Throughout evolution our ancestors were exposed to a vast, diverse and rich melting pot of micro and macro-organisms that co-evolved with us. And as some of these organisms took up residence in and on the human body (e.g. in the digestive tract and on the skin) they developed powerful immunoregulatory functions to be able to withstand the evolving human immune system’s defenses. As we then developed from hunter-gatherers towards industrialization, humans began living in ever larger communities and lost more than just our connection to our environment; we lost the environment itself.
We are now beginning to understand the important role that micro and macro-organisms play in modulating the human immune system and the possible link between the loss of biodiversity and increasing rates of inflammatory diseases.
The ‘Old Friends’ Hypothesis postulates that many illnesses found primarily in the developed world are due to the lack of exposure to many advantageous symbionts such as microbes and helminths, amplified by poor diet, exposure to pesticides and herbicides, and antibiotic overuse. As Prof Graham Rook, from the Centre for Clinical Microbiology at University College London writes:
“…the resulting changed and reduced pattern of exposure to microorganisms has led to disordered regulation of the immune system, and hence to increases in certain inflammatory disorders.”
“The concept began with the allergic disorders, but there are now good reasons for extending it to autoimmunity, inflammatory bowel disease, neuroinflammatory disorders, atherosclerosis, depression associated with raised inflammatory cytokines, and some cancers.”
“The Darwinian approach enables one to correctly identify some of the organisms that are important for the ‘Hygiene’ or ‘Old Friends’ hypothesis, and to point to the potential exploitation of these organisms or their components in novel types of prophylaxis with applications in several branches of medicine.”
Symbiotic bacteria, in the form of probiotics and fermented foods, have become widely accepted as an integral element for optimum human health and are available throughout the world. We believe the time has come for the importance of symbiotic helminths to be equally recognized and for these organisms to be accessible to all.
Symbiotic nematodes that have become adapted to humans by evolution over millions of years deliver an even more powerful immunomodulatory effect than probiotic bacteria, forming a long-term mutualistic bond with their host in which each benefits from the other. The evidence from scientific studies and helminth hosts’ experiences spanning many years proves clearly that the introduction of controlled numbers of certain species of symbiotic helminths (aka helminthic therapy) is safe and in the majority of cases leads to an improvement in autoimmune, inflammatory and allergic symptoms.