1. Health
You can opt-out at any time. Please refer to our privacy policy for contact information.
Jane Anderson

Can Hookworm Infection Cure Celiac?

By January 10, 2013

Follow me on:

Several companies are looking for a celiac disease treatment in the pharmaceutical realm, but one Australian group is experimenting with something a bit more unusual: human hookworm infection.

In a paper published earlier this week in the International Journal for Parasitology, the group reported on trials in which they purposely infected celiac disease patients with the hookworm Necator americanus. The results were intriguing, to say the least.

The experiment, conducted in Australia, involved volunteers with celiac disease who agreed to be infected with the hookworms and then undergo a gluten challenge to measure their responses. Half of the people were infected with hookworms, and the remainder served as the control group.

The researchers found that hookworm infection did alter the volunteers' responses to gluten: part of the inflammatory response in the small intestine was suppressed during the gluten challenge, but other measures of an inflammatory response appeared to rise following the challenge.

Nonetheless, villous atrophy developed in the volunteers following the gluten challenge regardless of whether they had been infected with hookworms or not, indicating the hookworms didn't prevent the intestinal damage associated with celiac disease.

However, the researchers still believe they may be onto something: it's possible, writes study author Dr. John Croese, that the study didn't use enough hookworms to make a difference. It's also possible, he says, that the gluten challenge (four slices of bread for five consecutive days -- yikes!) was too abrupt and intense. These potential problems could have obscured any effects of hookworm infection on celiac disease, the researchers conclude.

Therefore, the Australian research team has begun another trial involving more hookworms and much less gluten per patient, in an effort to see if it's possible to induce a better immune system response.

This all probably seems far-fetched, but Dr. Croese and his colleagues explain that autoimmune disease (remember, celiac disease is autoimmune) has increased as sanitation and overall infectious disease prevention have improved. This is known as the "hygiene hypothesis," which holds that our immune system tends to overreact when we remove most of the parasites from our environment (and our intestines).

Therefore, as the theory goes, intentionally reintroducing the hookworm into the small intestine of people who have an immune system response to gluten might alter that response, leading to a potential treatment or cure.

However, hookworm infection is not without its own risks. The little beasts can cause gastrointestinal symptoms on their own, especially in people who haven't been infected with them before, and in severe cases cause anemia and protein loss. Nonetheless, it will be interesting to see if the human hookworm provides a potential treatment or cure for celiac disease.

Keep up with the latest in the celiac disease/gluten sensitivity world -- sign up for my newsletter, connect with me on Facebook or follow me on Twitter - @AboutCeliac.

Photo courtesy of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

January 11, 2013 at 3:52 pm
(1) maryjane shurlds says:

I am gluten sensitive. The blood test with a range of -1 to 5 the norm….mine was 14. My question is that I have horses who I feed twice daily grain and hay, too. If I wear gloves and long sleeve shirt should I be ok? I teach in an older middle school with poor ventilation and I keep an continuous headache when I’m there every day and my skin is breaking out again.and itching…..Bottom line I’m controling my diet, but feel a prisoner to my environment.

January 11, 2013 at 4:51 pm
(2) celiacdisease says:

MaryJane, if you’re feeding your horses gluten grains, the dust from the grains could be making you ill — there actually have been studies on that. Read more about it here: Airborne Gluten – Suffering Symptoms from Inhaled Gluten

January 11, 2013 at 5:38 pm
(3) Michael says:

The reason that being “too clean” is having a detrimental effect is because of things like the a chemical in antibacterial liquid hand soaps is absorbed by your skin and kills all of the beneficial bacteria in your gut. The old practice of fermenting foods needs to be revived. There are more bacteria in us than the number of our own cells, and we need to make sure the beneficial ones far outnumber the harmful ones. Babies who don’t have natural births or who are not nursed by their mother never establish the proper gut flora.

Hookworms are not the answer, nor is the vaccine.

August 18, 2013 at 12:53 am
(4) Barbara says:

Being a very sensitive diagnosed (with 2 x biopsy of small bowel) I would be very wary about ingesting gluten in any situation, let alone a hook worm. My best remedy if I do ingest gluten, is to take a drop of two of naturopathic Golden Seal (Hydrastis). This will always settle the gut and has no side effects when used in very small doses. Brilliant for me, when one tries to be 100% gluten free.

February 21, 2014 at 9:20 pm
(5) Steve M. says:

These researchers have got it right. In other trials in the U.S., intestinal parasites like hook work are turning out to be the cure for all kinds if auto-immune diseases in mice, not just celiac disease. Conditions like diabetes type 1, asthma, MS, Lou Gehrigs, and many others are completely cured by parasites! We have gotten too far away from our natural environment with our fancy homes and cars and rubber soled tennis shoes. We need to take a moment to walk barefoot on the beach again or play in the mud or even just walk barefoot in the grass or layout in the shade without towels or blankets. Our skin needs contact with the soil again!

March 18, 2014 at 2:28 am
(6) Radley A says:

I agree with Steve here. I have done some research on this topic, and have heard testimonials from people who claim they have been cured by this parasite and also whip-worm. I am considering trying this myself, for I have very bad allergies and also I have asthma. The theory behind this makes perfect sense too. Humans over the course of our existence have lived with parasites. It has only been recently that we have rid ourselves of these parasites. These organisms were a vital part of human’s immune systems for thousands of years. In third world countries autoimmune diseases do not exist, they just don’t. So i will try this and i think other people who are suffering should try it too. Worse case scenario is it doesn’t work, and you take some medication and rid your body of the parasite, not really any different than trying the next “drug” your Dr prescribes. Autoimmune diseases are linked to all sorts of other conditions too, such as dementia and alzheimer’s. So do some research on the matter.

Leave a Comment

Line and paragraph breaks are automatic. Some HTML allowed: <a href="" title="">, <b>, <i>, <strike>

©2014 About.com. All rights reserved.

We comply with the HONcode standard
for trustworthy health
information: verify here.