The concoction will soon be on sale in Europe, after researchers found that tiny parasites called pig whipworms appear to have an astonishing effect on symptoms for a crippling form of bowel disease, says the journal New Scientist.
The idea for this comes from US gastroenterologist Joel Weinstock of the University of Iowa, who believes modern man’s bowel system is over-sanitised.
He noticed that Western countries have experienced a sharp rise in inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) in the past 50 years.
That increase has coincided with a sharp fall in infections by classic intestinal parasites such as roundworm and human whipworms. In developing countries, on the other hand, these parasites are common, but IBD is very rare.
Weinstock believes our immune systems have evolved over millions of years to cope with the presence of such parasites and without them our bowels can become overactive.
This is where the pig whipworm (Trichuris suis) comes in.
Weinstock recruited a 100 volunteers with ulcerative colitis, and another 100 with Crohn’s disease, both of which are incurable and potentially serious forms of IBD.
“A lot of researchers couldn’t believe this treatment was effective, but people are always sceptical when confronted with new ideas”
By regularly drinking a concoction of thousands of pig whipworm eggs, many of them saw symptoms, such as abdominal pain, bleeding and diarrhoea, disappear.
In the ulcerative colitis group 50% of the volunteers did not suffer remission, and the rate among the Crohn’s disease group was a remarkable 70%.
“A lot of researchers couldn’t believe this treatment was effective, but people are always sceptical when confronted with new ideas,” he told the British science weekly.
Weinstock chose pig whipworms as a friendly gut-stabilising parasite because the eggs, after developing, do not survive very long in the human body.
Human whipworms, however, are a different proposition – half a billion people carry this parasite, which can cause problems such as anaemia.
The European Agency for the Evaluation of Medicinal Products has now approved sales of the drink for public consumption, the New Scientist reports in next Saturday’s issue.
The first product is likely to go on sale in May, with a twice-a-month treatment.
The manufacturers are a new German company called BioCure, whose sister company, BioMonde, sells leeches and maggots for treating wounds.
It will be sold under the name of “TSO” (for Trichuris Suis Ova), presumably because “Drinkable Pig Whipworms” may not be a smart branding strategy.