Would You Eat a Tapeworm to Lose Weight? This Guy Did

Michael Mosley with his new friend (courtesy BBC)

It's the dieter's ultimate fantasy: eat all you want and still lose weight. Since the Victorian era, some have believed that there was such a magic bullet, you just had to have the guts to swallow a capsule containing live tapeworm. Michael Mosley, a British journalist and physician who is famous for subjecting himself to physical stunts in the name of science, decided to find out whether the tapeworm diet actually works. His revolting experiment was documented as part of an upcoming program called Infested! Living With Parasites that will air on the BBC in February.

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Tapeworms are parasites that you ingest by eating undercooked, infected beef or pork. They can grow to be 50 feet long and live for 20 years inside their host. Mosley said his wife, also a medical doctor, wasn't thrilled with him becoming a human guinea pig. "[She] wasn't too keen on the idea," he told the BBC, "but I told her not to worry- this particular tapeworm is relatively innocuous." Mosley consumed beef tapeworm, which is less dangerous than pork tapeworm. It's also not infectious between human beings so there was no risk in passing it on. While some cases of infection are asymptomatic, typical symptoms include nausea, diarrhea, bloating and even, in severe cases, blindness, brain damage, and death. "That's the tricky thing about tapeworms," microbiologist Mary Pitcher, PhD, explained to Yahoo Shine. "They like to travel around the body, to the brain, for instance."

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Because of the health risk, tapeworm is banned for sale in the United Kingdom, the same as in the United States. That doesn't mean you can't buy it online-or some other potentially dangerous substance being marketed to hopeful dieters as tapeworm. In August 2013, the Iowa Department of Health notified public health workers about a woman who had visited her doctor after becoming ill from eating a tapeworm pill she purchased on the Internet. Mosley travelled to Kenya and obtained his parasite from cysts containing tapeworm eggs on a cow's tongue he located in a slaughterhouse. Can we just pause here for a collective "Eww!"? He ate three of the cysts and, six weeks later, he gulped down a tiny camera remotely connected to an IPad to discover if he had any, in his case, welcome guests in his intestine.

Score! "When I first saw the worms, I was in an Indian restaurant," he said, "I shouted out: 'Blimey! There's a tapeworm in me!' The other diners looked very surprised." Mosley kept a food diary during the trial and noticed that he had been eating more carbohydrates, especially sugar and chocolate. When he weighed himself, contrary to myth, he had gained about two pounds. Tapeworms live off nutrients consumed by their hosts, especially carbs, which could account for his cravings. They also digest far fewer calories than a human or animal eats, so any weight loss associated with infection would more likely be a result of vomiting or diarrhea. Mosley's intestinal visitors were killed off by medication and he had no lasting symptoms.

While eating worms for weight loss may seem crazy, there is no end to what people will believe when it comes to quick weight loss fixes. Recently, a plan called the Werewolf Diet circulated the Internet. It claimed that you could lose up to six pounds in 24 hours by juice fasting during the full or new moon. And Mosley wasn't only looking to debunk an enduring and harmful myth. He is also sharing his results with scientists at Salford University in Manchester, England. In the past few years, researchers have been looking at worm therapy as a way to combat certain diseases. Some scientists hypothesize that our lack of exposure to parasites has led to an increase in asthma and allergies and autoimmune disorders such as Crohn's Disease. In the future, worm pills may be a legitimate fad instead of a medicinal fraud.

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