Patients with celiac disease in Australia have shown a dramatic improvement in gluten tolerance after receiving experimental hookworm treatments. This research is part of an attempt to determine if parasitic helminths like hookworm might help to treat inflammatory disorders such as celiac disease.

The researchers intentionally infected 12 patients with celiac disease with hookworms, and then asked them to eat increasing quantities of wheat spaghetti. Each patient was then evaluated for symptoms, underwent blood tests and also a biopsy to check for tissue damage to the small intestine.

Ordinarily, if a celiac consumes gluten, the intestines become damaged. Specifically the villi (finger-like projections) become flattened. Blood tests typically show elevated antibody levels to components of the small intestine. Interestingly, in this experiment, the hookworms induced immune tolerance to gluten in the volunteers. The patients did not experience any of the adverse effects typically seen after gluten ingestion.

The researchers stress that this research is still in its infancy, and longer term studies are needed to see whether it’s safe for celiacs to ingest gluten following hookworm infection. The goal of future research is to somehow replicate the beneficial effects of the hookworms, without needing the little critters inside you!