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Worm larvae may treat Crohn's disease

Though living with Crohn's disease can be unpleasant and painful, the prospect of swallowing worm eggs that hatch in your intestines may seem like an extreme solution. But researchers believe that one type of worm may hold the key to improving an immune system affected by Crohn's disease.

People with Crohn's disease have an immune system that mistakes harmless and beneficial things in the body for harmful substances. The system attacks, causing gas, diarrhea and other symptoms. In some cases, the symptoms become so severe that the patient's ability to work is affected. The Social Security Administration recognizes Crohn's disease as a disability for Social Security Disability purposes.

One theory holds that this and similar diseases may be due to our modern, relatively hygienic society. According to the "hygiene hypothesis," removing parasites and bacteria from our living environment has caused some of our immune systems to be weakened.

By exposing patients to some harmless parasites, researchers guessed, they could strengthen their immune systems and possibly reduce the effects of their illness. They are turning to an oral medicine containing eggs of the pig whipworm, microscopic organisms that die in the intestine while still in the larva stage. While there, they activate the immune system, hopefully helping it distinguish between harmful and helpful objects in the body.

Research like this can hold promising treatments for the future. But until Crohn's disease is cured, many patients will need to turn to SSD benefits to help with everyday expenses for themselves and their families.

Source: Boston Globe, "Eating a parasite might be the breakthrough we need to fight Crohn's disease, multiple sclerosis," Callum Borchers, Sep. 16, 2013

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