The upside: Scott was eventually able to tolerate foods he hadn’t eaten since he was a teenager. He saw other health improvements as well, and he maintains his body’s worm population to this day by ordering a fresh supply every three months.
The worms’ excretions increase the host’s number of regulatory T cells, “the peacekeepers of the immune system” that keep inflammation in check, Loukas says.
But that may not be the only way the worms work. A recent paper in the experimental biology publication The FASEB Journal describes how peptides found in hookworms inhibit the proliferation of effector memory T cells, which, unlike regulatory T cells, can actually trigger inflammation.
The bottom line is that scientists haven’t dug up all the hookworm’s secrets — yet. “I’m viewing the worms more as a veritable pharmacopoeia,” says Loukas.
[This article originally appeared in print as "Take 20 Worms and Call Me in Six Months."]