- I am not good at the sciencey-science. I do not fully understand the ins-and-outs of this crap. Do not rely on me for understanding of this topic on that level. If you do, you will be sorely disappointed and embarrassed when someone calls you out on it. Please consider this an invitation to a discussion of the issues and ramifications of Harris’s contribution.
- As Harris frequently mentions, self-treating with anything of this nature is dangerous and potentially life-threatening. Any actions you undertake are expressly your own and you do so at your own peril.
With that loveliness out of the way…shall we?
Definitions and Basics
Before I send you off to read this thread (if you haven’t already, and be sure to read all the comments both for informative and entertainment purposes), let’s parse some of those ten-cent words being thrown around.
Helminths – A parasitic worm; a fluke, tapeworm, or nematode.
Commensal – An organism participating in a symbiotic relationship in which one species derives some benefit while the other is unaffected.
Pseudocommensal – Okay, someone correct me if I’m wrong, because this is a new term. But from what I gather, a pseudocommensal is an organism that does not necessarily stick around in a human, but was constantly present in our intestines historically due to its ubiquity in soil and tainted water. For more on that, check this out.
Specific types of these organisms are on the list of so-called Old Friends, organisms once common in humans and now missing in modern urbanized people due to hygiene and sanitation measures (see here for more on the Hygiene Hypothesis). Graham Rook is a leading researcher in this area, and here’s a good start to getting acquainted.
Most of us already know that diet isn’t the only part of modern life conspiring against our ancient genes. We’re told to get sunshine, move around more, get some sleep, and reduce stress—all good stuff. But nowhere will you see the advice to play with farm animals, eat dirt, walk around barefoot, and drink unfiltered water from streams.
There are a few reasons for this. One is that it could kill you. And another is that it might be too late for us.
In the past, most of us would’ve been colonized long ago as babies and toddlers. First of all, we would’ve been born with a vaginal delivery and breastfed exclusively, without exception. Those that weren’t, I’m sad to say, probably died. (I feel the need to point out here that this is not commentary or judgment of anyone out there who was born/raised differently or who has had a C-section or who had to feed their children with formula for whatever reasons. Just stating the facts, ma’am.) Secondly, toddlers put everything into their mouths for good reason. Okay, sometimes there’s no good reason and sometimes it’s a terrible idea depending on the object, but in the past, this probably conferred some sort of benefit. And I think we’re circling around what exactly was that benefit.
In addition, our meat wasn’t irradiated and we probably gained all sorts of fun wormies and squigglies from our animal foods. Our water didn’t come from some treatment plant. We didn’t have refrigeration or sterilization processes. We didn’t quarantine people with illnesses. We didn’t scour everything, including ourselves, with antibacterial soap. There’s no doubt that some of these modernizations have saved lives and others from serious illness, but the time has come to understand that nothing comes without consequences, especially when we start messing around in evolution’s territory.
You may already know that our human cells are outnumbered by bacteria in/on our body, by this account at a 10:1 ratio. As that article states, we don’t yet know what bearing this has on human health. The research in this area will be fascinating in the years to come. For example, check out this study about toxoplasmosis infection and how it affects human behavior, differently for both men and women. Amazing. When we consider this simple example, as far as I’m concerned, all bets are off about what we think we know about anything. And then, the possibility that our very own mitochondria— the organelles responsible for energy production, signaling, and cell death—could have once been free-living bacteria that were subsumed into the cells that gave rise to mammals…I mean…my mind is just blown. This is not a topic to be taken lightly.
Yeah, that’s great. So what.
Chances are you came to Paleo to fix something. Whether it was a weight issue, autoimmune condition, digestive trouble, acne, allergies, or other health concern, you’ve probably found some significant relief eating real food. But be honest—are you cured? For me, my weight has stabilized, but I continue to have minor eczema, IBS, and acne flare-ups. I feel fortunate that these are indeed minor and not something more serious that would cause me to go crazy seeking relief.
Check any Paleo message board, be it Mark’s Daily Apple or Paleo Hacks, and you’ll soon see the myriad questions and concerns that Paleo folks continue to have. As Harris pointed out in the comments of the Band-Aid thread, there are people eating a perfect Paleo diet and still experiencing trouble. That alone points to something larger happening behind the scenes.
So what. Eating Paleo is a good band-aid.
True, it helps, no doubt. Even if everyone were perfectly healthy we shouldn’t be eating the garbage Nabisco shills as food. No one is advocating a return to that.
But here’s a question for you: If you could happily and without worry eat a slice (or four) of pizza hot off the wood-fired oven’s bricks in Naples, wouldn’t you want that? Or a real, honest-to-goodness birthday cake that wouldn’t make you wish you’d died instead of aching all week?
Because here’s where Paleo has it (potentially) all wrong. Gluten isn’t necessarily evil. Lectins aren’t necessarily evil. There’s no evil anywhere. It’s merely our bodies’ crazy reaction to something in its environment, and gluten just happens to be one of those things. There is a long list of inflammatory ailments that could be eased with treatments aimed at restoring these critters to their rightful place in our systems.
This was big for me because when I first began to see the world through a Paleo lens, suddenly it explained a lot. I felt like I had stopped looking through a microscope at the world. This immune system piece made me zoom out even more, beyond Paleo, to an even more holistic view of humans on earth living in interesting times.
I’ma be blunt: WE ARE MISSING ENTIRE FUNCTIONING PIECES OF OUR IMMUNE SYSTEM.
What can I do?
Unfortunately, not much.
As I mentioned above, first of all, undertaking any action on your own is a fool’s errand. Secondly, this is still experimental. Thirdly, it involves putting worms on your skin. Ew. Note that even with therapy, “cure” isn’t exactly what happens. Remission is the best case scenario and the therapy may need to be repeated to continue enjoying the benefits.
But this is seriously promising stuff. Check out Wiki’s helminthic therapy page:
Current research and available therapy are targeted at, or available for, the treatment of Crohn’s disease, ulcerative colitis, inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), multiple sclerosis, asthma, eczema, dermatitis, hay fever and food allergies.
I haven’t looked into it thoroughly, but from a cursory search, access to such therapies appears to be limited. I won’t link to what I found, but attempting to obtain said therapy currently involves $4000-$8000 dollars plus a trip to Tijuana. But maybe this will change in the near future.
However, I did find this man’s tale of traveling to Cameroon and walking around barefoot in open outdoor latrines. So, you know. Have at it. (Please note I do not endorse the link on this page to a clinic. Again, please refer to disclaimer.)
So sit tight, kiddos. I expect there will be more news on this in the future. If it’s as promising as it sounds, relief for sufferers can’t come soon enough.