A parasitic worm might revolutionize fertility treatments, after a groundbreaking study published on Thursday, November 19, in the journal Science.
Research was led by Aaron Blackwell, biological anthropologist at the University of California, Santa Barbara.
Throughout a period of 9 years, experts analyzed data pertaining to a group of 986 Tsimane women from Bolivia, in order to determine why their fertility rates were so incredibly high.
An average Tsimane woman bears a total of 9 to 10 children throughout her life, and this obviously makes their population among the most fecund ever recorded.
The subjects were tested on an annual basis for the presence of parasites, and that is how researchers identified some mind-boggling trends.
It was discovered the highest fertility rates were among women infected with Ascaris lumbricoides, a giant type of roundworm that can reach 14 inches in length.
Approximately 70% of the study participants had this type of parasite in their bodies, and as a result they had around 2 kids more in comparison with those who had never experienced this type of chronic infection.
Moreover, they tended to give birth at much earlier ages, and the time intervals between two consecutive deliveries had been greatly reduced.
On the opposite side of the spectrum, women who had contracted infections with hookworms gave birth to around 3 fewer babies.
They also had longer periods of time between births, and first delivered a baby when they were much older. In fact, half of them hadn’t managed to conceive a child by the time they were 26 or 28.
According to researchers, this might be due to the fact that different types of parasitic worms trigger a wide variety of reactions from the immune system.
Some biological changes of this kind make women more fertile, while others result in experiencing greater difficulty while trying to conceive.
Hookworms might be a contributing factor for anemia, as women who had this parasite were found to have lowered hemoglobin levels and BMI (body mass index). Researchers speculate that this is why such infections resulted in lowered fertility.
On the other hand, chronic infections with roundworms might cause female patients to eventually tolerate this parasite, to the point where their immune system also reacts less violently to the presence of another foreign body, such as their developing fetus.
Following these promising findings, researchers now believe that new fertility treatments could be created, in order to activate the same mechanisms which are triggered by roundworm infections.
It must be noted however that more studies have to be conducted, before firmly establishing a cause and effect relationship between Ascaris lumbricoides infections and boosted fertility.
In the meantime, women who desperately wish to conceive should under no circumstances try to expose themselves to this type of roundworm.
The parasite affects around a sixth of the world’s population, predominantly in tropical and subtropical regions, where sanitation is more inadequate.
While a large number of infections are asymptomatic, the roundworm can also cause intestinal ulcer, as well as string of other unpleasant reactions, such as cough, fever, diarrhea, bloody sputum, shortness of breath and abdominal pain.
Moreover, the parasite can also lead to Loeffler’s syndrome, which is commonly associated with eosinophilic pneumonia, and may result in endocarditis (cardiac damage).
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