a pile of gummy worms

Worms of the non-gummy variety were used to treat the symptoms of autism.

Sometimes researchers test out strange-sounding treatments that end up working. Research led by Eric Hollander MD at Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York assessed two unconventional treatments for autism spectrum disorders (ASD): hot water and worms. The research team explored these treatments as ways to inhibit immune system response; some prevailing theories on autism contend that the systems responsible for inflammation may be the cause of autism or its symptoms. Both the hot water and worm treatments alleviated some symptoms of autism, but more research is needed to confirm their benefits.

The first study was based on research demonstrating that fevers can be a catalyst for the body’s anti-inflammatory processes. To copy the effects of a fever without deliberately making the subjects sick, the researchers had children bathe in a hot tub each day. The children selected for the study had a history of improved behavior in response to fevers. The subjects exhibited improvements in social behaviors when they bathed in water that was 102 degrees Fahrenheit, compared with bathing in 98 degree water.

The second study utilized the healing power of worms. The researchers used Trichuris suis ova (TSO), which is the egg of helminth trichura, also known as the whip worm. Twelve adults with high-functioning autism and who were fully able to consent to the study were treated with TSO and a placebo for 12 weeks each. The subjects all had a family history of allergies or other type of inflammation.

After the TSO treatment, the subjects demonstrated improvements in ritualized and repetitive behaviors.

Since symptoms improved when inflammation was limited in both tests, these findings lend credence to the theory that ASD are caused by inflammation in some individuals. These trials relied on small sample sizes, so the researchers advise caution to people considering these potential treatments.

According to Doctor Hollander, “Future studies in autism spectrum disorders are needed to replicate and expand these findings, and to study younger subjects with severe irritability.”

This research was presented at the American College of Neuropsychopharmacology Annual Meeting.

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