Ingesting worm eggs: an effective way to lose weight or a health risk?

 

Zeleke Mekonnen is project leader of 'Infectious diseases', a project that is part of the Institutional University Cooperation with Jimma University in Ethiopia. When he visited a school to collect stool samples for a study into worms, a teacher asked him a very unexpected question.

 

Wormeitjes EthiopieAs usual my colleagues and I were in a hurry to arrive at one of the schools selected as research site for our on-going project of control of soil transmitted helminthiasis. School-aged children were in a queue to provide stool samples.

 

Ascarislumbricoides or commonly called "round worm" is a giant intestinal parasitic worm that could grow up to 15 to 35 inches long and could produce more than 200,000 eggs per day inside the body. I explained the children and the teachers that these worms could cause diarrhoea, stomach pain, distension, and malnutrition because they eat up most of the nutrients from the human body. These worms could roll up in a ball that could cause an obstruction on the intestinal, biliary, and pancreatic ducts. Obstructions on these pathways cause serious complications which can be fatal. Moreover, these worms could migrate to other parts of the body like the lungs, causing respiratory problems.


Students had provided us the stool samples and went back to their class. It was time for me and the research team to leave the school compound and to go back to Jimma University to analyse the sample of the day in the laboratory. Yet, suddenly a challenging question was forwarded to me from one of the school teachers. She is in her early twenty, somehow over-weight but having attractive appearance. She started her question like this:


'Ingestion of worm eggs, particularly ingestion of Ascarislumbricoides eggs is considered as one of the methods for weight loss. Many girls are trying this method around the different parts of the world to become slim and keep their body shape. It is thought to be cheap and easy. Is this method widely used? Is it effective and safe? What is the reaction of the fitness industry toward this new method?'


She smiled, waiting for an answer. Although I am not an expert of weight loss method programmes, I felt suggesting that, consuming balanced diet, eating less and exercising more is still the healthiest and most effective means of losing weight. I continued telling that it is advisable to consult health professionals before starting on any special diet or any other advertised new method of weight loss. So people will know the pros, cons and risks of that particular weight loss program. Whenever people are infected by a parasitic worm, they are advised to consult a health professional and get appropriate treatment to avoid further complications.


Dear readers, what would be your reaction if you would be asked such questions? At the end of that particular day, the teacher had concluded our discussion saying 'Better I remain as I am than trying to be slim and beautiful by purposely exposing myself to deadly worm infections!'

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