Allergy Desperation: I'll Take a Parasite, Please

Todd Troutman, of Alabama, said he was so desperate for relief from his allergies that he was willing to take the risk.

"When I saw it I said 'OK' I forked out $ 3,000 and I was pretty sick, so that will make you do some things," he said.

"My eyes would swell almost entirely shut. Most of my life consisted of blowing my nose or finding something to blow my nose on. I was sleeping 14-15 hours a day having absolutely no energy at all ever, it's just like having the flu and it just never goes away," Troutman said. "You get up to the level of having a bad cold, and then the weather changes again it goes back to having a bad flu."

Troutman said the parasites brought such a relief he was able to get off medication and move out of the desert environment he retreated to for relief.

A Growing Business Selling Parasites

Lawrence and his business partner, Marc Dellerba -- a senior clinical scientist at Blackpool District General Hospital in the U.K. -- already have a competitor, Garin Aglietti of Worm Therapy.

Aglietti treated himself with worms to reduce his psoriasis. He uses beef tapeworm, where Lawrence does not, and he will not sell worms to treat autism.

"The clinic has been open for a little bit more than a year," said Aglietti. "They've only treated more than a dozen people."

Before and after shots of Garin Aglietti, owner of Worm Therapy. Aglietti used a parasite to treat his psoriasis.

While Lawrence claims the therapy is akin to intensive probiotics and is legal in the United States, Aglietti reasoned it would be easier to do business in Mexico rather than attempt to get approval for food, drug or medical devices under the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

Both Lawrence and Aglietti got the idea for their treatments from a hypothesis circulating among parasitologists and gastroenterologists at top universities in the United States and Britain.

"Many years ago, and the theory is still out there, [it was thought] that a lot of us old people who grew up in the South got infected with all sorts of parasites and that that response prevented us from getting asthma and allergies," said Raymond Kuhn, professor of biology and an expert on parasites at Wake Forest University in Winston-Salem, N.C.

Serious researchers at Tufts University in Boston, Cambridge University and others have explored the idea that humans evolved by building an immune system that was in an arms race of sorts with parasites.

The hypothesis goes that until recently, humans were fighting off some sort of parasite or another for millions of years, ever since humans evolved into humans. That co-existence eventually led humans to evolving an immune system that worked with parasites.

"When you're born you have an immune system, but your immune system is a blank slate," said Weinstock.

Weinstock explained that just as humans create a functioning digestive system by populating their digestive system with bacteria, humans historically developed an immune designed to account for parasites in the body.

But in the last 150 years, the industrialized world's clean food supply and plumbing suddenly removed parasites from people's bodies. In response, researchers now widely think that people's immune systems stopped developing properly.

Weinstock said most people still have a powerful "attack" function of their immune system, but that many believe the immune system does not develop to regulate properly in the absence of helminthes (parasitic worms).

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