Iowa Woman Swallows Tapeworm To Lose Weight: How Dangerous Is Parasite ‘Diet?’

By Philip Ross on August 17, 2013 2:32 PM EDT

parasite
An Iowa woman swallowed a tapeworm, which latches onto its host’s intestines, in an effort to lose weight. (Photo: Creative Commons)

An Iowa woman swallowed a tapeworm, which she apparently bought on the Internet, in an effort to lose weight. But instead of trimming down her tummy size, the bizarre "diet" landed the woman in the doctor's office.

According to The Des Moines Register, the woman who swallowed a tapeworm eventually admitted to her doctor that she had done so. The doctor, not sure how to respond, had to make a few phone calls to figure out just what to do with the woman who swallowed the parasitic worm.

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Today reports that the most common kind of tapeworm people intentionally swallow to try and to lose weight is the beef tapeworm, or Taenia saginata. They were even advertised in the late 19th and early 20th centuries as a quick solution to losing fat.

So how dangerous is the tapeworm "diet?"

"Ingesting tapeworms is extremely risky and can cause a wide range of undesirable side effects, including rare deaths," Dr. Patricia Quinlisk, the medical director of the Iowa Department of Public Health, said in an email to Iowa's state public health workers. "Those desiring to lose weight are advised to stick with proven weight loss methods - consuming fewer calories and increasing physical activity."

Tapeworms are a class of parasitic flatworms that live in the intestines of animals.

According to WebMD, eating undercooked meat from infected animals is the main cause tapeworm infection in humans. Symptoms of tapeworm infection nausea, diarrhea, abdominal pain, vitamin and mineral deficiencies and, yes, weight loss.

However, more serious side effects can also occur from ingesting a tapeworm. Tapeworms can obstruct the intestines or even travel to other parts of the human body like the eyes, liver, heart or brain.

The Iowa woman isn't the first person to attempt to lose weight by swallowing a live tapeworm. In 2010, The Telegraph reported that Hong Kong dieters were ingesting tapeworms often enough to warrant a statement from the government's health department.

"Parasite infestation may also be fatal if serious complications such as intestinal, biliary tract or pancreatic duct obstruction arise," the spokesman for the department said. "The worms may even invade such organs as the lungs."

According to The Telegraph, the worms can grow to be 15 inches long and lay up to 200,000 eggs inside the person's body.

To get rid of a tapeworm, a doctor will probably prescribe

Read more from iScience Times:

Cat Parasites In Pet's Feces Can Be Ingested Or Inhaled And Pose Bigger Public Health Threat Than Previously Thought [VIDEO]

'Worm Therapy': Could Swallowing Live Parasites Help Treat Multiple Sclerosis?

Parasite In Eyeball: Contact Lens Infection Eats Girl's Eye; Are Your Lenses Safe?

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