The Tapeworm Diet
The Tapeworm Diet – Myth Or Reality
There is no doubt that many people would do almost anything to lose those extra pounds, perhaps even going as far as to knowingly infecting themselves with worms. Just google and you'll see many pleas on forums and posting boards asking where people can buy tapeworms!
Believe it or not there has been and continues to be a small group of individuals, including some scientists and researchers, that promote and actually support the use of a variety of worms for treatment of many different health conditions commonly found in the human body. Helminth therapy, or the controlled use of worms in treatment, has been around for hundreds of years but has recently surfaced again as a possible option for those wishing to lose weight quickly and without having to change their lifestyle or diet.
Hoaxes and Scams
There are actual advertisements from the early 1900s that marketed different types weight loss products, specifically a diet pill, that was reported to contain eggs of the tapeworm although whether or not the capsules actually contained what they claimed is still very much uncertain.
There are still many different tapeworm diet pills marketed, some on the internet and some in shady types of "health food" or "holistic" stores, which tends to sully the repuation of the very good health food and holistic stores. In reality those researchers and "scientists" that do advocate the use of tapeworms indicate that beef tapeworm cysts cannot live long outside of a host, so capsules would not contain viable cysts, even if you were to consume the pills.
Those that advocate the use of tapeworms as a form of weight loss recommend the consumption of live, viable cysts that are only available in countries where tapeworms are common in cattle. Since the cysts cannot be imported into the United States, Canada, Australia, New Zealand or the United Kingdom and many other countries, this means the person must go to the source. The cysts are treated and processed to attempt to avoid any other types of contaminants, then are swallowed by the person in food or alone. Needless to say this does take some courage, not to mention a very strong stomach.
Celebrities and Tapeworms
There have been several claims of different celebrities intentionally consuming tapeworm cysts in order to lose weight. In reality there are no substantiated claims, although the most famous case of tapeworm infestation is likely that of the opera singer, Maria Callas who lived from 1923-1977. There is no doubt that Ms. Callas did in fact have tapeworms, but it was due to consuming raw meat in such dishes as steak and liver tartare, rather than any intentional consumption that caused her weight loss and subsequent tapeworm infestation. Many nutritionalists and medical experts also believe that she likely had many different types of worms, not just one tapeworm to cause her extreme weight loss.
There continues to be speculation in the media and in gossip columns about the rather astounding weight loss of different celebrities, and while there is always the possibility of a tapeworm there is also the much more likely and probable cases of using amphetamines and surgical procedures. If any current celebrities are using tapeworms in weight loss, they certainly aren't advertising the fact.
Travel Tip: When in the Washington area, be sure to check out the United States National Parasite Collection. This is located at the Department of Agriculture in Beltsville Maryland.
Introducing the Star of the Show - The Tapeworm
In order to evaluate the validity of the claims from those individuals promoting the intentional consumption of worms as part of a healthy dieting program it is important to understand just what a tapeworm is and what it is going to be doing inside of your body.
The tapeworm that is used in weight loss programs is a very specific tapeworm, known as the beef tapeworm. Taenia saginata, also known as Taeniarhynchus saginata, is the actual classification of the worm and it can only be found in cattle or humans.
There are other tapeworms in different species but these should not be used in any type of human diet or for human ingestion. Generally in most countries including Western and Southern Europe, the United Kingdom, United States, Australia and Canada the beef is routinely treated for worms and kept in good health, meaning that tapeworms are not a problem. There are still tapeworms in some cattle, however through inspections, carefully food storage and preparation the incidence of accidental tapeworm infection is very low.
Carcasses at slaughter facilities that are found to contain tapeworms are not used for human consumption, which prevents the spread of the parasite. In undeveloped countries such as South America, the Philipines and Africa and occasionally in far Eastern Europe beef may be infected with the cycts from the tapeworm, which can result in human infection if the beef is not fully cooked, stored properly or is not frozen prior to human consumption. Since there is less rigerous testing and home slaughtering without inspections are common in these areas there is a greater chance that the viable cycts will be injested if the meat is not properly cooked and stored.
The tapeworm is a parasite and lives in the digestive tract, more specifically in the intestines. The worm can be very small when young, less than one millimetre up to the huge mature tapeworms that can be over 20 metres in length. The larger the tapeworm gets the more likely it is that the host, in this case the human, will exhibit the side effects of having a worm. In addition to just having one worm, this worm is constantly releasing small cysts, very small tapeworms, or eggs that are expelled from the body.
It is actually relatively easy to get rid of a tapeworm. The person simply takes a medication, usually Praziquantel, which is a worming drug. This causes the worm to be sedated and release its grip on the lining of the digestive tract, allowing the natural movement of the intestines to move the worm out of the body with the feces.
Side Effects of Tapeworms
The individuals that advocate the use of tapeworms in treating obesity and aiding in weight loss indicate that there are few side effects if the cyct (baby tapeworm) is properly treated. In reality there are any number of side effects that can occur as each person reacts differently to the parasite. The most common side effects are abdominal pain and diahrrea, dizziness, vomiting, headaches, dehydration and loss of apetite. On the positive side there is weight loss, however it is not the dramatic amount that may be reported on some of the sites claiming to sell tapeworm pills. In reality most people will only lose a few pounds in total and will often have many of the side effects listed above.
In rare cases where the worm is left untreated inside the person too long, there can be life threatening intestinal blockages that require surgery to remove the worm. Some individuals may also develop mild to severe allergic reactions to the anitgens that are produced in the worm's digestive sucretions. It is always important to inform your doctor if you have traveled to a country where tapeworms are a problem or if you have knowing injested one, especially if the symptoms you exhibit are the ones mentioned above.
The weight loss component comes in as the worm actually consumes some or all of the nutrients that you consume. Since the worm takes what it wants there is less for the body to absorb and use resulting in weight loss, or so the theory goes. Of course the worm also consumes the vitamins and minerals that you need to keep your body functioning correctly and you will actually eat more, not less, as your body tries to balance things out. Most people that accidentally get tapeworms will quickly gain the weight back once the worm is expelled from the body since it is no longer consuming the excess food.
There is little if any research on the benefits to weight loss of consuming and hosting a tapeworm. While there are some anecdotal statements, there is no scientific documentation to back up the claims that tapeworms can and will help in weight loss for all individuals. Even those the promote the use of tapeworms indicate that the average amount of weight loss after the consumption of a tapeworm is 1 to 1 1/2 pounds a week, not much different than a traditional weight loss program that includes careful meal planning, exercise and general lifestyle changes.
Since most people aren't going to travel to a country such as Africa, Latin America or the Philippines to get a viable tapeworm cyst, and even fewer are willing to take the risk of possibly become seriously ill from ingesting the worm, it is not likely that a tapeworm diet is the answer to most individual's weight loss goals.
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