Wednesday, July 11, 2012

"They Actually Eat That:" Worms.

Eating worms is usually a gag in American culture. There will always be that one kid who ate earthworms on the playground. There's even a dessert using gummy worms and Oreo crumbs to platy with the novelty of eating worms.

But could eating worms seriously be good for you?

According to scientists (including an old teacher of mine), sure! Worms of all types come into contact with bacteria that support a healthy immune system. Actually, the act of putting all kinds of foreign objects in one's mouth helps build a healthy immune system - especially during childhood. That kid who ate worms was onto something.

Our  industrialized society has the curse of being too clean for its own good. Children are told not to put things in their mouths, whether it be dog crap or something they left on the floor. This prevents them from getting exposure to foreign things -bacteria and the like- to which they can build an immunity.  Furthermore, the use of too many soaps and disinfectants creates antibiotic-resistant strains of bacteria. There is such a thing as too clean, and it's a lot more widespread than lutefisk.

Aside from eating regular worms to prevent immune problems later in life, eating other worms has its own benefits. Hookworm therapy is becoming a huge thing. Don't worry, species that regularly infect inhuman animals are used. Again, this works because industrialized society is too clean for its own good. Not saying go back a century, but don't try to sterilize your world, either.

How does it work? A protein called IgE can be held responsible for many autoimmune diseases, including allergies,  arthritis, and even a few cancers. The same protein is responsible for handling parasites. By introducing a harmless parasite into the body, these immune proteins have a target to attack. One man went all the way to Thailand just to get some worm eggs. It saved him from a premature death via a malfunction in another protein. Overall, it might not be bad to be infected.

So, go ahead. The earthworms aren't going to hurt you. Grab a few and try some.

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