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When a diet promises you can eat anything you want and lose weight, well, that's suspicious. When a diet is based on eating parasitic worms, that's just plain creepy.

Most people don't get roundworms from diet pills

Websites offering eggs of the intestinal parasite Ascaris as a weight-reduction aid have been emerging in Hong Kong. Ascaris is better known as the roundworm. A big problem in countries in the tropics that have poor sanitation, a mature roundworm is a pink, cylindrical, slimy inhabitant of the human intestines.

A male roundworm is slender, growing to anywhere from 15 to 30 cm (6 to 12 inches) long, while the female roundword is fatter, especially before laying eggs, and about 20 to 35 cm (8 to 14 inches) long.

Most people don't get roundworms from diet pills

Nearly two billion people worldwide suffer roundworm infections. The roundworm makes itself completely at home in the human body. When its human host gets a fever, for example, it will burrow to the coolest part of the body it can find. Sometimes roundworms wind up in the lungs, or they can be sneezed out the nose (before they reach adult size). This is most likely to occur when their human hosts are allergic to them.

Moreover, each female roundworm can have up to 250,000 babies a day. These baby roundworms can ball up at the bile duct, causing gallstones. They can block the ducts of the pancreas, interfering with your digestion of proteins, but leaving a lot more protein for them. They can congregate in the appendix, or they can completely block the bowel, killing the worms, and the human who has them.

Ascaris in lungs, liver, and intestines. Roundworms usually leave the intestines and migrate to the lungs through the liver. Once in the lungs, they cause wheezing and cough. While they affect the lungs, they do not reproduce, so they cannot be detected in stool samples. Your doctor might just think your symptoms as a really puzzling case of pneumonia.

No actual weight loss. Worst of all, people who have roundworms don't actually lose weight. The worms themselves add weight to the body. They can deplete the body's iron stores so there is anemia that causes the skin to pale, and they can cause a lump in the throat and vomiting, but because they also cause constipation, their net effect on weight is weight gain.

Tyra's reports on tapeworms, too. The roundworm craze is just latest in various Internet marketing schemes involving the ingestion of parasites to lose weight. In November 2009 American model and TV interviewer Tyra Banks did a special on companies selling tapeworm eggs to desperate dieters.

Continue reading after recommendations

  • Crompton DW. How much human helminthiasis is there in the world?. J Parasitol. Jun 1999,85(3):397-403
  • Urbani C, Albonico M. Anthelminthic drug safety and drug administration in the control of soil-transmitted helminthiasis in community campaigns. Acta Trop. May 2003,86(2-3):215-21.