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article imageU.K. TV doctor infects himself with tapeworms to lose weight

By Karen Graham     Feb 1, 2014 in Health
Medical research has come a long way from when scientists used dogs, monkeys and rats to test out scientific theories. But in the U.K., a BBC TV personality, Dr. Michael Mosley, likes to use himself as a guinea pig when testing some questionable theories.
No one would knowingly ingest tapeworm cysts, no one that is, except Dr. Mosley. Many people might remember him as championing the 5:2 diet, known as the Fast Diet. But the doctor has an interesting way of proving or disproving a lot of medical theories, and that's why viewers keep coming back for more.
Dr. Mosley has taken sodium thiopental, or truth serum, tried "magic mushrooms, and of course, fasted on the 5:2 diet. But willingly ingesting several beef tapeworm cysts to lose weight, just to see how the worms would infect the human body, took medical research to a whole new level. His experiment was based on the premise that tapeworms would help one to lose weight, a fad diet used in Victorian England.
The story, or documentary of what happened to Dr. Mosley will be broadcast on BBC4 next month in a new program called "Infested! Living With Parasites," as part of the BBC's Natural History series. The documentary follows Mosley as he lives with the parasites in his bowels for six weeks.
Dr. Mosley actually gained two pounds while harboring his tapeworms. In order to get the beef tapeworm cysts, he and his team traveled to Kenya, getting the cysts from the tongue of a cow infested with the worms. The beef tapeworm, Taenia saginata, is not infectious to human, but eating beef from an infected cow will pass along the worms.
Most people with a beef tapeworm in their gut don't even know they have one until they see segments in their feces. But, they have been known to grow to a length of 100 feet. The whole dieting thing with Victorian era women was actually a fallacy, because you need the cow to complete the worm's life cycle.
The life cycle of Taenia saginata  the beef tapeworm.
The life cycle of Taenia saginata, the beef tapeworm.
CDC-Division of Parasitic Diseases
It took six weeks to grow the worms in Dr. Mosley's gut, and to see his "triplets," he swallowed a mini-pill camera." "When I first saw the worms, I was in an Indian restaurant. I shouted out: 'Blimey! There's a tapeworm in me!' The other diners looked very surprised," said Dr. Mosley.
Dr. Mosley also wanted to infest himself with body lice and pin worms, but because these parasites can be passed to other humans, the BBC had to step in and say "foul." Mosley was allowed to place a few of the lice on his arm. He also tried a leech on his arm. "They told me it drank eight times its body weight in blood. There was blood everywhere when I took it off," Dr Mosley said.
Dieting history is varied and full of some unusual practices. A papyrus featuring a medical document, dating back to 1550 B.C. suggests using wheatgerm and okra for diabetics. Other diets came and went, such as a diet recommended in 1510 A.D., suggesting 12 ounces of food and 14 ounces of wine daily. Another diet touted enemas, lots of them.
By the 1700s, social commentary began to make note of the increase in obesity, both in Europe and in America. Before this time, the human body was described quite differently when one was a little heavy. Women were "Rubinesque," and fat men were seen as "happy."
It wasn't until the 1870s that advertisements appeared in newspapers, touting tapeworms as a way to lose weight fast. Readers may be surprised to learn that the tapeworm diet is still being used today in many parts of the world, although it is banned in the U.S..
This is an adult beef tapeworm  Humans become infected by ingesting raw or undercooked infected meat...
This is an adult beef tapeworm, Humans become infected by ingesting raw or undercooked infected meat. In the human intestine, the cysticercus develops over 2 mo. into an adult tapeworm, which can survive for years, attaching to, and residing in the small intestine.
Dr. Mosley said the main conclusion he came to after the experiment was that "parasites on the whole, are not crazy about me". He also suggested that people don't try this kind of diet at home. Dr. Mosley was given some pills to kill the tapeworms, but now that thirteen weeks have passed without any sign of the worms being passed in his feces, he has this to say in conclusion:
"Nothing came out. There are two possibilities: the most likely possibility is that the pills killed the worms, and my body digested the tapeworms which is an ironic end - parasite gets eaten by its host, which is most likely. The second possibility is they are still there, but since it is about 13 weeks since I swallowed the cysts, I think I would have noticed by now."
More about medical journalism, microcamera, tapeworms, Diets, Victorian era
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