Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Diet of Worms (apologies to history buffs)

I have mentioned in passing, findings researchers have made about parasites and MS. I even podcasted about it on Charles' MSBPodcast. So here (as Paul Harvey would say) is the Rest of the Story.

There is something known as the hygiene hypothesis. Basically, immune system related illnesses such as allergies are more prevalent in families with fewer children than in large families. The fewer children in a family, the less opportunity a child has of becoming exposed to infectious agents, and that in turn results in a child's immune system remaining "weak" and the child more susceptible to illness or disease. So more siblings lessens your chances of developing allergies.

There has been a steady rise in incidence in the developed world of allergies since the industrial age. And there has also been a steady rise in the incidence of auto-immune diseases, like MS and Inflammatory Bowel Disease.

The hygiene hypothesis has now been expanded to include bacteria and parasites. And the more siblings you have, the greater your chance of exposure to bacteria and parasites. (Can you see where I'm going with this?)

Apparently exposure to bacteria and/or parasites stimulates development of regulatory T cells.
"To use a rough analogy, an unbridled immune system (without regulatory T cells) has the dynamic of a rowdy, unchaperoned beer party. It is likely to overreact to slight or non-existent insults (analogous to allergic disease) and may even attack members of its own party (analogous to autoimmune disease). The role of the T regulatory cells of the immune system is similar to that of the bouncer, keeping the beer party in check." Great explanation from Wikipedia.

A couple of years ago I was reading reports of the link between parasites and MS. And I also read Carl Zimmer's Book, "Parasite Rex", which talked of the rise of auto-immune disease since the Industrial Age. As we have gotten "cleaner" by improving sanitation and hygiene, we have gotten sicker. You've probably heard all the furor about the overuse of antibiotics and antibiotic soaps. As we kill off all bacteria, both good and bad, with these things, we leave ourselves open to attack by adapted bacteria, super-bugs as it were.

There are studies being conducted using parasites to determine how helpful, if at all, they are to folks with MS. The nifty thing about these little parasites is that it looks like only a handful is needed for a beneficial result. And they don't reproduce while they're in you (they seem to want more romantic locales to do that). So once you get over the gross-out factor, it's not such a bad thing.

Links for the studies:Times OnLine
New Scientist



Merelyme said...

very interesting...i wonder if there is a link...my son has autism...this is now being considered by some to be an auto-immune disorder. you certainly give pause for thought.

nice to meet you...came from lisa's blog. i will have to add you to my blog links.

Shauna said...

Hi merelyme and welcome to bugs, bikes, and brains.
I maintain that a lot of what we don't know will be discovered to be rooted in very simple things, like worms. Who know? Maybe there's a link to autism in all this stuff....

Diane J Standiford said...

SHAUNA---AAAEEE, I HATE worms. Dang! I have to go to bed now....ewww, and the spy thingy is being shot down over Seattle(I'm smelling toxic gas and hearing planes...GEEZ) YUCK ICK
Oh, I don't doubt we have srewed ourselves up. In sooo many ways. DES daughters. DDT. Govt secret sprayig in my hometown during year I was 4.(Really, they admitted it.)

harkoo said...

I used to go to doctors during my 20's complaining of horrible fatigue-they all gave me a variety of theories--one that relates to your blog is that I went to Hong Kong for my honeymoon when I was 26--we traveled throughout that part of China for 2 weeks eating food we didn't recognize and drinking the water. One doctor was convinced I picked up a parasite via the food/water route and that was causing my fatigue. I had no history of illness at all (that made me rather nervous as I was never building up antibodies) He never did testing as this was a long time ago but who knows? My first official attack was when I was 32. I just lived with severe fatigue during my mid-late 20's or was it because I got married? lol