Here's a disgusting version of the game "would you rather" for your Wednesday afternoon: Lose your colon? Or swallow 1,500 worms?
In 2004, a 36-year-old California man faced that unappetizing conundrum after failed treatments for his ulcerative colitis meant he might need his colon removed, reports MyHealthNewsDaily. Instead, he hopped a plane to Thailand to see a parasitologist -- and then gulped down 1,500 parasitic worm eggs. We'll let you digest that for a minute.
Turns out, the squirmy little worms did the trick to help soothe the man's inflammatory bowel disease symptoms, according to the case study, which was published today in the December issue of the journal Science Translational Medicine. Ulcerative colitis causes inflammation in the colon, which kills the cells that normally line the organ, and painful ulcers form in the cells' place. After this guy swallowed the worms, his body (understandably) tried to get rid of the squiggly creatures by producing a thick lining of mucus (this story just keeps getting grosser, doesn't it?) -- and that helped ease the pain caused by the colitis.
Four years later, when few parasitic worms were still inhabiting his innards, his symptoms returned, and he downed 2,000 more worm eggs. Researcher Mara Broadhurst, a doctoral student in immunology at the University of California, San Francisco, told MyHealthNewsDaily that because his symptoms came back when many of the worms died off, that's a hint that the worms really did help, and the man's issues didn't simply go away on their own.
But if you suffer from the same symptoms, calm down: No one's going to force thousands of worms down your throat any time soon. Actually, Broadhurst says that, ideally, scientists would take a compound from the parasitic worms (called helminths) and use that to make a treatment that's a little easier to swallow.