Weight loss ‘is body’s way of fighting off gut worms’
Weight loss following infection with intestinal worms is the body’s way of fighting off the parasites, University of Manchester researchers have said.
The immune system hijacks a hormone that controls when to prevent eating, their study of mice suggests.
This then triggers the kind of immune response had to expel the worms from the gut, PLoS Pathogens reports.
The finding could lead on to new the right way to treat those with intestinal worms, researchers say.
Researchers first saw a possible link once they were measuring levels of a hormone called cholecystokinin in volunteers when they were fed a meal.
One man had incredibly high levels and on further investigation it was found he had an intestinal worm infection he had picked up on holiday.
Joining forces with a team specialising in gut worm infections the researchers did a study in mice infected with a worm called Trichinella spiralis.
They found that immune cells called T-cells responded to the worm infection by driving up levels of cholecystokinin.
This increase has a knock-on effect of driving down another hunger hormone, leptin, which influences what form of immune response the body must produce.
When they artificially added leptin back into the infected mice, the immune system mounted the incorrect response and the intestinal worms remained within the gut for longer.
Nearly one in every four of the world’s population are infected with gastrointestinal parasites.
It has long been known that these infections often bring about a period of reduced appetite and weightloss but why or how this occurs was not understood.
Study author Dr John Worthington said the researchers had checked out only 1 variety of parasitic worm but were now doing tests to work out if a similar response was produced in line with other worms.
“Naturally you can think that when you are shedding pounds you will have less energy to fight off infection,” he said.
“This does the alternative of what you could expect.”
Dr Worthington added that finally they’d be taking a look at whether different treatment or nutrition strategies might possibly be designed to lift this immune effect in people affected with intestinal worms.
Dr Mark Robinson, lecturer in parasite proteomics at Queen’s University Belfast, said that diseases of humans and animals brought on by parasitic worms were among the many most widespread and economically devastating during the world and drug resistance was becoming an issue.
“Find out how to combat worm infections at some point may be the development of vaccines which represent safer, more environmentally-friendly, alternatives to drugs,” he said.
“Right this moment, vaccine development is hampered by an absence of basic understanding of ways parasitic worms interact with, and influence, our immune system, so research during this area will hopefully contribute to creating new anti-parasite vaccines a reality.”