Desperate dieters turn to the worm of last resort.
Tapeworm diet sounds disgusting and is hard to believe one would intentionally ingest a live worm for the purposes of losing weight – right? Turns out there are credible accounts of people doing exactly that.
We can all admit to going to great lengths, even if just once, to lose those unwanted pounds. But the Tapeworm Diet has to be the most extreme and desperate diet ever imagined. Although the importing of tapeworms, and use of tapeworms as a diet aid, is illegal in the US tapeworm pills have been sold as weight-loss aids in the past. In some ways, it seems to make a certain amount of sense — that is, if you can get past the gross-out factor. If a tapeworm is absorbing your body’s nutrients and calories, you can eat all you want and enjoy the taste. Then the worm diverts it all before it hits your waistline, right?
But, ingesting tapeworms in order to lose weight is not only a radical diet fad, but an extremely dangerous one.
Tapeworm infestation can result in:
- The formation of cysts in the liver, eyes, brain, and spinal cord with potentially lethal consequences.
- Intestinal Blockages
- Vitamin Deficiency/Malnutrition
History of Tapeworm Diets
Many years ago before the modernization of water purification, and sanitation, it was common for the human body to have a variety of worms. Diet, hygiene and other changes have meant that most if not all worms in the body have been removed in developed nations. Tapeworms though, do sometimes still occur in undercooked beef or raw meat dishes which are prone to contamination.
Although the absence of worms is good news to most of us, some believe that our bodies have not evolved to a point where it is accustomed to being free of worms. Our bodies are still undergoing the process of looking for the worms that our bodies inhabited for so many years. What does this mean? This means that the body becomes more sensitive to other foreign material creating an immune system imbalance. This immune balance is responsible for conditions that are currently rife in society, for example in the common form of allergies such as psoriasis, hay fever etc. Based on this theory, the natural fix would be to introduce specific worms that help to keep the immune system in balance. This may fuel much of the rationalization of modern occurrences of tapeworm dieters.
There are a few tapeworm legends and rumors floating around. Opera singer Maria Callas was rumored to have used a tapeworm to achieve loss of weight in the mid-1950s. She did lose more than 60 pounds over several months. She was also known to have contracted a tapeworm at some point in her life. However, are the two incidents connected? Probably not. She was also known to enjoy rare meats…you can be the judge.
There is evidence of advertising, from the late 19th and early 20th century, regarding “sanitized tapeworms” to help women maintain a slim figure. And, in her famous novel Seabiscuit, Laura Hillenbrand states that in the 1930s racehorse jockeys trying to lose weight would swallow a capsule containing a tapeworm egg. The worms would then mature in the jockeys’ stomachs and eat whatever food was dropped their way. Whether the pills sold actually contained tapeworms or whether these people actually ingested them hoping to acquire a tapeworm is difficult to verify.
How the Tapeworm Diet works
The way that tapeworms aid in weight loss is reminiscent of urban myth, and in fact the concept of using tape worms for weight loss has been around for almost a century.
Although it is illegal in most countries, it is being offered at some places in Mexico. Upon your arrival at the treatment location you are given beef tapeworm cysts that have been identified microscopically. This is vitally important because some cows may host pig tapeworms, which are very dangerous.
The traditional way of becoming infected with a tapeworm is by eating raw meat, being in contact with infected feces and other foods containing tapeworm. However, for the purposes of dieting, methods would include the tablet form.
The idea is that introducing tapeworm into the body means that the food you eat is split between your own body and that of the tapeworm. You are a host and tapeworm uses you by attaching suckers to your stomach and feeding on the foods that you eat. The tapeworm interferes with your digestion and absorption of nutrients, which means that you can consume more calories and still lose weight. However the parasite also competes for vitamins and other important nutrients, which may result in a nutritional deficiency.
The tapeworm also secretes proteins in your intestinal tract that make digestion of food much less efficient. A less efficient digestive systems means that you can consume more calories through your food since your “body guest” is also noshing on them for his own growth purposes. Tapeworms can reach 20 feet (6.1 meters) or more in length and live for years. Certain tapeworms can be downright lethal like a pork tapeworm.
According to some scientists, tapeworm infestation can result in a loss of one to two pounds per week. Once the target weight loss is reached, a strong course of antibiotics is prescribed to get rid of the tapeworm.
- Weight loss is very likely – about two pounds per week
- Some scientists believe that tapeworms help boost your immune system and alleviate allergies such as hay fever
- Extremely dangerous, with unpleasant side effects and in some cases can be lethal
- No adequate protection for consumers in regard safety
- Weight game is likely to be short term once the tapeworm is gone
- Tapeworms bloating and swelling
- Banned by the FDA
- Treatment is expensive
The life of a Tapeworm
An adult tapeworm lives inside the intestines of the host animal, which could be a pig, cow, dog, sheep, fish or even a human. At the top of the worm is the head, called the scolex. The scolex has suckers or hooks that it uses to attach to the intestinal wall. Below the scolex is the neck. The rest of the worm’s body buds off of the neck.
Here’s the creepy part. The tapeworm’s body, called the strobila, is made up of many segments, sometimes thousands. Each individual segment is known as a proglottid. A proglottid is either male or female. The segments closest to the neck are mostly male and produce sperm. Segments farther along the body are female and are basically egg sacks. A tapeworm can produce millions of fertilized eggs. Proglottids frequently break off from the worm and are passed out of the host along with feces. However, each proglottid has functional muscles, allowing it to crawl. Sometimes, a detached proglottid will crawl out of the host through the anus. More often, a proglottid crawls away from the pile of fecal matter left by the host, increasing the chances that it will be eaten by a different animal. Eventually, the proglottid disintegrates, leaving behind the eggs.
When the eggs are eaten by an herbivore, they are “hatched” by the conditions within this intermediate host’s digestive system. The larval stage, known as a hexacanth, uses hooks to burrow through the host’s intestinal walls to reach the bloodstream. There, it turns into a scolex and forms a cyst. The resulting condition is known as cysticercosis. Pigs, cows and sheep are most commonly infected. Humans can act as an intermediate host for the pig-born species of tapeworm, and therefore can contract cysticercosis.
Once the cysts form, the parasite simply waits within the host. When the host animal dies, the meat may be eaten by other animals (or by humans) raw or undercooked. The ingested cysts pass into the primary host’s digestive system, where the scolex attaches to the intestine wall and the whole cycle begins again.
Cysticercosis, the condition resulting from tapeworm hexacanths burrowing their way into your bloodstream, is not pleasant. The cysts can end up pretty much anywhere in your body, including in your eyes or your brain. The cysts sometimes grow, and they inflame the surrounding tissue. The resulting pressure can cause temporary symptoms or permanent damage, including blindness, brain damage or even death in some extreme cases.
After reading the gory details of tapeworms you may be more concerned with prevention. Although the food industry is under fire over the last few years, we should be grateful that meat contaminated with tapeworms is now a very rare occurrence. In the United States at least, strict standards and inspection of meat keeps tapeworms out of the food supply. However, if you’re still concerned it is relatively simple to spot worm cysts if you know what to look for. Thoroughly freezing meat at 14 degrees F (-10 degrees C) for 10 days, or making sure it is thoroughly cooked will also kill any parasites. And if you do acquire a tapeworm a single dose of Praziquantel, an anti-worm medication, will kill it by forcing all its muscles to permanently contract. The tapeworm will then leave your body along with your feces.
It goes without saying that the Tapeworm Diet is extremely risky and can cause a wide range of undesirable side effects. In addition to this, dieters will probably regain all the weight that is lost if they continue with the same eating habits after the tapeworm is expelled. This makes tapeworm diets hardly dieting smarter.
I would advise rather that dieters stick with proven weight loss methods such as consuming fewer calories and increasing physical activity, rather than risking their lives by swallowing a live worm cyst. When writing this I didn’t expect it to sound appealing to any readers. However, in case you’re one of the few who would consider this alternative, please write us a letter after you’ve given it a try. We’d love to know how it went.