the time is only one step above plastic!), and with wearing shoes, using toilets, and so forth, we have no opportunity to come into contact with these organisms. We have far less diversity in our biomes than our ancestors and the loss of our old friends has dramatically shifted how our immune systems work. We have hyper-immune responses, often reacting to non-harmful things in the environment (think allergies!) and even ourselves (think autoimmune diseases). We in the industrialized world are suffering from an epidemic of chronic inflammatory diseases ranging from autism to cardiovascular diseases to autoimmunity and allergies to depression to cancer…and so many more.
- What are helminths?
Today most people are familiar with the term microbiome which they believe means bacteria, like we find in probiotics and fermented foods (yogurt, kombucha, etc.). In actuality, the term refers to all the microscopic organisms in us which also include yeasts (the mycobiome), viruses (the virome), archaea (a different sort of bacteria), protozoa and more. All mammals on the planet also evolved with a macrobiome, which included complex, multicellular organisms. In fact, all non-domesticated animals still have healthy macrobiomes, as do billions of humans who live in less developed places. Helminths, which are intestinal worms, are a primary component of the macrobiome, and are extremely powerful invokers of the regulatory part of the immune system: the part that modulates the inflammatory response. Just like there are probiotic bacteria and pathogenic ones, there are benign helminths and pathogenic ones. People using helminths are obviously using those in the former category!
- Are they naturally found in some foods that we consume/used to consume?
Historically we have been exposed to helminths from many different sources including our food, however modern farming practices and modern food processing techniques means that we now rarely have natural exposure to helminths through our food.
- Are there different types of helminths? Many! Some good, some bad.
- How they can help with health?
As noted above, they appear to evoke a very powerful anti-inflammatory response. Their presence is also associated with improved quality of the bacterial microbiome. Studies have shown that those with helminths have more diverse bacteria, including higher levels of beneficial species and lower levels of pathogenic ones.
- What conditions are they used for? Is there any research behind the topic?
At this point, they are not “used for conditions,” as they are not approved as a cure or treatment for any disorder by any country. People in the helminth world regard them as akin to probiotics: restoring the lost inhabitants of the gut. This, in turn, has a powerful anti-inflammatory effect so those illnesses associated with inflammation may improve. Helminths have proved to be very popular in communities suffering with diseases such as inflammatory bowel disease, multiple sclerosis, autism and severe allergies.
- Who can usually assess if a particular person needs to take them?
No one will assess you as this is not an accepted treatment for any disease. People who chose to use helminths do so on their own, “at their own risk,” as the saying goes. In reality no formal assessment is normally required, in the same way that someone choosing to alter their diet for health reason, say by including more fermented foods, taking helminths is simply a way of replacing part of the biome which many of us have lost.
- How often and long do people have to take them?
In theory, they need to be taken lifelong, as you should always have a macrobiome. Helminths will only exert their anti-inflammatory effect as long as they are in you. Think of them as you would omega 3s: you don’t take omega 3s for a week and expect their effect to benefit you lifelong.
- When can you start noticing the difference?
This is highly variable for each person. Certain symptoms do seem to respond quite quickly in a matter of days or weeks such as constipation. Many people though do not start to feel any different for an absolute minimum of 3 months. Most people require at least a 6 month trial of helminths, if not a year – assuming adequate amounts of helminths are being taken – to be able to judge fairly just how much difference they are making.
- What do you clients say?
Legally we are unable to collect data from our clients. However, there are several papers in the medical literature, publicly available, which show that people find helminths incredibly efficacious. To find links to these, and so much more: there is a fantastic set of Wiki pages (https://helminthictherapywiki.org/wiki/index.php/Helminthic_Therapy_Wiki) which have much more information and quotes from users. You can also join the helminth therapy support group on Facebook and talk to other users. https://www.facebook.com/groups/htsupport
- Are there any contradictions for use?
There are inadequate clinical trials to answer this question comprehensively, but we would not recommend someone who was significantly immune-suppressed take helminths for example someone with AIDS or someone on exceptionally high doses of immune suppressant therapy.
- Can children take them too?
Same answer – essentially no one knows because there are no clinical trials establishing this. That said, there are thousands of children who have been given them and doctors around the world have recommended them to young patients. One company did obtain FDA approval to conduct a trial on children with autism but unfortunately, the trial was never run.
- Can you see the helminths before ingesting them and how do you take them?
The HDC are tiny and can just barely be seen by the naked eye if you look very closely. They look like tiny white specs. What you are taking is microscopic – or nearly so. 3 of the commercially available helminths are drunk in what looks like a mouthful of water. One, hookworm, crawls in through the skin. Again, there is nothing to see – nothing “yucky.” If you are considering helminths, please do educate yourself. Spend time reading those Wiki pages and reach out to other users.
- Finally, a question I ask all interviewed guests – what is your top one recommendation for optimising health?
This is not controversial or disputable: the single most important factor in health is your diet. Eating an anti-inflammatory, mainly plant-based diet, is the best thing you can do for yourself and your family.