Are Hookworms the Next Claritin?

By Boonsri Dickinson | July 22, 2009 11:16 am

hookworm1.jpgJasper Lawrence isn’t the typical salesman: He sells parasites for $2,999. People can purchase worms through his company, Autoimmune Therapies, where customers have the choice of swallowing “a dose of whipworm, or [applying] a Band-Aide of hookworms to penetrate the skin.”

Here’s how his wormy idea developed: Lawrence had been suffering from asthma and allergies, and after years of taking prednisone he decided to try hookworms instead. He got the idea from a documentary about a researcher who became infected with hookworm during a study of why people with the parasite never seemed to suffer from asthma and allergies. Lawrence subsequently traveled to Africa and walked around barefoot until his feet were infected. ABC reports:

Within a few months, Lawrence said his asthma and allergy symptoms dissipated. He stopped prednisone. He started to exercise without worrying about an attack and, as a result, he said he lost 40 pounds.

Seeing an untapped treatment, Lawrence decided to go into business selling parasitic worms to people hoping to temper autoimmune conditions such as asthma, allergies, Crohn’s disease, colitis and inflammatory bowel disease. He even has competition. At least one other online business offers patients worm therapy—all without monitoring by the Food and Drug Administration.

Perhaps the supply of clean food and water available in industrial countries has upset the balance that humans had established with parasites for millions of years. And now, without parasites around, scientists have suggested that our immune system can no longer fully develop, which might explain why we’ve become such an allergy-ridden nation.

Still, this doesn’t mean you should rush online to buy worms just yet. If you find yourself tempted to swallow a parasite, you should probably wait to see what the results of the FDA clinical trials of worm therapy are first.

Related Content:
Discoblog: Can Cigarettes *Decrease* the Effect of Respiratory Allergies?
DISCOVER: Jared Diamond on The Arrow of Disease
The Loom: Build Me A Tapeworm

Image: flickr/ AJCI

MORE ABOUT: allergies, hookworm, therapy
  • http://blog.autoimmunetherapies.com Jasper Lawrence

    You should have captioned the photo “A face only a mother could love” but otherwise the article was very good.

  • Anna

    I look forward to seeing what Spielberg can do with this one.

  • http://blog.autoimmunetherapies.com Jasper Lawrence

    Oh, and it’s $2,900.00, not $2,999.00.

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  • me

    why is this guy not considered a bioterrorist?

  • “we”

    “me” it must be nice to have a closed mind no thought or need to study, no desire to try to comprehend or awake to any new and interesting concepts. just go on following what the corporate entities tell you and blab on a label to attack and belittle anything your closed mind is threatened with.

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  • inkadu

    $2,900 for something that people pay money to get rid of after stepping in it?

    I’m up for the treatment, but not until prices come down.

  • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/discoblog/2009/07/22/are-hookworms-the-next-claritin/ Steve R

    For $2,900 I would rather go to Africa or Vietnam to catch them…right?

  • E.

    I wouldn’t try to catch anything anywhere else! You don’t know WHAT you’ll catch. I’d rather pay for the product and know exactly what I’m getting. :p Seriously considering pursuing this

  • anticorporatefatallergysufferer

    To Jasper,
    I take singulair, symbicort, flonase, a new antihistamine spray, sudafed, mucinex, benadryl, and use a BiPap machine to sleep, all on account of my nasal allergy symptoms. I now have trouble exercising but used to be a very athletic person playing amatateur tennis tournaments, surfing, recreational soccer, and semi-pro tournament softball. I would love to try the worm therapy but cannot afford the $2900. I don’t think my insurance would cover it. Why does it have to be so expensive? Do you think that the price may come down soon considering all the free advertising you received from NPR? anydaylater@hotmail.com

  • jfhkjsdfhjsdhfkj

    ummmm…………gross

  • bob

    I already have them.

  • http://www.samwohl.com/apocalypse sam

    bob, so you have them, what’s your testimony?

  • moby doug

    The worm therapy sounds innovative and promising. But to ingest parasitic worms without scientifically testing their safety first?! Wow. How can it even be legal to sell this product? Are American consumer safety pharmaceutical regulations THAT lax?! “Twas a brave patient that took the first worm.” Feels like we’ve all stumbled into an episode of The X-Files.

  • whitetrashy

    I’m ready to try the hookworm! But like others have said, I certainly can’t afford $2,900.

  • Muse

    This goes along with another study which I read years ago about asthma. Historically (not so true in the modern era) farm children seldom got asthma, or got it at a much lower rate than their city peers. The study suggested that farm children are more likely to ingest dirt as babies/toddlers, and with the dirt ingest mild forms of animal (cow?) tuberculin. This apparently stimulated their immune system to fight it, thus preventing asthma.

  • Muse

    Oh, and btw, Jasper left the US when the FDA began investigating him, and my understanding is that he will not ship to the US.

  • npr-listener

    @Muse It’s true that he left the US but AFTER the FDA handed him a cease and desist order and in order to keep operating his business he moved elsewhere. This according to the recent “This American Life” episode that featured his story.

    While I understand the FDA’s concern, I hope fair double blind studies can be conducted and if this treatment bears efficacy then the FDA will fairly evaluate it and allow it onto the market. But this may be unlikely considered the long incestuous relationship the FDA has with big pharmaceutical companies as well as public health’s aversion to organisms such as these. However, as a treatment therapy, surely it’s no worse than a lot of prescription treatments on the market today. As any of the advertisements on TV for various prescription drugs will tell you, the side affects of hookworms are fairly comparable.

  • Phil

    You’ve got so many worms a trout will jump you.

  • Lazarus0000

    Not gonna tell you to open your mind or your wallet. Will tell you this… There is a lot of evidence that suggests his treatment might be effective. There is also a lot of evidence of entrenched interests not being all that happy with treatments that take money out of their pockets. Consider if you will the “Obama” Health Bill. Notice anyone in the real world (especially those who, say…, have it) screaming against Medicare (and let’s not count those nincompoop MDs that get all their money from M’care and then complain about it when, compared to private companies who deny EVERYTHING, they actually make some money)… USA and the world might want to pay more attention to, say…, 5000 or more years of societal and a couple million years of species evolution…

    Not that it matters…

    A society that refuses to accept reality is doomed. Just one more symptom of yet a much larger infection….

  • http://mordegai-whateverlord.blogspot.com/ mordegai

    Must say this is a great article. Well its like this. Please come and visit me and pay for your own ticket to come here and I can take you to get as much parasites as you like and all of that for free and you can also get a holiday on the house……. Here in Cambodia it is only required to go outside our house and you can get worms. Working in Asia for 15 years, I had to deal a lot with this stuff and no pretty stuff. Not nice to have them in your body, so Sir, I do not believe you , if I see what this do to the people around here. And such a prize for a worm, man we can make a lot of bucks here. Bring it on and we can be partners.

  • http://none Michael Thompson

    interested in knowing more about hook worms. I have allergies and would like to know what else they positively affect?

  • http://www.highamplitude.blogspot.com Julie D.

    For those with allergies / athsma who are iffy about worms: another natural alternative worth trying is butterbur and rosaminic acid (combo). But if you get the butterbur, make sure it’s processed to remove its pyrrolizidine alkaloids, which can be toxic.

    I just got this myself for migraines, but also bought some for my mom, who is a senior & has problems with allergies and urinary problems.

    Butterbur is therapeutic for smooth muscle, which includes the vascular system, the bronchial areas, and the bladder.

  • Drew

    Thought it was a really interesting story and Jasper was really onto something but was really surprised to find out it costs $3k for something that falls out of someone’s ass. Seems like a classic monopoly.

  • Chloe

    My hypothesis on why hookworm may work for allergies in the US, but be a horrible illness in Asia, is that the hookworms may be morphologically enhanced due to the mass cultivation in the area. OR maybe hookworm in people living in Asia only gets noticably bad when the level of infection reaches a certain point. OR perhaps Americans consistant ingestion of chlorinated and florinated substances could keep them at bay. My thinking is that the hookworm this guy got was somehow controlled. Feel free to comment. I’m writing a paper on this- my sister has lupus, my mom has chrones, and I’m an environmental toxichologist to help prevent these and other types of diseases/ disorders.

  • Chloe

    ** toxicologist

  • Fred

    Just heard Jasper on This American Life… promising you can fix them is very nice. Charging 3k to do so is nonsense. What’s your profit margin there?

  • Simon

    I am just reading about this worm caper today after hearing about it on the radio.

    I caught worms in Laos about 8 years ago. Didn’t feel ill but lost a lot of weight over about 6 months. Felt really well too.

    Unfortunately during a routine medical check I mentioned the situation to the Dr who told me I had worms and gave me a single pill to kill them.

    Wish I’d never taken it. Weight came back, asthma came back etc.

    If I had the money I’d buy this stuff but for now and just letting my dogs lick my face and hoping for the best.

    Simon

  • Mike

    I’m no expert, but it seems to me that these worms cause problems and death in developing countries because people are malnourished. Here in the united states of big macs and cheesecakes, that’s not a problem. Our high calorie diet is rich with iron which should combat the anemia as well as the risk of starvation, right?

  • Frank

    I’m preparing a research project in order to isolate the chemical or protein (don’t know which yet…but if anybody could get me some information on this…then thanks!!) However, I am having troubles obtaining hookworms!…I have reasearched that other nematodes can be a model for hookworms….Also, my idea was to find a model of hookworm that infects insects…Because I am not allowed to use vertebrates in my laboratory, I was trying to find a hookworm or nematode that infects insect. By infecting the insect, I can crush up the insects after infection and research what additional chemical or protein is present by comparing it to crushed up control (an insect without infection and just a plain worm/nematode)…..However, the only kind of hookworm that infects insects I have found so far is the nematode that infects fig wasps….I have no idea where I could possibly get these nematodes and fig wasps. If anyone has any suggestions or helpful pointers…then thanks!!!!!!The protein or chemical I am talking about is the one that somehow “lullabies” the immun system….So if I isolate the chemical or protein through a column chromatography or HPLC….then maybe people won’t have to infect themselves with hookworms, but just inject the protein/chemical….There’s still a lot things to research though!!

  • vet girl

    If any of you want hookworms…adopt a very young kitten, about 90% of then without being dewormed will puke up hooks within 6 months of life.

  • Lisa

    To Frank: (#32)

    Insect-eating Nematodes…

    In Central Texas, grub worms are a terrible nuisance. There are a few varieties, but June Bug grubs are the ones causing ME the most headaches. The June Bug lays eggs in the ground and the resulting grubs eat the roots of the (St. Augustine) grass. An environmentally-friendly treatment to eradicate – or at least manage – the infestation is to apply “Beneficial Nematodes” to your lawn through a hose sprayer. The nematodes may be purchased through a variety of websites, at garden centers and hardware stores.

    http://www.planetnatural.com/site/beneficial-nematodes.html

    http://www.thebeneficialinsectco.com/beneficial-nematodes.htm

    http://www.sears.com/shc/s/p_10153_12605_07140520000P?vName=Outdoor%20Living&cName=PestControl&sName=Insect%20Killers&sid=IDx20070921x00003a&ci_src=14110944&ci_sku=07140520000P

    I, too, suffer from pretty severe allergies. I take prescription allergy meds everyday. Peak season, I take five different meds and I am STILL symptomatic. If I could TREAT my allergies instead of just trying to manage my symptoms, I’d invest in a hookworm or nematode infestation faster than I could read off my credit card number.

    Good luck with your research. I’d love to know how it turns out!

    Lisa

  • Tony

    Jasper, So if these worms are such the healing wonder that you claim, (and after much research I do not doubt it) I’m really curious why you need to be so greedy. You can’t tell me it costs that much to harvest these worms, and that you really need to charge such an extravagant amount so as to make it extremely hard for those of us without such funds and with Crohn’s to not be able to live a normal life. Sounds like you want to be just like the big pharmaceutical companies and rake in the money at the expense of others.
    Good Luck with becoming rich,
    Tony

  • Jennifer

    I agree with Tony! I have spent 1000’s of dollars on meds during my sons first 14 years of life. If it were affordable you can reach the majority and you would see success! My success in business was a low price point and many more sales. Currently, I find very few testimoials about the cure using your hookworms but imagine if you really moved this out there the testemoials that would flow….As for us…we will wait for more testemonials in order to weigh the pro’s and con’s.

  • Janet

    I don’t understand why so many people here are constantly saying that Jasper is being greedy for charging around $3k for treatment. First of all, how much is Advair or Claritin? I know from personal experience that Advair costs $223.99 a month without a drug coverage plan (or one that does not cover brand names, has a high deductible etc). After less than a year and a half the worms would pay for themselves just in Advair alone, not to mention all the other drugs anyone might be using. Secondly, do any of you know the cost to harvest these organisms? What kind of medium must they be contained in? How much does climate control cost? What kind of equipment is needed? Before you go around throwing accusations do a little research.

  • Mary

    For those of us suffering with autoimmune disorders and severe allergies/asthma, we are willing to try anything. I lost 1/3 of my lungs to the last allergy attack: did you know you can die slowly from lung inflammation if you asthma is not under control? I almost did.
    My meds now run $42,000, including IV’s, steroids (prednisone), etc. Believe me, hookworms would be a step up. And I’m totally disabled, even with all those meds. There is a researcher at Tufts that has been studying this therapy for 10 years, and one at Yale as well, it’s not crazy. That said, I wouldn’t go to Mexico for this on faith, no one knows if it’s the real deal until you take it. I asked my internist, he said how do you know it’s just hookworms on the patch?

  • Luli

    Hi Jasper,
    My husband has always had a terrible asthma since he was a little boy. His family used to pray for his healing, but he was never healed because my husband says, God has always had a better plan for him. We believe this is the cure God has provided to so many diseases that the hookworms provide.
    My husband is a biologist teacher at a community college. He always teaches about the wonferful things that this hookworm does and he always mentiones them about you. One day, when my husband was telling the story about you one girl got freaked out because she kind of knew at that instant that she had the worms. Her parents were missionaries in Cameroon when she was a teenager and before they went there she had also a really bad asthma and now she had nothing!!! she is feeling very healthy! So my husband, of course, has wanted this worms so bad that she asked her if he could get them from her, but she replied that ‘it was too weird’, oh my goshh!!! my husband was extremely sad that day. He thought that that was going to be it!! we know that there is not going to be another way to get them because we absolutely can not afford either to pay for them from you, other source or go to Cameroon either of course (it is too expensive to go anyway and who knows like you said what you are going to get). So anyway, Jerrod still has hope that his student will re-consider giving my husband the cure!! We are praying hard for that to happen.
    We have a 2o month old boy who is now using his nebulizer. He still has not got used to it and it breaks my heart to see him like that. It is so sad that the FDA will never ever approve this deal.
    My husband has thought that if in the future he gets them, which by the way he sometimes confirms that somehow he is going to get them, he will totally help out a lot of people that he already knows that need it.
    I just wanted to tell the story of my husband and his student. It is crazy to find someone that has them so close to you, but denies to give them to you. We totally understand her because she is young and the fact that she needs to give them to her teacher..well…. But now I would like to ask you if you would lower the price of getting the worms please. He is desperate. I am also actually asking you personally for my son. He is now too little I believe to get them, but my husband has said that when he gets them and Edward grows up and will give them to him.
    God bless, thanks,
    Luli

  • Dana

    I saw Jasper on the Animal Planet program “Monsters Inside Me.” I am very interested in this therapy as I have developed allegies to cats (which I have 6 of) beef, pork & a sensitivity to bell pepper. Sadly my allergies don’t just cause athsma attacks or hives, I will have a seizures as result of my allergies. So Japser’s therapy seemed very positive to me. But to find out he is charging $2900???? How sad. The program says he harvests the hookworms out of his OWN stool, so it is not like he has tremendous overhead to raise them or anything. Thank you Jasper for making this therapy public, but shame on you for price gouging & thus making this therapy unavailable to many who could benefit from it!

  • John Anderson

    It is depressing that the FDA seems to have not the slightest interest in investigating this possble mode of treatment for autoimmune diseases. YET, it allows every form of ham-fisted quackery to be sold under the label of “food and dietary supplements” that “support the immune system.” Can’t hookworms be relabled as a “food supplement” that “supports the immune system?”

  • http://www.slimforte.com.mx/tienda/review/product/list/id/5/ Israel Smutnick

    An impressive share, I simply given this onto a colleague who was doing a little evaluation on this. And he in actual fact purchased me breakfast because I found it for him.. smile. So let me reword that: Thnx for the deal with! But yeah Thnkx for spending the time to debate this, I really feel strongly about it and love reading extra on this topic. If attainable, as you become experience, would you thoughts updating your blog with extra details? It is extremely helpful for me. Large thumb up for this blog post!

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